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I Like My Company Car, Boss,

I THINK I'LL TAKE IT HOME AND SELL IT. Reader Christopher Rohrbacher points to this AP story:

[Red Sox] first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, [who made the last out in the Red Sox World Series championship,] still hasn't let go of the [game-ending] ball. . . .

Carmine Tiso, spokesman for MLB, told the Globe that Mientkiewicz owns the baseball, though Joe Januszewski, Red Sox director of corporate partnerships, said he thinks the team owns it. . . .

Of course the team owns it. Possession is sometimes 9/10 of the law, but not when an employee possesses something that the employer gave him to use as the tools of the trade. Just because an employer lets you drive a company car doesn't mean its yours. Likewise with a baseball; the employer may have surrendered possession of it, but not ownership.

Of course, if the contract provided that employees get to keep some property, that would be enforceable. Likewise, there might be implicit terms of the contract that flow from industry custom. (If I recall correctly, there's been some debate about whether fans are entitled to keep balls that they catch; the theory there would be this sort of custom.) But I highly doubt that there's anything like that here — I think the Major League Baseball spokesman was mistaken or misquoted.

Naturally, if property law scholars or baseball convention experts think I'm mistaken on this, I welcome their corrections. But I'm pretty sure that the team is in the right here, and Mientkiewicz in the wrong.

UPDATE: Reader Peter Sessions writes:

Doesn't the ball belong to the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Red Sox? After all, because the final game of the World Series was played in St. Louis, I assume the Cardinals were the ones who provided the balls according to MLB Official Rule 3.01(c).
I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of this (until I read the news story today, I doubt I could have told you who played in the World Series, much less where it was played, so I didn't focus on the home vs. away question).

Indeed, if the Cardinals provided the balls, the balls were their property at the outset. The question is whether their handing the balls to the Red Sox to be pitched surrendered ownership or not; I'm not sure whether it did, because that also depends on industry custom, if there is one here. But my basic point remains — the balls surely aren't property of the players, unless there's some contrary custom, which I find quite unlikely.

FURTHER UPDATE: Some people claim that Major League Baseball provides the balls for playoffs and the Series, in which case it would presumably still have title — and then if it wants to, it can give them away to Mientkiewicz. But I doubt that MLB has decided to do this, even if the ball was indeed its own, unless there's some custom that it's following here. (I suppose that if the MLB spokesman had the authority to transfer ownership, and was indeed intending to do so by his statement, that might be fine; I just doubt that this is what he was trying to do, since I don't see much of a reason for him to do it.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Todd Kincannon writes:

There is an extremely well established custom in Major League Baseball that players get to keep significant baseballs unless they end up in the stands. Umpires will stop games so that a player can retrieve a significant ball, such as the one he just got his 3000th hit with, or his very first hit, or was the ball he just made an unassisted triple play with, etc...

One potentially important distinction here is that this ball is not particularly symbolic of a personal achievement by Mientkiewicz (he gets a put-out on the play; not a huge statistical deal), but instead is symbolic of a Red Sox team victory.

So I don't think the outcome is quite as clear cut as you do.

Well, as I mentioned, the issue does turn on custom, which sometimes can be treated as an implied term of a contract, if it's clear-cut enough (and, as the second paragraph suggests, it may not clearly apply here). I still doubt that there would be such a custom, especially as to balls where the person who happened to end up with it didn't do anything that remarkable; but perhaps I'm mistaken.

Reader Joshua Turner points me to this law review article, but a quick skim suggests that it focuses on whether a fan owns a home run ball (or a foul ball). This is a different matter, because there's no reason to think that the customs are the same.

Related Posts (on one page):

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More on the World Series-Ending Ball and Property Law:

Reader Marco Parillo passes along a pointer to this op-ed (registration required).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the World Series-Ending Ball and Property Law:
  2. I Like My Company Car, Boss,