SBJ/September 14 - 20, 1998/No Topic Name

Memorabilia bats, balls and gloves prove to be a quick hit

Mark McGwire swore off most endorsements during his chase of Roger Maris' home run record, but that hasn't stopped two St. Louis companies from cashing in on McGwire-sanctioned memorabilia.

Nikco Sports Inc. and Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., which all season have been issuing memorabilia marking each of McGwire's milestones, won rights to sell limited edition bats and baseballs commemorating McGwire's feat.

The companies, in conjunction with McGwire, wasted no time after the Cardinals slugger broke Maris' record in issuing 19,998 341Ú2-inch professional model bats identical to what McGwire uses at the plate.

The bats come with a letter of authenticity signed by McGwire and cost $229.95, potentially netting a quick $4.6 million for Rawlings, Nikco and McGwire. About $20,000 of the proceeds will go to charity.

Then there's 19,998 special edition baseballs selling for $29.95, which could add an additional $600,000 in sales. A miniature replica of McGwire's baseball glove will hit the market in the next week.

Rawlings, Major League Baseball's official supplier of baseballs, has had a bat deal with McGwire since he began his big league career in 1986. Consider Rawlings fortunate: The company has only one big league player signed to a bat deal. It just happens to be the right player.

"Mark is the only player we have under a bat contract, and actually, this is the first bat Rawlings has ever done to commemorate a player," said Jim Tietjens, manager of special market sales for Rawlings.

Nikco and Rawlings have profited all year from McGwire's home run exploits.

In May, McGwire became the quickest big leaguer to hit 400 homers, and Nikco and Rawlings rushed out 1,098 commemorative bats marking the occasion. Then came McGwire's 50th homer, a feat that made McGwire the first person in baseball history to have three consecutive seasons of 50 or more homers. That brought another bat.

"We sold out all 3,500 bats in 52 hours," said Nikco spokesman Bob Ibach, adding that the company began planning McGwire memorabilia months ago.

"It took us a long time," Ibach said. "McGwire's very careful about his image, and we started looking at these things back in April."

Not surprisingly, the McGwire 62-home-run bats have been flying off the shelves.

"In the first 24 hours we sold 2,000 of them, and it will take about two weeks to sell all of them," Ibach said.

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