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Sunday, January 9, 2005

MLB's "Open Platform" for Balls Causes Uproar
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Last week, Red Sox 1B Doug Mientiewicz said that he would keep the baseball from the final out of the Red Sox World Series victory. Like many other highly paid professional athletes, he's got mouths to feed, dammit. So he might auction it off one day, and he might not. The Red Sox want it back. There's an uproar in Red Sox nation. Note - there is some kind of arbitrary sliding scale at work here. Derrick Lowe has kept the ball from the final out of the Red Sox ALCS victory over the Yankees, but apparently he is off the hook in the media because that ball isn't as valuable as the World Series ball. Biggest comeback in sports history, over your arch rival? It's clearly worth a whole lot more than my kidneys are. But it is a nice property rights question for the water cooler nevertheless.

MLB has stated that Mientiewicz is the rightful owner, so there is a waiver. The Cardinals could have a claim to the ball since they were the home team. The Sox could argue that they own the baseball since Mientkiewicz is their employee, but wouldn't they, like MLB, be estopped from making this argument, unless all balls kept by all players are similarly returned to the team? Does custom prescribe the right result here - i.e., once the game is over, it is the player's property and he may only bequest ownership by gift or sale? Perhaps a cross-sports analogy can answer the question - whatever happened to the football that Adam Vinatieri kicked through the uprights to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots? Or, is Keith Foulke the owner, because he was simply "loaning" the ball to Mientiewicz when he threw it to first base for the final out? It would be a entertaining case to litigate, at least.

I think custom prevails and, barring good sportsmanship, Mientiewicz reaps the windfall from his good fortune. Perhaps teams may just need to contract around this silliness in the future. In the meantime, enjoy watching Red Sox nation squabble over it.

UPDATE - this letter in the Boston Globe asserts that, under MLB rules, the home team provides and therefore owns the ball. That said, I'm still not sure whether this trumps the convention on the field. But being a devastated Cardinals fan, we might finally have some leverage over the Red Sox after losing Edgar Renterria to them via free agency.

posted by @ 11:35 PM | Sports

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