Thursday, October 08, 2009

Of Balls and Laws

Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies hit 200 home runs faster than anyone in history. His 200th came in a game against the Florida Marlins and was caught by a 12 year old girl in the stands who was accompanied only by her 15 year old brother. Being a home run of personal historical significance, Howard wanted the ball and the Marlins' security people escorted the young girl to the Phillies locker room where they said they would give her cotton candy and an autographed ball for the one she caught. She agreed. When the parents heard the story, they filed a lawsuit to get the ball back and the Phillies agreed to keep the case out of court.

The lawyer has been receiving nasty messages in the local newspaper's website. The argument is that he and the parents are contributing to the degradation of the game by making it all about money. This was a ball that should have gone to Howard because it is the physical manifestation of this great achievement and the sentimental value ought to be put before selfish monetary impulses. The other line is that the girl agreed to the switch and that she was compensated by getting to meet this great ball player and receiving something of value in return.

The argument on the other side is that the Phillies took candy from a baby. They knew the home run ball was worth thousands of dollars on the open market and they tricked a child into giving it up for something worth at most $100. Indeed, Howard may do what may other sports figures do and sell it himself. the idea that this is something of only sentimental value is false when you see the number of World Series rings that get sold.

Further, this is a child and children cannot enter into legally binding contracts. Even if we ignore the legal side and look at the moral angle, you approach the parents who have a sense of what is happening, not a minor who is easily intimidated by adults in positions of authority. It was a form of bullying or deception.

So, are the parents and lawyer in the wrong here for making this about money instead of accomplishment? Have they reduced the game to something where the humanity is removed? Should the meaning of the moment transcend material considerations? Is the home run ball like a work of art that belongs to the artist? We are entitled to the fruits of our labor, isn't this the fruit of his? Did the Phillies act wrongly or did they act in a way that made everyone happy until the parents stoked the fire?