In the weeks since Derek Jeter homered at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit, there's been a lot of debate about whether or not the young man who caught the ball did the right thing by giving it back to Jeter that afternoon in exchange for a bag of magic beans.
Actually. he got a bunch of stuff - autographed Yankees memorabilia and premium seats for the rest of the season and playoffs - but many observers think the ball might have sold for upwards of $250,000 on the collectibles market. Perhaps more time should have been taken before deciding on the ball's ultimate destination.
I've collected baseball stuff for years, though not actively since the 1990s. Is there someone out there who would have paid a quarter-million dollars for that baseball? Sure. Might the young man, Christian Lopez, have been able to get a leg up on life with a six-figure nest egg? Of course. But what's done is done, and at the very least, he (hopefully) made a friend for life in the future Hall of Fame shortstop.
Ninety years ago, make that 91 years ago, there would have been no question as to who would get the ball. Prior to 1921, fans were required to return any ball hit into the stands, fair or foul, to the home team. Fittingly, a New York fan took the legal route when he was strong-armed into returning a baseball to the Yankees in 1920. A judge ruled that once the ball left the playing field, the team's ownership ceased, and from that point on, those balls became souvenirs.
Fifty years ago, on Oct. 1, 1961, Sal Durante caught Roger Maris' 61st home run at Yankee Stadium. Durante, a teenager, at first attempted to give the ball to Maris, but Maris himself reminded Durante that a California restaurateur had a standing offer of $5,000 for the ball and suggested Durante cash in while he had the chance. Five grand then is worth somewhere north of $35,000 now, but keep in mind that 50 years ago there was no organized sports collectibles hobby industry. No one really knew what an artifact such as Maris' 61st home run ball might bring on the open market.
Did Lopez do the right thing? He thinks he did, and from what I've read, so does Durante, now 69. In the current economy, however, I suspect that Lopez may have some private regrets about his decision. I mean, what if the Yankees miss the playoffs?
One last thought: I hope John Lannan was able to get his home run ball back at Dodger Stadium. It went over the fence, not into the stands, so stadium personnel should have been able to retrieve it. That's a keeper, for sure.