Wednesday, September 24, 2008
From the NY Times:
Yankees catcher José Molina hit the last home run at Yankee Stadium. That is not in dispute. Who should have pocketed the ball seems to be.
In Sunday night’s Yankees-Orioles game — the last baseball game in the long history of the ballpark in the South Bronx — the ball that Molina hit in the fourth inning soared over the left-field fence, and ended up in a net over Monument Park.
As Molina ran the bases, there was the usual skirmish in the stands. Arms-in-the-air fans did what fans do when a ball is headed their way: They craned their necks, reached up and tried for the catch. So did Orioles left fielder Jay Payton, on the field.
But it was the net that made the catch.
Fingers poked through, or tried to. Some might have even touched the ball. It stayed put.
A fan, identified by news organizations in Wyoming as Steve Harshman, a state legislator and a high school football coach, staked his claim. “I had the ball on the net and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to pull it right through this netting,’ ” Mr. Harshman told station KCWY-TV in Casper, Wyo.
A security worker warned him not to rip the net and to let the ball go, Mr. Harshman added. He said he was reassured by the workers, who told the crowd, “It’s his ball.” Then the workers told him, “You just release it when you’re ready,” he said. When he did, “a guy” jumped up and grabbed, it.
“It went right into my hands,” said Paul Russo, 31, a schoolteacher in the Bronx and a lifelong Yankees fan. “I have possession of the ball. I’m like, wow.”
Two security workers ordered him to hand over the ball, he said — for safekeeping, he figured.
But then the unthinkable — to him — happened. “They flip it to this other fan,” he said. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” . . .
All that left Mr. Russo considering options like going to court to ask for custody of a baseball. . . .
Yankee Stadium had a long-established procedure for when a ball is caught in a net and a fan reaches into the net to grab it, according to Howard J. Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Yankees.
He said that the guards were instructed to tell a fan to let go of the ball, and once it was free of the net, a guard would return it.
The fan “doesn’t give up his ownership, he only gives up custody,” Mr. Rubenstein said. . . .
Legal experts have studied this kind of thing. Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School, was quoted in a Cardozo Law Review article titled “Fugitive Baseballs and Abandoned Property: Who Owns the Home Run Ball?” The article described a symposium that touched on Barry Bonds’s 500th career homer.
As for the Molina homer, Professor Finkelman said, “it appears to me that when it went into the net, it went into the legal possession of the New York Yankees, and if stadium officials retrieve the ball and say ‘We’ll give it to you’ — whoever they’re pointing to — they have the right to do that.”
I'm not sure Professor Finkelman is right about why Harshman owns the ball, but I agree with the result -- I think that the Yankees had a policy to abandon their claim to balls in the net, and that Harshman got possession by stopping the movement of the ball.
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