Updated: Aug 4, 2022
A trade in sports is most commonly an exchange of “goods” between two teams. For example, an athlete or draft pick in exchange for each other or cash.
There is another form of trade in sports we don’t see quite as often.
When an athlete reaches a milestone, and wants the memorabilia attached to it, a fan can stand in their way.
This is most common in baseball after a milestone home run. The fan who caught the homer will be asked by a team staff member to return the baseball to the athlete as it is sentimental.
Soon, these lucky fans would realize the value of the object and the position they were in and use this as leverage to make some hefty demands.
In July of 2011, Christian Lopez caught a home run ball at Yankee Stadium, that hit was also Derek Jeter’s 3,000th of his career.
Lopez was quickly escorted by Yankee team officials to meet Jeter, and was given season ticket in Legends suites, and signed memorabilia from the Yankee captain. He said in a press conference that it was a “no brainer” that he would give back the sentimental token.
But was it?
The estimated value of that ball was a quarter of a million dollars!
The tickets value was about 70,000. (And Lopez may have had to pay taxes on them too.)
Soon fans would start to wise up.
In 2015, Yankee teammate Alex Rodriguez would also reach this milestone in the same fashion. (Jeter’s 3,000th was an uncharacteristic, Rodriguez like, deep homer run into the bleachers in left. Whereas A-Rod’s was a “Jeterian” inside out swing resulting in a homer run aided by the Yankee stadium short porch.)
That ball was caught by the human ball hawk - Zack Hample.
Hample has made a name for himself running around baseball stadiums all over the country, catching baseballs, often times running across multiple sections with zero regard for anyone around him to make these catches. After each catch he celebrates like a child and posts the video of his “heroics” online.
Hample is obviously a student of the memorabilia industry, and understands the value he had in his hand. After many attempts to have the ball returned, and what was reported as some outrageous offers in exchange, the YouTuber still refused to hand the ball over.
Where Hample succeeded another fan in may of 2019 failed.
In Detroit, Eli Hydes caught a home run off the bat of Albert Pujols which was the sluggers 2,000th career RBI.
Like Hample, Hydes refused to return the ball, despite some generous offers from the team. Hydes however left the ballpark without ever authenticating the ball by Major League Baseball deeming it worthless.
(Hample’s ball was authenticated per a picture on his Twitter account where he has me blocked.)
This all brings me to Sunday in Tampa Bay.
Tom Brady and the Bucs were playing the Chicago Bears. Brady threw a slant over the middle to Wideout Mike Evans for a touchdown late in the first quarter. The score was Brady’s 600th of his career, the only QB ever to reach that milestone.
Evans must not have known this at the time, as he quickly ran over and handed the ball to a fan in the front row.
Immediately Bucs security started scrambling to get the ball back.
After not much argument the fan, a 29 year old named Byron Kennedy, returned the ball.
He told reporters he was promised some autographed swag, but was dismayed to learn the balls value was worth far north of $500,000 and likely closer to $750,000.
The question is can a case be made for Kennedy to have the ball returned.
Was the deal he “negotiated” not in good faith?
There are a few factors that come into play here. If the barter between the fan and Brady is deemed a contract, it is fair to say this contract should be void.
For one Kennedy obviously was caught up in this shocking moment and was quoted saying that while he was hesitant he knew how much the ball meant to Tom. This may indicate that he felt pressured into the agreement and could be filed under “undue influence”. The use of undue influence by one party over another puts the free will of one of the parties entering the contract into question.
Another argument can be made that this is the case of an Unconscionable Contract, defined as an instance where a contract is so heavily one sided and unfair to one of the parties that it is deemed unenforceable under the law.
Kennedy receiving a signed jersey or helmet in exchange for a ball valued at nearly a million dollars would definitely qualify as one sided.
A third argument can be made that this was simply a mistake by Kennedy. He did not know the value of the ball at the time the deal was done, leaving the contract vulnerable.
Unfortunately for Kennedy there are other factors. First, the determination of weather or not this is a contract at all. He agreed to return the ball in exchange for a small fee, does this qualify as a contract?
Second, the ball may have never belonged to Kennedy. Despite Evans handing the ball over, the ball is the property of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and there is likely a clause in the fan conduct agreement (although it is not in the ticket terms and conditions) which relinquishes the fans rights to all jerseys, ball, and any other items they receive from an athlete at the game.
With all that, $750,000 is no small chunk of change, and Kennedy’s claim would likely not be a welcome sight for Brady’s legal team. A quick settlement would likely be sent the fans way to make this go away quietly. Or, does he lose the case become the fan who sued Tom Brady, after his own negligence cost him thousands.