The other day, Derek Jeter achieved his 3,000th hit, a major baseball milestone. The hit happened to be a home run, and the fan who recovered the ball, Christian Lopez, has been in the news — well, the sports news, anyway. Players like to be able to claim milestone baseballs for their own collection, so that some day, they hope, they will have the chance to donate the item to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Christian Lopez is such a fan of the Yankees that after being ushered away by security, and after being asked what he wanted in exchange for the baseball, settled for a few signed pieces of memorabilia and season tickets at Yankee Stadium for the rest of the year.
Christian could have asked for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from the team in exchange for the baseball. Some sports memorabilia aficionados have claimed the baseball could have fetched $300,000 to $500,000 on the open market. Who knows what the Yankees, Major League Baseball’s richest team, was prepared to offer if Christian had asked? He has now been criticized for his decision.
The criticism is coming from opposite points of view, as well, but both seem to think the Yankees need no generosity.
- If Christian wanted to be generous, why not sell the baseball for its fair market value and give the proceeds to charity?
- While Christian is clearly a Yankees fan, the team’s finances are not exactly in need of generosity. Derek Jeter’s salary this year is almost $15 million. If he wanted to personally pay Christian for the fair market value of the baseball, it most likely would not have hurt his finances.
There is perhaps good news for Christian. If he were to have kept the baseball, he might have owed tax on its value, even if he didn’t sell it. A few years ago, Barry Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron’s home run record, and lawyers speculated that the lucky fan who walked away with the ball could owe tax just by taking the souvenir home. By trading the baseball in for souvenirs and tickets worth about $50,000, he lowered his potential tax bill. But with student loans and other expenses, that’s a tax bill Christian — or any unsuspecting fan — might not be able to pay. Smelling publicity opportunities, a number of companies have offered to pay the tax bill for Christian.
To a true fan, loyalty to the team means more than just money. Despite the tax bill, Christian could have done himself and his future family a big favor by keeping the ball and selling it. The proceeds could have helped purchase a house without the need to take out a thirty-year mortgage. He could have invested and retired a few years earlier than he would have needed to otherwise. He could have been able to put a few kids through college. Christian seemed to feel so loyal to his team, that despite the fact the $300,000 to $500,000 he could earn for the ball would mean the world to him and his family but its value would be only negligible compared to the wealth of the Yankees or Derek Jeter, he forfeited a good slice of future financial security to be seen as the good guy.
This is about loyalty to a sports team, but it’s very much like dedication to an employer. Working for a company, it’s easy to ignore or even be unaware of the negative aspects of the employer. That’s why employees (like me) tend to hold onto company stock. Their experiences are often clouded by upper management who, through the filter of an internal communications team that works closely with public relations, broadcast mostly the good news. Fear of losing a job can breed loyalty, as well. When you have management who are trained in the art of motivation and manipulation, employees can be taught to believe anything, like twenty-four hour, seven-day dedication to the cause is the only path to success.
Loyalty can cause you to make strange choices — choices that may harm you financially. While it’s a virtue to consistently put others’ needs before your own, when an organization who is in a much stronger position has convinced you to put the organization’s needs before your own, it’s manipulation. The convincing isn’t always explicit, like a supervisor rallying troops to “take one for the team” in the form of pay cuts or a politician declaring a nationwide shopping spree to spur the economy. By engendering fans, sports teams have managed to create the same relationship. Fans will do anything for their teams, for practically nothing. (Read the fine print on a baseball ticket to discover all the rights Major League Baseball has and your team has, and all the rights you don’t have, once you enter that stadium, park, or field.)
I enjoy going to baseball games — but I don’t enjoy it often because I am a fan of the Mets and the team has lost almost every game I’ve seen this year.
What would you have done if you were in this fan’s position?
Updated July 24, 2011 and originally published July 14, 2011.