Do Fans Have A Right To Profit From Batted Balls In The Stands?

I am not a baseball scholar, and to be honest I am not going to go look up chapter and verse, but the discussion around the person who kept Matsui's 500th baseball got me thinking: Do fans have the right to keep the ball and sell it to the highest bidder? Let's break it down.

It seems to me there are four camps in this discussion which I will list in a lighthearted and charmingly disarming fashion.


1) "Fans have a duty to return the ball. Baseball is an institution and we are lucky to be part of it. Exchange it for a signed jersey, take a photograph and leave your name in the record book. If you do anything else, I'll wish you harm."

2) "Fans really should return the baseball, it's the "right thing to do" but I can understand keeping it. Let the Hall of Fame handle it because they're a museum and therefore kinda impartial. But if you don't, I'll kinda wish you non-specific harm."

3) "Fans follow the same rules as everyone else; on the one hand they have to deal with injuries from batted balls.On the other they get to keep the balls they catch. If a valuable ball lands in their lap, they can choose to return it for a batting practice jersey, or sell it for a million dollars. It's their choice and no matter what they choose, I'll wish no harm on them."

4) "Fans should always sell it, cause money is f#ckin great! I wish I was that lucky guy/gal/water dog/pool boy (AZ only). I'd make it rain Courvoisier!"

I don't think of these categories as mutually exclusive, I think it's more of a continuum. Somewhere in there is you and me and everyone else I bet.

I kinda fall in the 3-4 area. I like money, I've never had Courvoisier, not even sure what it is, but it might be good, I'll give it a try. Don't they announce at the beginning of the game that you get to keep the ball? Where is the moral imperative to return it? Baseball has been around for over a hundred years, but only because it has made money - for owners, players, vendors, umpires, cities, governments. That money has been shelled out by fans who love the game and wish it well. Shelled out, I might mention, happily, willingly and with full knowledge of all the ridiculousness that accompanies it. Fans love the history and traditions - things that most owners, managers and players don't know much about.

When someone gets a ball, I understand the desire to see that it gets to Cooperstown so everyone can enjoy it, I really do. But I also feel good for the Fan than got that ball. Yay for them. Let them keep it, sell it, give it away, shoot it up in a rocket or take it out to dinner and a movie. Me - I'd take the leather off and use it to make the most memorabilia-tastic shoes ever.

I was kinda shocked when I talked to a 20 year ex-pat NY'er friend. She thought the fan who gave back Jeter's ball should have had his "ass kicked by every fan there, with security holding him down," if he wasn't willing to give it back. This was not an uncommon sentiment around the internet-o-sphere.

But why would you root against a fan? Why would you care so much as to want to harm that person? Even if you pray at Baseball Annie's altar, that doesn't give you the right to mess somebody up or wish them ill. 

So, am I totally alone in this? Am I wrong in thinking that the team, player and HOF always make millions when you give it back? Isn't this person just exercising the American liberties of individualism, freedom of choice and capitalism?

Thank you and I yield the remainder of my time to the floor.

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