Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reuben's Rule: Why We Get To Keep Foul Balls

Have you ever wondered why fans at Major League Baseball stadiums are allowed to keep foul balls and home runs and anything else they catch? It's been going on around baseball for as long as anyone living can remember, so it's one of those things that people don't question.

Fans get to keep foul balls at baseball games, that's accepted in our sports culture. But rarely do you see an NBA fan allowed to keep a basketball if it goes rolling into the crowd, or do you see a football fan catching a made field goal and holding onto it for the whole game. The ball generally is given back to someone who will put the ball back in play at some point.

Obviously the amount of money professional baseball teams make allows them to be more charitable with their baseballs, but owners aren't known to be especially liberal with their spending. So why do we get to keep the balls without any kind of fuss from team owners or league commissioners? Simple. Reuben Berman.

According to The Dickson Baseball Dictionaryon May 16, 1921, Reuben Berman caught a foul ball at the Polo Grounds and refused to give the ball back. He was ejected from the stadium, but he sued the Giants for mental and physical distress. He won the court case as well as $100, but more importantly precedent had been set in the legal system. Some teams at the time were already letting fans keep foul balls, like the Cubs, but now that the legal system had spoken, there was no argument league owners could make to make fans give back the balls.

So the next time you catch a foul ball at a baseball game, other than making sure you give it to the nearest kid, remember Reuben Berman too.