The MLB is having a grand finale to the 2022 season.
Aaron Judge is on pace for an all-time season, potentially being capped off by winning the Triple Crown and breaking the American League Home Run Record. In the National League, all-time great Albert Pujols looks to cap off his exceptional career by hitting the 700 home run mark. As of today, September 22 pre-game, Judge sits at 60 home runs, one off the current record of 61 held by former Yankee Roger Maris, and Albert Pujols sits at 698 total home runs. Beyond the media hype surrounding Judge's feats, including ESPN tuning in to every Judge at-bat and Apple TV discussing a scenario in which Michael Kay announces Judge's home run on Apple TV (if it were to fall on this Friday), there is a substantial buzz going around New York and the sports world about the prospect of catching number 61 and 62 of the Yankee slugger's home runs. Pujols on the other hand, could very likely hit 700 in enemy territory, as he only has 3 games left in St. Louis. However, I think opposing fans will be just as happy to get a chance at that milestone ball.
Presumably this buzz stems from reports that Judge's 61st and 62nd home runs have been valued In the millions, essentially making Aaron Judge's home run balls into winning lottery tickets launched into a crowd of waiting New Yorkers. Pujols is estimated to be a bit lower than Judge but will be a substantial value to anyone who catches it nonetheless. These home runs are almost an inevitability given Judge and Pujols have 14 games to hit two home runs, so what happens if those balls land among the crowd?
The obvious case to look at here is Popov v. Hayashi, the legal battle over current MLB home run record holder Barry Bonds' record-breaking shot. This case caused quite a stir in the sports and legal worlds as the facts were unique and had to be approached from a new perspective. The basic premise is that as Bonds' record-breaking ball sailed into the stands, Popov caught it in his glove, and was almost immediately knocked down by others clamoring for the jackpot that had just landed in the stands. When he was knocked down due to the illegal, borderline assaultive actions of the fans around him, he lost possession of the ball and Hayashi scooped it up and ran to safety.
Popov, rightfully upset, filed an action for conversion (when a party takes the tangible, personal property of another with the intent to deprive them of it) against Hayashi claiming he had a right to that ball. Hayashi defended that he had a right to the ball because he legally picked it up and walked away with it. In an unusual result, the court ruled that both men had a right to the ball. Popov through his pre-possessory interest when he caught it, and Hayashi through his actual possession had equally compelling arguments. The conclusion was that the ball would be sold with the men splitting the profits equally.
It sounds like history could repeat itself as the Yankees finish out their season at home. With tickets at Yankee Stadium in home run areas like the bleachers already ascending to absurd prices like $600 per ticket, you can bet the crowd at Yankee Stadium is chomping at the bit to get their hands on this ball. Something tells me there will be a severe deprivation of personal space, and a departure from civil norms if/when that ball lands in the stands. The same goes for Pujols' potential milestone home run, although New York seems to be drawing a majority of the attention. Yankee Stadium has been sitting over 40,000 fans per game in attendance during the homestand with a significant electricity throughout the game.
Here's some advice from a baseball fan who will be watching at home. If you find yourself in the unlikely position to walk away with one of these money balls, dont' commit assault, don't announce it or show it off, find security, and maybe call a lawyer.
Evan Mattel is a 2L at Hofstra Law, Vice President of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and Representative for the New York State Bar Association's Entertainment and Sports Law Section. He can be found at @Evan_Mattel21 on Twitter or on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/evan-mattel-93a871182/