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Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Ballpeace: Doug Mientkiewicz and Red Sox Reach Agreement on Baseball
The year-and-a-half long legal battle between the Boston Red Sox and former first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz over the ball from the final out of the 2004 World Series is over. Mientkiewicz and the Sox have agreed that the ball will go to the Baseball Hall of Fame, where it will remain, forever.
Last November, the Sox filed a lawsuit against Mientkiewicz, claiming that the team owned the ball. The Sox dropped the lawsuit after Mientkiewicz agreed to an independent mediation of the dispute.
The New York Times' Murray Chass (a Yankees fan) believes that Mientkiewicz had the strongest claim to the ball, while the Red Sox had the weakest:
The [Sox] claim of ownership was highly questionable. The commissioner's office supplied it, and the game was not played at Fenway Park. It was in St. Louis. Selig did not want the used ball back, and the Cardinals certainly did not want it as a reminder of their ignominious sweep by the Red Sox. Based on precedent, Mientkiewicz had every right to the ball.My take: the ball was supplied by Major League Baseball for purposes of a particular game or games, and it, presumably, was under the control of both the home team, the Cardinals, which served a function akin to an implied or possibly express licensee, and the umpiring crew. In between games, the ball either goes back to Major League Baseball or remains under the control of the home team. It is never "given" to anyone. Nor does it go with the visiting team when they leave.
Moreover, Mientkiewicz worked for the Red Sox, and typically employees' works belong to the employer. So even if Mientkiewicz believed that by capably handling the throw from Keith Foulke to record the final out he somehow obtained creative ownership in the ball, that ownership claim would presumably rise to his employer, the Red Sox.
Now, one might argue that Mientkiewicz was like a fan catching a home run ball or a foul ball, and the fan gets to keep the ball. But the difference here seems to be in the abandonment of the ball. A baseball is designed for play within the confines of the playing field and when it leaves the confines--such as when it goes into the crowd--it may be considered abandoned. The ball Mientkiewicz took was never abandoned, as I assume that the either the umpires or the Cardinals' grounds crew collect the balls at the end of every game at Busch Stadium.
So here's my list for ownership claims, from strongest to weakest:
1. Major League Baseball
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Doug Mientkiewicz
Update: Ariel Reck in the comments mentions a recent and relevant law review article by Brian E. Tierney: A Fielder's Choice: How Agency Law Decides the True Owner of the 2004 Red Sox Final-Out Baseball, 3
Through baseball custom, Doug Mientkiewicz should be allowed to keep the 2004 World Series final-out baseball. Although the gift may have arisen out of his employment relationship with the Red Sox, the baseball industry’s long-standing tradition of allowing players to keep final-out baseballs would effectively negate the Sox’s claim of ownership. This unique situation of a team requesting a sentimental ball back has given notice to MLB that some guidelines must be established. The potential outcome of this controversy may seem disappointing to many fans who believe that the ball represents an entire team’s effort over a 176 game season.I haven't yet had a chance to read the article, but it seems like a good read.