Who really owns a home run ball?

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Pedro Alvarez hit a home run the other night that left PNC Park and landed in a boat docked in the Allegheny River, just outside the park. It was quite a thing:

[mlbvideo id=”123209183″ width=”600″ height=”336″ /]

Also quite the thing? That a man who appeared to just be passing by when the ball landed climbed into the boat and took the ball:


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Since the homer, I have been asked by a number of people whether or not our friend in the picture above broke the law. I’m going to go with yes. In two ways. One obvious, the other less so.

As a threshold matter, the guy here appears to be a trespasser. Maybe that’s his boat, but if it is, he seemed to be walking by it as if he didn’t know it. PNC Park and the land around it abutting the Allegheny River is owned by Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. That makes it public or at least quasi-public land. Also worth noting that, according to several boat forums I’ve read, the docking area along that wall is open to the boating public and is available on a first-come-first serve basis, which means the boat is there legally. But guys: this is no different than a convertible parked in a lot at City Hall: YOU CAN’T JUST HOP IN SOMEONE’S VEHICLE AND TAKE THINGS.

But let’s set that aside for a second. Most people asking me about this are less interested in that part of it all than they are about ownership of the baseball itself. This is, surprisingly, less clear-cut than you’d imagine, even if we can agree that in this case the law was broken.

When I was talking about this on Twitter this morning Alan Chen, a law professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, forwarded me a link from an oldish law review article dealing with the legal ownership of home run balls. It’s long but fun reading, at least by law review standards, which talks about the history of balls flying into stands and people, you know, keeping them. Basically, the ball belongs to MLB until it’s “abandoned” to the stands, either because it’s hit there, a player throws it there or what have you. That’s easy enough, I suppose.

The impetus for that article was the then-pending case involving Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball hit in 2001. There the guy who first snagged the ball was a fellow named Alex Popov. He had it for a brief second. It entered his glove. He stopped its trajectory at least. However, he was almost immediately swarmed by the crowd. At the conclusion of the melee a fellow by the name of Patrick Hayashi ended up with the ball. Given this historic nature of this ball it was clearly valuable — it ended up selling for nearly half a million dollars — and when people have a dispute over something valuable, that ends up in court. Popov sued Hayashi, claiming conversion and trespass to chattel. Which is a fancy way of saying “bro, you stole my ball!”

The court ended up splitting the baby here, dividing the ball, or at least its proceeds, between them. Underlying the ruling was the notion that, though Popov had initial possession, we could not be 100% sure he’d hold on to it given the facts of the situation. And that even if you assume that he only lost it because he was attacked, Hayashi wasn’t among his attackers.

I’m not sure I buy that conclusion — old video of it makes it seem like Popov had the ball squarely in his glove and had it taken from him illegally — but that’s what the court did. At the very least it taught us all a lesson: if you’re near someone who catches an historic ball, be ready to pounce but don’t make it look like you’re one of the pouncers. Hip-checking is probably pretty handy.

But the court also gave us a key takeaway which puts at least some lie to that old notion everyone likes to parrot in these situations: that “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” That’s just bull!

“The orthodox view of possession regards it as a union of the two elements of the physical relation of the possessor to the thing, and of intent. This physical relation is the actual power over the thing in question, the ability to hold and make use of it. But a mere physical relation of the possessor to the thing in question is not enough. There must also be manifested an intent to control it.

“A person who catches a baseball that enters the stands is its owner. A ball is caught if the person has achieved complete control of the ball at the point in time that the momentum of the ball and the momentum of the fan while attempting to catch the ball ceases. A baseball, which is dislodged by incidental contact with an inanimate object or another person, before momentum has ceased, is not possessed. Incidental contact with another person is contact that is not intended by the other person. The first person to pick up a loose ball and secure it becomes its possessor.”

source: Getty ImagesAs how this applies to the Pedro Alvarez homer: The ball landed in the boat and sat there. It wasn’t going anyplace else. That is secure possession — “complete control,” to use the court’s parlance — within the property of the boat’s owner. As for “manifesting an intent to control it,” well, no, because there is no one there who could form that intent.

