If Aaron Judge gets ahead of Roger Maris, some lucky fan could be this generation’s Sal Durante.
As a 19-year-old in 1961, Durante caught Marris’ record 61st home run. The story of what happened next — Durante sold the ball for $5,000 and it was returned to Maris as part of the deal — sounds downright outlandish by today’s standards. But it should be remembered that even six decades ago, fans who caught famous souvenirs faced a difficult choice: to keep the ball, sell it or return it to the player who kicked it?
With Umpire one away from tying Morris’ AL record, anyone coming up with one of his home runs could make a similar decision.
“I would give it back. No idea,” said Kevin Heathwood, a 35-year-old teacher from Harlem who attended Wednesday night’s Yankees-Pirates game in New York. “It belongs to Judge and he earned everything he got. Just being a part of it is enough for me.”
Many fans share Heathwood’s opinion, feeling that if Judge wants the ball back, it would be wrong for a fan to hold it. After all, it’s the judge’s moment. The fans are there to enjoy it and share it — but why should the viewer insist on making a huge profit from the souvenir he or she received simply by being in the right place at the right time?
On the other hand, keeping the record ball and selling it can bring in a substantial amount of money that can mean much more to the fan than the ball to the player. And besides, if Judge—or any other famous hitter—really wants the ball that badly, he can probably afford to pay any asking price.
“I’m a big Yankee fan, a big Judge fan, and I’d certainly work with them, but I wouldn’t just give the ball away like that,” said Danny McDonough, 32, of Levittown, N.Y., who attends the Law School Seton Hall. “You possess a very valuable possession, and I think you would be foolish to simply give it up without giving anything of substance to yourself. Not that I didn’t want to do it for the referee and the organization. This is too great an opportunity to pass up.”
Bob Fay of Watertown is a 63-year-old memorabilia collector who was also at the game. Not surprisingly, his opinion is similar to McDonough’s.
“I’m going to take it home and make a million dollars on it,” he said. “If I give it to anybody, I’m donating it to the Hall of Fame.”
In 1998 — when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Maris — Durante said he actually thought about giving Maris his 61st home run. But the bouncer told him to leave it and make what he could of it. He eventually sold it to a restaurant owner named Sam Gordon, who then gave it to Maris in a photo with him and Durante.
Maris was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.
It is not always clear who has the right to the ball. When Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run in 2001, one man caught it, but it was thrown away and another man picked it up. They ended up in court and the judge decided that they should sell the ball and split the proceeds.
There’s less controversy when a famous home run hits an area fans can’t access. When Hank Aaron hit his 715th homer, passing Babe Ruth, Braves pitcher Tom House caught the ball in the bullpen and immediately went to throw it to the Atlanta batter.
When Mark McGwire walked past Morris with his 62nd homer in 1998, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Tim Forneris scooped up the ball and returned it. He got some pretty good publicity for the gesture — plus a minivan from Chrysler.
For some fans, there is a middle ground between selling the ball for as much as possible or giving it back to the player for next to nothing. At the very least, they’d like to be able to meet him—and maybe get a few other items of high sentimental value.
“If I caught the ball, honestly, I would really like to meet Judge, give him the ball myself. Maybe buy an autographed ball, autographed bat, autographed jersey, talk to him a little bit,” said Rob Casales, a 25-year-old financial analyst from Jersey City, N.J., who bought tickets for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. . and the Sabbath after Judg hit his 60th homer Tuesday.
“If I’m feeling a little spiffy, maybe I’ll ask for playoff tickets, but I wouldn’t try to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Yankees, even though I know a lot of people will try to do that,” he added. . “It’s not quite my move. I love the Yankees too much. I love Aaron Judge too much.”
Rob Sivetz, a 26-year-old from Bayonne, N.J., who works at a law firm, said he would like to get a picture with the judge, an autograph, some merchandise — and maybe some playoff tickets.
And he had another idea that Durante and Maris never considered.
“I would have him follow me on either Twitter or Instagram,” Sivec said, “and yell at me.”