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Friday, January 20, 2006
Lifetime Baseball Ticket for Iran Hostages

25 years ago today, the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th U.S. President, Iran released the 52 Americans being held hostage by student revolutionaries (a leader of which, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--allegedly pictured above, third from left--is now Iran's president). The students were upset that the United States had admitted Iran's ailing and deposed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in for medical treatment (we can only imagine the kinds of people who would hurt innocent persons because others receive medical care). The hostages were diplomats and military personnel, and they were held for a harrowing 444 days, during which time they were regularly blindfolded, tied, and tortured.

When they returned to the U.S., they were greeted with parades and other welcome-back festivities. Unbeknownst to at least me and I suspect others, they also received an extraordinary gift from Major League Baseball: a lifetime pass to any major or minor league game. Les Carpenter of the Washington Post details how some of them have used their pass over the last 25 years. (Carpenter, "Safe at Home," Washington Post, 1/20/2006, at A01). Some have used it often, others never, and others have used it to help heal family problems generated by the hostage crisis.

Here is how the idea emerged:

What is the reward for suffering? Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn discussed the topic one day in the middle of the hostage crisis with Jeremiah Denton, a Navy admiral who had been held captive in Vietnam and later became a senator from Alabama, as they sat at a baseball game in Cincinnati. Sometime that afternoon, Kuhn is convinced, the idea of a lifetime baseball pass was discussed, though he can't remember the actual conversation. What he does know is that the gift is unique. "You know, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you that we gave out passes to anyone other than them," Kuhn, who retired in 1984, said recently.

Obviously, nothing can compensate for what those hostages endured, but a lifetime ticket is certainly a nice gesture. Major League Baseball has often been criticized over the years, but they did right on this one.

Having said that, I had a question after reading this piece: Not to dampen the feel-goodness of this story, but if we assume that the ticket is non-transferable, then what happens if some of the ex-hostages hate baseball and want to sell it, especially those in need of money? If the ticket doesn't require an I.D., then presumably that wouldn't be much of a problem. But does it require an I.D.? The article at one point alludes to an ex-hostage telling a ticket window "who he is," so perhaps there is some kind identification required. While many of us would find a lifetime baseball ticket of extraordinary valuable, we all know people who would never use it. One would hope they too have found value in the ticket.

One other thought: if the lifetime ticket could somehow be sold or traded, would the "lifetime" duration remain tied to the lifespan of the ex-hostage who received the ticket, or the new owner/possessor?


The question that came to me is where do this ticketholders sit, many venues do not have a general admission section anymore and even if they do they are not very good seats (normally). While I liek the idea MLB had I wouldn't want one of these ticketholders to be sitting in my boxseat behind thirdbase.

Anonymous Brian Barnes -- 1/20/2006 2:31 PM  

It would seem that MLB would have to put some type of stipulation on these tickets. I am assuming this based on the idea that the process of receiving individual tickets for when they planned on attending games would be not only a pain in the side of MLB, but also for the individual. If they received sheets of season tickets, the process of selling the tickets may be alot easier for the non-sports fan. But I imagine some type of badge or special pass would be given yearly to these individuals. What a great way to say thank you to someone who sacrificed their lives for others to play this great game.

Anonymous BHBarron1 -- 1/20/2006 8:45 PM  

Brian and Ben: Those are great point about how general admissions standards have changed since the early 1980s, and how sheets of season tickets would offer certain advantages over one pass (although there is the issue of scalping with sheets of season tickets, and between every Major and Minor league team, there would likely be a lot of sheets -- then again, perhaps the MLB could ask the lifetime ticket holders in advance of each season of which games they are most likely to attend, and they could go from there, so possibly sheets, in conjunction with a badge/I.D., would work).

But with the lifetime ticket as a stand-alone item, I wonder whether the ticket-holder has to inform the related ballpark/club in-advance of his intent to use the ticket? Let's say we have a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game in Fenway Park -- I would think the Fenway Park officials would want to know in advance of his arrival (then again, teams likely preserve--or buy--a certain number of seats for possible VIPs, including those with lifetime tickets but also politicans/celebrities/relatives of team officials).

Blogger Michael McCann -- 1/21/2006 12:07 PM  

What a great post! I find it interesting in two ways.

First, it is a perfect example of economic utility. That is, any economist will tell you that on average, giving someone X amount of money provides them with greater satisfaction (utility) than giving them a specific item worth the same amount. I would rather get the rather substantial dollar value of 25 years' worth of season tickets than the actual tickets. I could then use the money to buy tix to a few games, and then spend the rest on something else I value more highly.

But in another sense, this is the reverse of the "hostage principle." What makes a good hostage is something of high value to the giver and low value to the taker. This is exactly the opposite. The value of a few tickets is negligible to the ball club, but not to the fan--even a casual fan like me.

