Mark McGwire isn't the least bit interested in paying a ransom if he breaks Roger Maris' home run record.

Somebody else would have to pony up the big bucks for home run ball No. 62 because "I wouldn't pay a dime for it," he said.Joseph Burr, a sports memorabilia collector from suburban Milwaukee, likens the record-break-ing ball to a winning lottery ticket.

"Unless it lands in the bullpen, it will be available on the open market to the highest bidder," Burr said. "And there will be somebody somewhere who will have $1 million burning in their wallet.

"This is bigger than 3,000 hits, 300 wins. This is the pinnacle. I say it would be more a piece of Americana than `Gone with the Wind.' "

If $1 million sounds outrageous, it's not, said Ron Graham Jr., co-owner of St. Louis Sports Collectibles. He figures home run No. 62 "would probably bring around $2 million to $3 million" at auction.

McGwire, stuck on 45 homers for nearly a week entering tonight's game at Milwaukee, can't fathom that.

"Let me ask you, who's going to pay the money?" he said. "I'm not."

But you can bet somebody else will.

After all, the founder of the Psychic Friends Network paid a cool $500,000 for Eddie Murray's 500th home run.

The St. Louis Cardinals slugger is put off by the huge amount.

"If somebody's going to put a price on a ball like that, to me that's worthless," McGwire said. "If somebody wants a bat or a jersey or a ball (in exchange), then that means something. But if somebody's going to hold this ball hostage for a dollar sign, you can take it home with you. There is not a piece of memorabilia that's worth a dime."

Unlike many other stars, McGwire refuses to enter autograph deals. With the exception of some promotions to benefit his charity, Mark McGwire Foundation for Children, McGwire doesn't sell autographs.

That's not to say he doesn't sign until his hand aches.

As he closes in on Maris' record of 61 homers in a single season, McGwire said he can't go anywhere without getting mobbed. But he won't become a recluse.

"I don't change who I am," he said. "I go out and I do what I need to do. But, you know, it's been sort of uncomfortable this year. It just seems everywhere I go somebody's tapping me on the shoulder or sliding a piece of paper on the table. Or even coming down and just sitting at your table with you."

Uninvited guests? That's what it's come to?

"Oh, yeah, quite a few times. I just ask them, `Do you do this often?" McGwire said with a smile.

McGwire said somebody should write a book on autograph etiquette, and he even has the title for Chapter 1.

"Just ask for the autograph," said McGwire, who doesn't like the approach, "I'm sorry to bother you, but . . ." He figures if somebody really was sorry to bother him, they shouldn't be bothering him in the first place.

"Listen, you can't make everybody happy. And they have to respect my privacy. I respect theirs," McGwire said. "So, if I don't sign an autograph, obviously there's a good reason why I don't sign. But I would say the majority of the time, I do it."

As for disappointments, McGwire realizes he's going to have to take a day off soon, dismaying thousands of fans.

He hasn't homered in 24 at-bats and has struck out 10 times in his last 17 at-bats, a clear sign he's getting tired.

The remedy would be a day off, something he has done just six times this season.

"Everybody says, there's a chance for him to do it if he stays healthy," McGwire said. "Well, the times that people usually get injured is when they're tired. I've always said days off go a long way. I'm not Cal Ripken."

Who, by the way, homered on the night he broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games and got the ball back from the fan who caught it.

The ransom? Ripken's signature on a bat, that's all.

McGwire could live with that.

"I don't know. If it happens, I don't know if I would want to keep it or put it in the Hall of Fame," McGwire said. "You know, that way nobody can get ahold of it."

Burr said he's so put off by skyrocketing prices for sports memorabilia that "I almost hope the record isn't broken because that way, nobody can hold that ball hostage.

"And if No. 62 is worth $1 million, what's No. 63 worth?"

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Going for the record

The race to overtake Roger Maris' 1961 home-run record

Maris' record on this date in 1961 41

Mark McGwire, St. Louis Cardinals 45

Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners 41

Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs 43

Greg Vaughn, San Diego Padres 39

Home Run record 61