At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who’s Ball is it, Anyway? Sox Sue for ’04 Series Ender – and Why We Should Care

Huge payouts for notable artifacts potentially as problematic as gambling

The Boston Globe reports today that the Boston Red Sox have sued for possession of the ball used to record the last out of the 2004 World Series. Former first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, it may be recalled, kept the ball after making the putout, and after the fracas that followed, he agreed to let the club display it through 2005 “unless the ultimate issue of ownership has been otherwise resolved.” Since no such resolution has been reached, the paper says, the team is using this clause as the foundation of its claim.

The issue at the center of this suit is an important one, for the monetary value of artifacts of this type has grown to a point that simply defies logic. For instance,

  • The ball that dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series ultimately sold for $93,500.
  • The home run ball Carlton Fisk waved fair in the 1975 World Series sold for $113,273.
  • The ball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run in 1998 sold for a cool $3 million.
Not bad for a retail item that costs less than ten bucks new!

This is all relevant because the size of these payouts theoretically can change the game. Imagine some minimum-salaried, late-season rookie callup running across the field to make a play he has no business making simply to get his hands on the ball. Far-fetched? Perhaps. But it’s not conceptually different than a player performing unusually to reap a gambler’s reward, and it is my hope that the commissioner’s office is watching very closely.

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