Milestone balls leave fans with a choice: return them or sell them?

Milestone Ball Return or Sell Baseball (1961 AP)

If Aaron Judge tops Roger Maris, some lucky fan could become this generation’s Sal Durante.

As a 19-year-old in 1961, Durante caught Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run. The story of what followed—During sold the ball for $5,000 and returned it to Maris as part of the deal—sounds downright quaint by today’s standards. But it’s a reminder that, even six decades ago, fans catching famous memorabilia faced a tough choice: keep the ball, sell it, or return it to the player who hit it?

With Judge now one away from tying Maris’ American League record, anyone who finds one of his home runs could end up with a similar decision.

“I would return it. Not even a second guess,” said Kevin Heathwood, a 35-year-old teacher from Harlem who was at Wednesday night’s Yankees-Pirates game in New York. “He belongs to Judge and he’s earned everything he’s received. Just being a part of it, that’s enough for me.”

Many fans share Heathwood’s opinion, feeling that if Judge wants to get the ball back, it would not be right for the fan to keep it. After all, it’s time for the judge. Fans are there to enjoy and share it, but why should a viewer insist on making a big profit on a memento he received simply for being in the right place at the right time?

On the other hand, keeping a record-breaking ball and selling it could generate a life-changing amount of money, which could mean a lot more to the fan than the ball did to the player. And besides, if Judge, or any other famous slugger, really wants the ball that bad, he presumably can afford whatever price is asked.

“I’m a huge Yankees fan, a huge Judge fan and I would certainly work with them, but I wouldn’t just give the ball away,” said Danny McDonough, a 32-year-old from Levittown, N.Y., who attends New York Law School. Seton Hall. “You have a very valuable piece of property and I think it’s foolish if you just hand it over with nothing substantial to yourself. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to do that for Judge and the organization. It’s an opportunity too big to pass up.”

Bob Fay of Watertown is a 63-year-old memorabilia collector who was also in the game. Not surprisingly, his opinion is similar to that of McDonough.

“I’ll take it home and win a million dollars,” he said. “If I give it to someone, I’ll donate it to the Hall of Fame.”

Back in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the ones chasing Maris, Durante said he actually thought about returning the 61st home run to Maris. But the slugger told her to keep it and do what she could with it. He eventually sold it to a restaurant owner named Sam Gordon, who later gave it to Maris at a photo shoot with him and Durante.

Maris presented the ball to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

It is not always clear who has the right to the ball. When Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run in 2001, a man caught it, but it yanked free and another man picked it up. They ended up in court, and a judge decided that they should sell the ball and split the proceeds.

There’s less controversy when a famous home run hits an area fans can’t get to. When Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth, Braves pitcher Tom House caught the ball in the bullpen and immediately went to give it to the Atlanta slugger.

When Mark McGwire passed Maris for his 62nd home run in 1998, St. Louis Cardinals outfield team member Tim Forneris picked up the ball and returned it to him. He got some pretty good publicity for that gesture, along with a Chrysler minivan.

For some fans, there is a happy medium between selling the ball for as much as possible or returning it to the player for nothing. At the very least, they’d like a chance to meet you, and maybe get a few other items of high sentimental value.

“If I catch the ball, honestly, I’d really like to meet Judge, hand him the ball myself. Maybe get a signed ball, a signed bat, a signed jersey, talk to him a little bit,” said Rob Casales, a 25-year-old financial analyst from Jersey City, New Jersey, who bought tickets for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. and on Saturday after Judge hit his 60th home run on Tuesday.

“If I’m feeling a little frisky, I might ask for playoff tickets, but I wouldn’t try to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Yankees, even though I know a lot of people will try to do that,” he added. . “It’s really not my move. I love the Yankees too much. I love Aaron Judge too much.”

Rob Siwiec, a 26-year-old from Bayonne, New Jersey, who works at a law firm, said he would like a photo with Judge, an autograph, some merchandise and maybe playoff tickets.

And he had another idea, too, one that Durante and Maris never had to consider.

“I would ask him to follow me on Twitter or Instagram,” Siwiec said, “and yell at me.”

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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