As for transferability and expiration of the tix, don't you think a court would read an implicit non-transferability clause into the gift, if it came down to that? That's my read, anyway.

Blogger Gregory W. Bowman -- 1/21/2006 4:00 PM  

The following are facts about the hostage crisis, easily accessible via The hostages were generally treated well, and the reasons for the hostage-taking were more reasonable than the impression given in sports law blog:

"The students justified taking the hostages as retaliation for the admission of the Shah into the U.S., and demanded the Shah be returned to Iran for a trial. The Iranians believed the Shah was in the U.S. so that the U.S. could carry out another coup d'etat in Iran; the U.S. claimed he had come there only to seek medical attention. Iranian students demanded US government to apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran and for the overthrow of Prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. They also demanded Iran's assets in US to be released. The money had been transfered by the Shah just before revolution. The U.S. government refused to accept the demands.


Revolutionary teams displayed secret documents taken from the embassy, sometimes painstakingly reconstructed after shredding showing that U.S. intelligence was trying to destabilize the new regime. Though generally treated well, the hostages were often shown blindfolded to local crowds and television cameras. There were some hostages that were beaten after escape attempts and psychological torture was used on others throughout the 444 days. Some spent extended periods in solitary confinement. The crisis led to daily (yet seemingly unchanging) news updates; the ABC late-night program America Held Hostage, anchored by Ted Koppel, would later become the stalwart news magazine Nightline."

Blogger __Fair Left__ -- 1/23/2006 2:17 PM  


Thank you for commenting.

First off, while it is popular, wikipedia is not an authority or even a credible source of information, as it can be edited by anyone, including anoymous persons who can write what they feel like. This has caused serious problems where "editors" fabricate information about certain people:

A false Wikipedia 'biography'
By John Seigenthaler

I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable. There was more:

"John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984," Wikipedia said. "He started one of the country's largest public relations firms shortly thereafter."

At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong. One sentence in the biography was true. I was Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer. It was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, journalist with NBC News, phoned later to say he found the same scurrilous text on and

I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice.

At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don't know, and can't find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.

I phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder and asked, "Do you ... have any way to know who wrote that?"

"No, we don't," he said. Representatives of the other two websites said their computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia, never checking whether it is false or factual.

As to your assertion that the hostages were "generally treated well," here is an excerpt from the Washington Post story that I cite in the post:

Then, one morning, about a week later, Sickmann remembers being jostled awake at 2 a.m. by men wearing masks, just like the executioners in the revolutionary films. Sickmann was pulled out of bed and dragged by his hair to a hallway outside where, he said, the other hostages were lined up against the wall. His heart dropped.

"You thought instantly that there had been a military rescue and they're going to shoot us," he said. "You want to be tough in that situation, but everything changes. You lose body fluids. Some were praying, some were cursing left and right."

They took Sickmann into a room and told him to strip -- an act of shame in Islamic culture. His mind flew back to the films. There were three men with rifles and he was certain this was the end. They told him to turn around and put his arms in the air, then they blindfolded him, which in the films was the final act before the killing.

He braced himself and waited for the bullet to crash into his skull.

Only it never came. After a few minutes the guards told him to put on his clothes and go back to his room.

And while shots weren't fired, something died in him, in each of them that night.

"How does someone ever forget that?" Sickmann, now the director of military sales for Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, said all these years later. "Life was uncertain after that. You didn't know if you would live or die."

Blogger Michael McCann -- 1/23/2006 2:36 PM  

Michael McCann,

The Wall Street Journal wouldn't call that torture.

Blogger Michael -- 1/24/2006 7:59 AM  

I cited Wikipedia for convenience, and the main entries there reflect the widely agreed truth, and factual disagreements, on the hostage crisis and its causes. Obviously, we should not trust the most obscure Wikipedia entries, which are not widely accessed and can reflect a single individual or small group's agenda or vendetta. The hostage crisis is widely accessed and heavily discussed among Wikipedia contributors.

Blogger __Fair Left__ -- 1/26/2006 10:42 AM  

To Far Left
As the daughter of one of the 52 Americn hostages let me say that you must be incredibly stupid or naive. If you could belive what you read, enough to quote it, then perhaps you would like to come live with me for 444 days and I will make sure you are "generally treated well" just the same as the 52 american citizens. I KNOW you will have a different tune on day 445. Please don't plan on arriving until I have had a chance to dig out my pistol, rifle and assorted other weapons, strip your closet size space of everything including daylight and maybe...just maybe, I'll make you some plain white rice. Next time you may want to actually research something through respectable channels before commenting publicly about it!
Uninformed people are really annoying and harmful to the overall well being of our society.
Signed - daughter in Vermont

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/27/2006 2:16 PM  

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