Blog Podcasts The Dialogue Magazine About Us

Sign up for Worthwhile's free weekly e-zine.

Home > Blog > A Baseball Parable
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:36 AM
A Baseball Parable
David Batstone on Culture

Controversial baseball slugger Barry Bonds is poised to break the magic 714 mark of career home runs set long ago by the legendary Babe Ruth. The pursuit of the San Francisco Giants star is tainted by charges that Bonds regularly used performance-enhancing drugs (steroids). When he passes the Babe, Bonds still would lie 40 home runs behind the all-time home run king, Henry Aaron.

On the radio this week in San Francisco, sportscaster John Miller told a fascinating tale about what happened to Hank Aaron’s final home run ball, #755. Aaron spent the last two years of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers. It was somewhat of a farewell tour, since Aaron played nearly a decade in Milwaukee with the Braves before the team – and Aaron - moved to Atlanta.

Nothing eventful marked Aaron’s final swat at the time. It happened during a game in the middle of the 1976 season, and both the Brewers and their opponents that day, the Angels, sat at the bottom of the league ladder. About 10,000 fans were scattered throughout the stadium. Aaron came up in the 7th inning and jumped on a hanging slider thrown by Angels’ pitcher Dick Drago. The ball sailed over the left field fence.

As the ball rattled around beyond the fence, groundskeeper Richard Arndt jogged over and retrieved it. After the game, the management of the Brewers made an effort to obtain the ball from Arndt. Knowing the season was to be Aaron’s last, the club realized that every homer had the potential to be historic. Arndt told the club that he would forfeit the ball on one condition: He wanted to meet Aaron personally and deliver the ball to him.

Not only did the management refuse his request, they fired Arndt as a groundskeeper, effective immediately. To add insult to injury, the club docked $5 from his final paycheck to cover the cost of the ball. Arndt walked out with his dignity and #755 intact.

Once the season ended without another Aaron home run, the value of Arndt’s ball increased dramatically. Aaron himself tried to make contact with the former groundskeeper to negotiate a financial arrangement, but Arndt decided to keep possession of the ball in a safe deposit box.

Then, after several years passed, Arndt made a bold and savvy move. Well-known retired ballplayers make a significant income attending large sports shows to sign autographs for paying customers. Arndt paid $20 to stand in line – anonymously, of course - to have Aaron sign the historic ball. An unwitting Aaron added his autograph to the ball, and the value of #755 increased yet again.

In 1999, Arndt decided to put the ball up for sale and an undisclosed buyer put up $650,000. Arndt finally received just payment due on his severance from the Milwaukee Brewers. To his credit, Arndt donated 25% of the proceeds of the sale to Chasing the Dream Foundation, a project that Aaron set up for underprivileged children to help them develop their artistic talents.

The story of home run ball #755 has all the character of a parable. Heed the message, managers. Ponder long and hard before firing a talented employee. It may be that the deposed one will walk out the door with a valuable asset. However much you later long to recover it, a treasure once spurned rarely returns back home.


Jerrome - 5/11/2006 4:52:24 PM
Sorry, John, but he has no right to ask for anything in this case, in my humble opinion. He works there, that's all. He has no rights to the ball or to demand a meeting to turn it over. The Braves could have made this easier by saying yes -- but they had no obligation to do so.
John Gorman - 5/11/2006 3:30:40 PM
I don't see how this post relates as described. Here's how I see it: A devoted baseball fan (and really, who WOULDN'T be a fan of Hank Aaron, what a class act...) wanted to personally congratulate Mr. Aaron, by hand delivering to him the cherry on top of a glorious career. Management was unwilling to grant this incredibly miniscule request either by ignorance or selfishness, and then in a cold-hearted b**Ch slap of a move, fired their employee and docked his pay. 25 years later, that same baseball fan turned savvy enterpreneur financed his own retirement off management's ignorance. God bless him! What's the moral of the story? Hang on to items of historical value... they may finance your future. I hope someone burns Barry Bonds' 715th... by the way.
Monica Ricci - 5/10/2006 10:51:58 PM
I'm a little torn on the whole "who owns the ball" thing. But I do want to go on record to say that it makes me ill that the very arrogant and (allegedly) cheating Barry Bonds will likely beat the very classy Hank Aaron's HR record. Ugh. ~Monica, baseball fan and yes, I hate the DH rule.
Harold - 5/10/2006 5:11:50 PM
Hmmm...well David, you've struck a cord with me. I've now decided not to fire anyone for fear they'll take a "valuable asset" from the business. I'm changing my company name to "France". Brilliant post. Worthwhile teaches me amazing lessons. Living La Vida Harold!
Jerrome - 5/10/2006 3:27:05 PM
I don't want to defend management here, but I'm kind of in Randy's camp. Arndt wasn't a paying customer who had any right to the ball; he was an employee who was being paid to be there. Take a step back into a corporate context and let's see what happened: One employee did something great, then another employee took the product; the second employee then made demands of the company or he would not return the product to either the first employee or the company. The company fired him. If the millionth iPod came off the assembly line and an employee took it, then demanded to hand it to Steve Jobs or he wouldn't provide it to the company, we'd all see that as absurd. Why is this different?
Randy - 5/10/2006 1:45:32 PM
I think you have it all backwards. What right did the groundskeeper have to keep the ball? Why was he valuable? He seems to be clever and knows how to leverage a situation to benefit himself. How do you translate this to a lesson we teach our children. "Take what you see before someone else"? With your approach we end up with slimmy executives thinking only about themselves.
George Brymer - 5/10/2006 1:14:41 PM
David: Great post, and a great lesson for managers who falsely profess that "our employees are our greatest assets." I touched on a similar point in the Vital Integrities Blog. Most companies would quickly fire a manager for destroying a $150 computer monitor, but not for mistreating an employee. So, like Aaron's ball, mistreated employees eventually find their way to someone who appreciates them.


Enter this
code below:
 What is this?
Home   |   Blog   |   Blog Archive   |   Podcasts   |   The Dialogue   |   Subscribe   |   Advertise   |   Customer Service
About Us   |   Contact Us   |   Resources / Promotions   |   FAQ
Copyright © 2006 dash30, Inc. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy. 33