by | Dec 13, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEWS ITEM: The fan who snatched Mark McGwire’s 70th home run has decided to put the ball up for auction. It could fetch more than $1 million.

Well, now. Are we surprised?

A man goes to a baseball game. A player hits a historic home run. The ball lands where the man is sitting and he grabs it off the ground.

His life changes.

What are you going to do? people ask. Will you give it back? Will you keep it? Will you sell it?

Hmm. What is he going to do?

He could keep it. That’s what a fan might have done 40 years ago. Keep it for the memories. Show his children. Show his grandchildren. Tell them about the amazing afternoon when history fell from the sky and landed at his feet. That magical baseball moment would live on in his home, in his trophy case or on his mantel, a proud souvenir of a very proud fan.


Option No. 2. He could give it back. Hand it over. Tell McGwire it was an honor to watch him play and a thrill to be the fan who retrieved his piece of history. He could have his picture taken shaking McGwire’s hand. He could save the videotape, show it to his friends.

He could tell his children and grandchildren about the day he met the greatest home run hitter of his time. And if they asked why he gave the ball back, he could say that the home run was the product of Mr. McGwire, his bat, his strength, his years of hard work, and that he, the fan, was simply lucky to be a part of it.


Everybody needs money

Which leaves option No. 3. Sell it. But to sell it, you feel obligated to explain, because it looks like a greedy move.

So you get the following string of logic, which should sound very familiar to any sports fan today:

“Look at all the money the players make. Look at all the money the owners make. Why should I be the poor one? . . .

“There’s no loyalty from players. There’s no loyalty from owners. Why should I be the dumb one? . . .

“Players charge for autographs. Owners charge for souvenirs. The Hall of Fame charges for tickets to get inside. They’re all greedy. Why should I be the sucker?”

Of course, one could argue that the way to fight greed is to not perpetuate it. To be an example of how people should behave, which might inspire others to behave the same way.


Going, going …gone

So, armed with luck, justification and a very valuable souvenir, the man who snared the 70th home run ball made his decision. Sell it to the highest bidder.

Not that he was alone. Of the 10 home run balls retrieved from McGwire’s record-tying 61st to his final 70th, six were kept by the spectators who grabbed them. Each of those people planned to sell the balls.

The guy who caught No. 63, a groundskeeper for a school district, said he wasn’t being greedy. “If there’s greed in baseball, it’s charging $4.50 for a beer.”

The guy who caught No. 67, a financial analyst, said, “I’ll know my price when I hear it.”

The guy who grabbed No. 69, a marketing rep, slept with the ball, for fear it would be stolen. “I’d like it to go into the Hall of Fame,” he said, “but if the money was enough, sorry Hall of Fame.”

And the man who has No. 70, a research lab scientist in St. Louis, hired a lawyer, fielded more than 500 offers and finally agreed to sell the ball through a New York auction house. Sometime next month, bidders will be able to raise their hands, or phone in offers or even send them over the Internet in an attempt to own, to possess, to grab, to snare, to snatch, to pull away and hold up — over the heads of everyone else — this hot little item and proclaim: “This is mine! The all-time home run ball! Me! Mine! All mine!”

A weary reporter might find this sad. He might lament the days when baseball was a lovely game, with average men making average pay. When its history was something to be witnessed, not owned.

He might point out that no one owns a moment anyhow. He might admonish fans for thinking that souvenirs are meal tickets. He might criticize McGwire, too, for refusing to meet with fans who didn’t first agree to turn over their balls.

He might see this whole infatuation with famous athletes and famous collectibles as a sad reflection of people who don’t have enough in their lives to feel meaningful. And he might believe that if he points it out, somehow all those people scurrying to pony up a million bucks for a baseball might come to their senses and do something more worthy with their money.


To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581. He will sign
“Tuesdays with Morrie” 7-8 p.m. Tuesday at Little Professor in Plymouth and 7-8 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Grosse Pointe Woods.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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