What if Derek Jeter hit a home run for his 3000th hit and you caught the ball? This thought occurred to me when, last month, it appeared that Jeter might get that milestone hit at Wrigley Field in Chicago. I sit in the left-field bleachers there every day and ruminated with friends about what we'd do with the ball if one of us caught it.
I'll tell you what we decided, but first, a bit of history. In recent years, baseballs that represent significant events in baseball history have been sold at auction for large amounts of money.
This trend started in 1998, when Mark McGwire broke the single season home run record; the ball he hit for his 70th home run of that season, caught by Philip Ozersky, was bought at auction by Todd MacFarlane for $2.7 million. MacFarlane bought several other balls hit by McGwire that year (and some hit by Sammy Sosa, too), making his total expenditure over $3 million.
Three years later, when Barry Bonds broke McGwire's single-season record, two Giants fans -- Alex Popov and Patrick Hayashi -- both claimed to have death grips on the ball when it landed in the seats in San Francisco. It took 14 months of legal wrangling before a judge ordered the ball sold and the proceeds split; MacFarlane bought that one, too, for $450,000, less than half the price than had been expected.
When Bonds launched his 756th home run in 2007 to break Hank Aaron's career home run mark, the ball also wound up auctioned, this time online; Marc Ecko bought it for $752,467 and then conducted an online poll for fans to decide what he should do with it. The winning choice was "brand it with an asterisk and donate it to the Hall of Fame", which was done. Bonds called Ecko an "idiot" for doing this.
Only one player of the 27 to accomplish the 3000th hit milestone to date has hit a home run for that hit -- Wade Boggs, for the then-Devil Rays on August 7, 1999. The ball was caught by a Tampa man, Mike Hogan, who had paid $14 for his seat at Tropicana Field. But Hogan did not cash in:
Mike Hogan, the fan who got the ball, gave it to Boggs in exchange for an autographed bat and a signed jersey from Boggs.
"People will say I'm crazy, but he's had a Hall of Fame career and it's his baseball," Hogan told The Washington Post.
And ultimately, that's what we decided in the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field, before Jeter went on the DL and missed the June 17-19 series against the Cubs. An autographed bat and jersey in exchange for that ball? Absolutely.
What would you do if you caught the ball? Vote in our poll.