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Out of Our Minds
Friday, January 07, 2005 11:56 AM
Whose Ball Is It?
Kevin Salwen on Culture

Interesting debate going on around Boston, where Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz is holding tight to the ball used in the final out of the final game of the team's first World Series championship since 1918. Needless to say, that ball is a big deal to long-suffering Sox fans and the team -- and is worth a heckuva lot of money. (The ball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run went for $3 million.)

The Sox want the ball: 'We want it to be part of Red Sox archives or museums so it can be shared with the fans,' Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino told The Boston Globe on Thursday. 'We would hope he would understand the historical nature of it.'

But so does Mientkiewicz: 'I know this ball has a lot of sentimental value,' he said. 'I hope I don't have to use it for the money.... But I can be bought. I'm thinking, there's four years at Florida State for one of my kids. At least.'

I can't say Mientkiewicz is helping his public cause much by referring to the ball as 'my retirement fund.' But, in reality, who owns this? Does it fit into any of the standards of business law?


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Joan - 1/10/2005 9:35:01 PM
Before the game, the ball was owned by neither the Sox nor the Cardinals, but by Major League Baseball. MLB is in the business of supplying balls for games; when the games are over, a few lucky people go home with MLB balls as souvenirs. Some are hit foul into the stands (I once caught one myself in Shea Stadium that was fouled off by Strawberry). Other balls are tossed to fans by fielders (Andre Dawson of the Cubs used to like to do this), and still others are blasted over outfield fences and chased down by fans. At the moment Mientkiewicz made the play, the final game of the series was over, and he was left holding a souvenir. The ball is his.
Robert - 1/10/2005 5:00:15 PM
Interesting that 'me' is in the first part of Mientkiewicz's family name, as he is looking pretty self-centered in this situation. The value of the ball is not vested in the fact that he caught it (and regardless, anyone could have caught that particular toss practically walked over from the pitcher's mound) but in the long history of Series losses suffered by the Sox teams past and present.

That said, given the historical and financial value of sports memorablilia, if ownership is vague and undefined you do have to blame MLB and the Sox. (By the way, others claim the Cardinals have rights, being the home team.) As suggested above, even the most rudimentary employment manuals make it clear to employees, 'hey, you don't get to take our stuff home just because you wanna.' And to Sox owner John Henry, c'mon, you pay the guy almost $3 million a year, when you ask him to do something (it's been reported he directly asked Mientkiewicz for the ball), it shouldn't be too difficult for you to get the desired response. Whether you look at this from a cultural or a business standpoint, this story is playing out as one where all the characters are disappointing.
Jenny Berger - 1/10/2005 12:31:50 AM
Hmmm....I suppose this is what lawyers are for. ;-) But still, Mientkiewicz is a contractor for the Sox and doesn't have the right to appropriate job tools without the permission of his client or the entity under which his client operates. It's cool that the MLB spokesperson is in favor of Mientkiewicz, but I don't think that counts as an official award.
Kevin - 1/7/2005 10:16:08 PM
Sorry, Jenny, but the Red Sox didn't buy that ball (or any others used in games). Those are bought by Major League Baseball -- and a MLB spokesman said today that he thinks Mientkiewicz should own the ball. The Sox obviously disagree. The fun continues...
Kent - 1/7/2005 5:01:46 PM
Possession is 9/10 of the ball.

But Jenny is right -- since Mientkiewicz is an employee of the Red Sox, he ought to hand the ball over. This case is different than a home run ball caught by a fan.
Jenny Berger - 1/7/2005 4:54:49 PM
I don't understand why there's an ownership question here. The Red Sox are a professional organization. They buy supplies (like baseballs) so workers, regardless of tax status, can do their jobs. In every other company in the US, ownership of such supplies is automatically accorded to the company unless the worker paid for it himself (proved with a receipt) and doesn't seek reimbursement from the company. Why should the Red Sox be any different?

Once you strip out the 'history' and sentiment issues, it becomes pretty clear who's at fault here, and it ain't the Red Sox. Unless he bought that baseball himself and can write off the purchase as an unreimbursed job expense, Mientkiewicz is withholding company property, and the Red Sox should be doing everything they can as an organization to see that he complies with their request.


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