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Did Jackson Pollock Hit Another Home Run?

The art of manufacturing baseballs lies in their exquisite sameness. The process is utterly dedicated to the creation of five-ounce balls wrapped in cowhide bound by 108 stitches, each expected to rebound 54.6 percent of the original velocity when fired out of an air cannon at 85 miles per hour. The differences, from one baseball to another, are imperceptible. They are virtually identical in appearance, weight and value.

Unless Ken Griffey Jr. has whacked a certain ball a certain distance at a certain point in his storied career. That baseball's value popps up to $100,000.

A dispute over just who caught the baseball that Griffey whacked out of the Marlins' park Monday night has gone to Miami-Dade Circuit Court - one fan claiming the other ripped the ball from his rightful possession. The scuffle - first physical, then legal - was over a baseball which happened to be the 600th Griffey had propelled into home run status.

Of course, the worth of the struck object is utterly abstract, dependent completely on an ancient Indian  concept of a 10-based numeral system. His 599th home run, thanks to India, would have no special value to sports collectors. It no longer matters that the one ball pretty well resembles the other, deviating in only in a few scuffs. If the owner of the celebrated ball surreptitiously substituted a foul ball popped out of the park earlier in the evening, the $100,000 value would be transferred to the second ball. Who would know? The real 600th would have no market value.

Of course, only baseball fans can grasp the esoteric values at stake here. Or maybe a psychiatrist.

Art dealers understand how a public pronouncement connecting a famous fellow with an object can inflate its value by multiples of 10,000.

A controversy has arise around some swirling abstract paintings that the owners would like to attribute to Jackson Pollock. Of course, the artwork remains what it is. Either its inspiring and beautiful or not. Assigning it to Pollock does change a thing about its appearance. Or whether it would look good over your living room mantle. Or maybe we'll just hang it in the pantry.

But the value of a Pollock, for reasons that are utterly irrational outside of the peculiar world of art collecting, adds a considerable number of zeros to the paintings worth. It is what it is except when it isn't.

Me. I can't discern the million dollar gap in aesthetics between a Pollock and the weird drips and strokes a reformed Mississippi redneck I know who splashes colors on canvases when he's hepped on Jack Daniels. And I don't know anybody who could pick a Griffey home run out of a box of old baseballs.

To me, it's all inside baseball.



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