Who Owns a Home Run Ball?

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Hi I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer here with your quick pitch of legal wellness. By now you’ve probably heard that the New York Yankees Aaron judge just hit his 60th home run of the season. The blast matched Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time Yankees single season home run list and is only one behind Roger Maris, who hit 61 dingers back in 1961 and still holds the American League single season record. Michael Kessler, a 20-year-old college baseball player sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium came away with the home run ball. He decided to give it back to the slugger in exchange for some signed baseballs, a signed bat, and a photo with the outfielder. And this is for a baseball that’s already estimated to have a value of almost $250,000. But, did he have to give up the baseball? I mean, who owns a home run ball?

In a pretty dense Cardozo Law review article, the author, a professor, explains that a baseball belongs to Major League Baseball until it’s abandoned into the stands either because it’s hit there or a player throws it there. Seems simple enough, right? Well, how about a few years ago when then Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez hit a home run at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park that landed in a boat docked just outside the stadium in the Allegheny River? A man who appeared to be passing by when the ball landed climbed in the boat and he simply took it. But the guy was trespassing so does that mean it’s not his ball? After all, nabbing it involved an intervening criminal act.

More significantly, how about when Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run back in 2001? A guy named Alex Popov first snagged the ball. He had it in his glove for just a second. Of course, the crowd immediately swarmed him and when the melee ended, a guy named Patrick Hayashi wound up with the ball. Considering the ball’s historic nature, it ended up selling for almost half a million dollars. What do you think happened next? Well Popov took Hayashi to court. He sued him for what’s called conversion and trespass to chattels. His claim was basically, “hey man, you stole my baseball.” Well, the court ended up dividing the ball, or its proceeds, between the two men. So much for possession being nine tenths of the law.

So, what does all this mean as it concerns Mr. Kessler? Do you think he did the legal thing? Do you think he did the right thing by giving back the baseball? Did he catch them all or did he get caught looking? Well, that’s your call. If you’d like to take another swing in legal wellness, please subscribe to my YouTube channel or visit me at yourlovablelawyer.com. Until next time, I’m Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer.

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