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Man Gives Derek Jeter’s Baseball to Team, Criticized for Everything

This article was written by in Featured, Taxes. 19 comments.

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?

Photo: _FXR

Updated July 24, 2011 and originally published July 14, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Honestly not sure what I would have done. I probably would have held onto it, but then again, there was no way to know at the time exactly how much the ball would be worth. Sure he knew it was worth a lot, but I doubt half a million dollars. I think I probably would have kept the ball, sold it for as much as I could get, and paid off my students loans. But then agian, I’m not a Yankees fan, so I don’t know exactly what I would have done.

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avatar 2 wylerassociate

If I was in the same financial situation (100k in student loan debts) as Lopez is, I might sell the ball to pay off my loans. I do hope this kid can pay off his debts.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

I’m sort of a fan and it’s all over the papers here in NY. Okay here’s the thing, the tax bill would have been nuts but he still would have walked away with a decent amount of cash…HOWEVER he stands to make even more money by raking in “gifts” from a crapload of well-wishers and that doesn’t get taxed until it hits $5M. So this way he doesn’t get the ball, but he also doesn’t get the bill if he had sold it, and he gets the seat where someone else is covering the cost of the taxes on the seats and he can potentially sell those tickets for thousands of dollars while getting donations. Wins all around for him. :) P.S. I’ve sat in those luxury boxes 5 rows up from home plate. My Gosh the view alone would be worth the hassle.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

The smart thing to do is:

1. Somehow authenticate the ball – make certain that it will always be recognized as the actual ball that he caught – to ensure it’s value. Take photo’s, get witnesses statements, etc.

2. Do not make any immediate decisions as to what to agree to. Take the time to research and evaluate the true market value of the ball. The Yankees took advantage of him. They should not have pressed for an answer to their requests or ask him to decide on the spot what he wanted. I can only imagine what they told him to get the ball.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I’m a Red Sox fan. If I had the ball, I would have sold it. Given most of the proceeds to charity and bought a house.

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avatar 6 Cejay

I am not a fan of any sports to the extent that I would think of them ahead of my needs. I would have kept the ball and sold it. If Derek Jeter wanted to buy it then he could have had first dibs. But obviously, Christian is a rabid fan of the Yankees and he did the right thing by his personal code of ethics.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Christian Lopez did the right thing! Why is he being criticized? What went wrong is he could have negotiated for a better deal. Certainly a tax free deal!

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avatar 8 Anonymous

At the very minimum, it seems pretty obvious that Christian could have negotiated a better deal for himself (even if it was just something along the lines of season tickets for life if he’s such a fan).

Still, there’s something kind of quaint and charming about a fan giving up a piece of baseball history for so (relatively) little. It sort of flies in the face of the “I need to get mine” attitude that pervades a lot of contemporary American society.

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avatar 9 tbork84

That is my favorite part about this story. Also there seems to be no shortage of businesses stepping up to have fundraisers and help out Christian in other ways for doing the decent thing instead of the most shrewd thing.

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avatar 10 qixx

After all the business that want to help out; i wonder if Christian might not come out ahead having returned the ball instead of keeping it to sell. He would not have been a big story had he kept the ball and that 15 minutes of fame might be worth more than the half-mil he might have got on the auction block.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I am curious to see if anything comes out about him being strong armed into the decision also I have never been to a ball game where I at least didn’t have a few beers in me. Wonder if that played into it?

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avatar 12 Ceecee

Agree with Bryan, it is kinda quaint and charming. But then, I don’t like baseball and wouldn’t give you two cents for this or any other baseball.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

@Ceecee: I would give you two cents for the ball and then resell it for half a mil.

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avatar 14 shellye

I would have tried to negotiate a trade for a lifetime pair of season tickets. He could sell some tickets each year and have an income stream. That would be AFTER I got my picture taken with DJ and his autograph on something.

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avatar 15 skylog

there is no doubt that in some ways he did “the right thing,” whatever that really means. that said, for a person in his situation, he should have taken care of himself in some way. i know that many groups have come forward to help him out, for which i am glad, but he really could have let a once in a lifetime opportunity pass him by.

that is just my take.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

I feel sorry for the guy since he has to deal with everyone who is so judgmental about his actions. It’s his decision after all, and we should all just leave him alone! :)

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avatar 17 Donna Freedman

If I had student loans I’d have put the ball up for auction at a reputable sports memorabilia house, such as Leland’s. Then I’d pay the taxes on my earnings, create an emergency fund if I didn’t already have one, and fling the rest at the loans.
If I had no loans? I’d pay off my house (if I had one) and/or invest the rest for the future.
Oh, and I’d also take MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston’s advice: That you should give yourself permission to spend 10% of a windfall. I might end up donating some of that 10%, and the rest might be offloaded onto family activities/expenses. But I *would* spend it.

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avatar 18 Anonymous

It’s a tough call. It’s kinda interesting how things like this become bit stories. I feel bad for the guy because I’m sure it’s not easy to go to a baseball game as a random guy one day and then catch a ball and in be covered all over the media the next day. I think your charity idea makes sense but it’s hard to know what to do without being in his seat (both literally and figuratively).

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avatar 19 Anonymous

I went to school with Christian. There was no “bargaining” of what the Yankees were going to give him in exchange for the ball. Christian immediately told security while they were ushering him away that he wanted to give the ball to Jeter. He did not ask for any kind of compensation. After he gave the ball back, the Yankees took advantage of the story to do a little marketing by giving Christian season tickets & signed memorabilia. He did not ask for any of this. He wanted nothing. He was more than happy to just give the ball back and was excited that he was even at the stadium to see Jeter’s 300th hit. The way this article is written infers that he was sitting in a room at Yankee stadium pulling a Chris Johnson/Vincent Jackson. This is not true. He wanted Jeter to have the ball, and it just so happened that he was given gifts after the fact. Do not confuse his sincerity for greed. The last thing he was thinking about when that ball was in his hands were his student loans.

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