This case is rather easy as there appears to have been an intervening criminal act. But I’m struck by old law school hypotheticals. Like, say, a big barge goes by and its wake causes the boat here to rock so violently it spits the ball up onto the public sidewalk and someone walking by takes it. In that case I think “finders keepers” trumps the old nine-tenths rule, because the boat owner never even knew he had it. I’m sure there are a few other scenarios the law students and professors who read this blog can construct which would result in the boat’s owner being totally out of luck and our friend on the sidewalk being able to walk away with the ball free and clear. Well, he did that anyway, but other scenarios may have allowed him to do it 100% legally too.

All I know for sure is that if you go to Pitt or Duquesne law school and are taking property class next fall, be SUPER prepared to have an exam question involving Pedro Alvarez and a long home run out of PNC Park.

Giants exclude Aubrey Huff from 2010 championship reunion

Aubrey Huff
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The Athletic’s Steve Berman and Dan Brown reports that the Giants have decided not to invite 1B/OF Aubrey Huff to their 2010 championship reunion, to be held at Oracle Park on August 16. In a statement to The Athletic, the Giants said:

Earlier this month, we reached out to Aubrey Huff to let him know that he will not be included in the upcoming 2010 World Series Championship reunion. Aubrey has made multiple comments on social media that are unacceptable and run counter to the values of our organization. While we appreciate the many contributions that Aubrey made to the 2010 championship season, we stand by our decision.

Huff, 43, was one of the Giants’ most productive players in 2010, batting .290/.385/.506 with 26 home runs and 86 RBI in 668 plate appearances during the regular season. During the postseason, he contributed 15 hits, including a pair of doubles and a home run, while knocking in eight runs as the Giants won the World Series.

In recent years, Huff has become a phenomenon in conservative circles for his outspoken nature on Twitter. Back in 2017, he criticized people who protested President Trump’s executive order on immigration by tweeting, “I mean seriously what the hell is going on? If you have time 2 march, protest and riot. Maybe it’s time for something called a job!” Huff received a lot of blowback for the comment and defended it by bragging to people about his “big house” and “hot wife.” He eventually walked back his comments.

Huff has repeatedly made controversial statements in more recent times, including those of a sexist, transphobic, and violent nature.

  • On the Giants’ Alyssa Nakken, the first female coach in the major leagues, Huff said, “This has #metoo & #BelieveAllWomen written all over it.” He added, “Couldn’t imagine taking baseball instruction from an ex female softball player. [Frown emoji] Have fun with that.”
  • Huff got into a spat with former major league pitcher Seth McClung last year, which included the use of sexist language.
  • Huff boasted about teaching his sons how to use guns “in the unlikely event [Bernie Sanders] beats [Donald Trump] in 2020.” He said, “Knowing how to effectively use a gun under socialism will be a must.”
  • Last month, Huff suggested in since-deleted tweets, “We should invade Iran and take their [b-word]. Persian girls are hot af without the headgear and you know they know how to act right Makes you think.” He then suggested flying to Iran to “kidnap about 10 each,” adding, “We can bring them back here as they fan us and feed us grapes, amongst other things…. [devil emoji].” After the tweet went viral, Huff claimed he was joking, then posted a poorly-drawn comic about it.
  • In replies to people on Twitter, Huff consistently employs language popularized by the alt-right to insult and threaten people. He has been temporarily suspended from Twitter several times due to his use of hateful and threatening language.

As we have mentioned here countless times, the political views of baseball players tend to skew to the right. If the Giants were simply eschewing Huff because of his political views, they would have a short list of invitees to their 2010 reunion. Huff, however, has repeatedly and consistently gone too far when discussing his viewpoints.

Huff is surely taking this in stride, right? Of course not. Per Berman and Brown, Huff said about his reaction to the news, “Quite frankly, shocked. Disappointed. If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be having a reunion. But if they want to stick with their politically correct, progressive [crap], that’s fine.”