So You Caught a World Series Home Run — What's It Worth?

By Carrie Kirby on 27 October 2016 0 comments

With two teams who haven't seen this apex of baseball for many decades, the World Series of 2016 will be a historic one no matter if the Chicago Cubs or the Cleveland Indians triumph. Every home run sent sailing into the Progressive Field stands or onto Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley Field will be a valuable piece of sports history, especially the first home run hit by a Cub, says sports memorabilia expert Robbie Davis Jr.

If you were lucky enough to be there, what would happen if you caught the home run ball? Would you get to keep it? Should you?

The ownership of home run balls — and other significant balls like World Series final out balls — is legally murky, but according to tradition, fans who catch a ball are allowed to take them home. Actually getting a World Series ball home may take perseverance, and deciding what to do with it will be a serious matter.

You'll Be Approached by Team Representatives

It's common for staff to ask fans to return balls that are considered historically important or would be meaningful to the player. "That will certainly happen with any home run ball hit in this series," says Davis, one of the owners of Robbie's First Base, the Maryland memorabilia shop featured in the reality show Ball Boys. Usually, the fans are offered something in exchange.

For example, a pair of Cubs fans caught Willson Contreras' home run ball in the deciding game of the National League Championship this year, and were immediately offered a pair of World Series tickets and a meeting with the Cubs catcher in exchange for it. They happily accepted.

Other fans haven't been as thrilled with their offers. The memorabilia collector who caught Alex Rodriguez's 660th home run ball scoffed at the team's offer of a signed bat. And the Philadelphia Phillies caught major flack — and a lawsuit — when they talked a 12-year-old girl into trading Ryan Howard's 200th career home run for an ordinary signed ball. Once the lawsuit hit the press, the team gave the ball back to the girl.

Don't Make a Split Second Decision

Ballplayers on the field need to follow their instincts when deciding what to do with a ball they catch — throw to first base or home? But you have the liberty of thinking it over. For example, when a fan caught A-Rod's 3,000th hit, he turned down the Yankees' offered merchandise trade. Later, he negotiated for the team to donate $150,000 to a charity of his choice, and he also received some signed memorabilia — clearly a much better deal than officials had initially offered.

"I would leave with it that night and then start fielding offers," Davis says. The team and Major League Baseball will certainly try hard to stop a home run ball from leaving the stadium, but teams usually only offer merchandise or the chance to meet players, while collectors offer cash. With a ball this potentially valuable, he says, "I would want to get paid."

Even for a home run during an ordinary game, the staff's first offer may not be their last.

"At Progressive Field, the Indians first offer tickets to an upcoming game and an autographed ball. In rare cases, the club has granted an opportunity to meet the player or watch batting practice on the field," an MLB.com article explained.

Don't feel bad about holding out for a better offer — after all, even Cleveland Indian Brandon Moss' teammates asked for iPhones and Macbooks in exchange for his 100th home run ball, which landed in the bullpen.

Get the Ball Authenticated

The modern sports market depends on authentication. MLB authenticators are at every World Series game, attaching unique hologram stickers to just about everything used, from bases to buckets of dirt to balls. While the MLB website asserts that they don't authenticate balls for fans, Davis says that in practice, the on-site authenticators will hologram the ball for you even if you don't relinquish it. Without a hologram, it would be difficult to sell the ball for anything near its potential value.

Let Security Escort You Out of Your Seat

One thing you may not have considered when you stuck your glove out to snag that ball is that catching the ball will probably be the end of the game for you.

"You're going to have to leave the stadium," Davis says. "Because everybody knows now these balls are worth something. You need the police to protect you and that ball."

Consider Your Options — and the Financial Implications

If you take the ball home, your options are: returning the ball to the team, keeping it as a souvenir, or trying to sell it. Keep in mind that, according to the IRS, if you keep the ball, you will have to pay taxes on it's market value, even if you don't sell it.

What kind of market value are we talking about? Mark McGuire's 70th home run ball still holds the price record after being sold for $3 million in 1999. But non-milestone home run balls that happen to be hit during the World Series are not in that league. Even a certified ball with Joe Dimaggio's autograph from the 1941 World Series is listed for only around $3,000 on eBay, and a less famous signed World Series ball, from 1999, is priced at $79.99.

However, Davis figures a home run hit in this historic fall classic is more in the McGuire league than the typical World Series ball — especially the first home run hit by a Chicago Cub in the series.

"To put a definitive number on it is going to be hard. But if the first home run a Cub hits in the World Series is at Wrigley, it could be through the roof," Davis says. His best guess is that the first Cub World Series home run in more than 70 years will sell for a million dollars, or end up on display in the Hall of Fame — or both.

Davis has one piece of advice for those who want to sell: "Strike while the iron is hot." While waiting a day or a week won't diminish a historic ball's value, letting years go by could. He saw one customer pass up an offer of $250,000 for a historic home run ball he'd caught — only to end up settling for $45,000 later.

Consider the Value to the Team or Player

When a home run ball is caught by a true fan, often the thought of being able to give something back to the player who has brought them so much joy trumps any possible compensation. When Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta hit a three-run homer in San Francisco during this year's National League Division Series, the fan who caught it happily traded in the ball, saying, "The experience was catching the ball. Of course the ball should be back with Jake."

Davis says that when teams say they will give the ball back to the player, they're as good as their word. Even if the player agrees to display their historic ball in Cooperstown, it will still belong to him. But why take the team's word for it? If you're going to be nice enough to give a historic home run back to one of your heroes, why not insist on placing it in his hands yourself? Meeting a player you idolize one on one, and hearing him express his appreciation, is an experience that no amount of money could buy.

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Champs Only

We can't imagine being the person to catch a memorable game ball. Those deals are very tempting and at the same time very deceiving. If I were a collector, i would never sell or switch that memorabilia for anything. It will become my most priced possession. The thought that you'll need security for catching a valuable memorabilia is scary enough but at the same time so worth it! Anyone would be so proud!