Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to catch history in your hands. Even when you’re not trying to get paid for it.
Albert Pujols cranked a hefty solo home run in Comerica Park Thursday to land his 2,000th career run batted in. The blast put the future Hall of Famer into some very distinguished company as it was.
Cap Anson drove in his 2,000th run at the end of the 1896 season, but unless the Hall of Fame has an online-accessible library I couldn’t discover just how he drove it in. And the run batted in wasn’t counted as an official statistic until 1920.
But Henry Aaron drove his 2000th in in July 1972 with a three-run homer and Alex Rodriguez drove his 2000th in in June 2015 with a two-run homer. Babe Ruth is in the 2,000 RBI club, too. Yes, you might think the Big Fella did it with a big blast but, yes, you’d be wrong: he worked out a walk with the bases loaded against the St. Louis Browns in May 1932 to do it.
A 33-year-old Tigers fan named Ely Hydes just so happened to catch Pujols’s bomb in the top of the third, after Pujols turned on a Ryan Carpenter fastball right down the pipe and drove it into the left field seats, right into Hydes’s waiting hands.
Along came baseball government to prove that no good deed goes unpunished. When its representatives at the game refused to authenticate the ball, it crowned Hyde’s indignation not over the milestone sphere but things in general at Comerica Park involving the Tigers, as he sees it.
“I am not rich. I am a broke-ass law student,” Hydes wrote in a Facebook post. “I did not do this out of any sort of ‘entitlement’ . . . I had the best of intentions. This ball will most likely end up in the Hall of Fame. I’m sorry if no one can ‘authenticate’ it, but the only reason I ended up with it is because Tigers management treated me so terribly.”
Detroit Free Press reporter Aleanna Siacon writes that the Tigers and the Angels each made “generous efforts” to retrieve the milestone ball but Hydes didn’t much like being treated like an opportunist. You know, the sort of fan who can’t wait to cash in a history-making baseball for prolific pelf. Giants fans brawled in the stands over who’d get to leave the park with the ball Barry Bonds smashed for his 600th career home run in 2002.
And sometimes such opportunists try stealing souvenirs with less history attached to them. In 2014, a Minute Maid Park fan wearing a Derek Jeter shirt in the field boxes on Opening Day—Jeter’s last as a player—was spotted by Jeter himself. But when the longtime Yankee captain tried to hand the girl a ball, a woman in an Astros jersey sitting in front of her in the seats tried to steal the ball. Jeter wouldn’t have it. He leaned up against the rail and put the ball in the girl’s hands despite the woman’s upstretching.
Hydes wasn’t exactly in the frame of mind to brawl over the Pujols bomb, nor did he steal it from any adjacent fans.
“I considered it an honor to catch Pujols’s ball,” Hydes wrote in his Facebook post, “and tried to act all day with the honor I thought it obligated me to.” Indignant about current Comerica Park policies such as refusing to allow ballpark ushers to be tipped, which he said compelled him to put tips right into their pockets physically, Hydes tore into the younger generation of Illitches and how callously he thinks they’ve behaved since the death of Tigers owner Mike Illitch.
But his indignation with MLB is just about equal. “Honestly, if they were just cool about it I would’ve just given them the ball,” he told WXYT interviewer Kyle Bogenschutz. “I don’t want money off of this, I was offered five and ten thousand dollars as I walked out of the stadium, I swear to God . . . I just couldn’t take being treated like a garbage bag for catching a baseball.”
Pujols himself took a sanguine attitude about the ball and Hydes.
“I think he was given a little hard time and I told the guys, just you know, just leave it,” Pujols told reporters. “Just let him have it, I think he can have a great piece of history with him, you know. When he look at the ball he can remember . . . this game, and I don’t fight about it. You know, I think we play this game for the fans too and if they want to keep it, I think they have a right to. I just hope, you know, that he can enjoy it . . . He can have it . . . He can have that piece of history. It’s for the fans, you know, that we play for.”
Hydes was aware of Pujols’s comment. “You’re a class act,” he wrote, addressing Pujols. “You wouldn’t pay me a penny for the ball and I wouldn’t take a penny.”
When Roger Maris finally hit his 61st home run on 1961’s final day, busting Ruth’s single-season record, a 19-year-old Yankee Stadium fan, Brooklyn truck driver Sal Durante, caught the ball with one bare hand in the right field seats. Stadium ushers came to Durante for the ball. Durante asked only one thing—to hand it to Maris personally.
The ushers agreed. They brought him to the Yankee clubhouse and Durante—who later admitted he’d had to borrow the money from his future wife, Rosemarie, to get his ticket for that game in the first place—handed it to Maris saying, “Here’s the ball, Roger.”
With his family and some team officials around him, Maris surprised Durante by signing and dating the ball and handing it back to him. “Keep it, kid,” Maris said genially. “Put it up for auction. Somebody will pay you a lot of money for the ball. He’ll keep it for a couple of days and then give it to me.”
Somebody did. California restauranteur Sam Gordon paid Durante $5,000 for the ball and then turned it over to Maris. Gordon also paid for the honeymoon when Durante married Rosemarie, with whom he raised three children as a Coney Island bus driver.
Durante was subsequently offered another $1,000 to catch the ball on the street after being dropped from the top of a giant Seattle World’s Fair ferris wheel (the Space Needle was ruled out for safety reasons)—by Tracy Stallard, the Red Sox pitcher who’d thrown the ball Maris hit out for the record. Durante wore a catcher’s mitt for the stunt and the ball hit the mitt and bounded right to the pavement. He got the $1,000 anyway.
Maris died in 1985. Rosemarie Durante died in 2014. Sal Durante is still alive at 77. He once admitted that he, like a lot of Yankee fans and other baseball people at the time, hoped originally that Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle and not Maris would break Ruth’s record. He once said meeting Maris and his family made him glad it turned out to be Maris.
Sometimes giving a player a milestone ball hurts in the aftermath. When New York cell phone salesman Christian Lopez caught the ball Jeter clobbered for a home run that was also his 3,000th major league hit, in 2011, Lopez happily gave Jeter the ball, and Jeter and the Yankees happily gave him season tickets for the rest of that season and a pile of signed memorabilia. The guesstimated value was $80,000.
The bad news was that Lopez would be hit with a hefty tax bill for his effort. A number of companies ponied up to pay it for the generous fan.
Alex Rodriguez remembered. When A-Rod homered off Justin Verlander for his 3,000th major league hit, a fan named Zack Hample—notorious as an all-but-professional souvenir hunter (his trophies are said to include Mike Trout’s first major league home run)—refused to turn the ball over.
“The thing I was thinking about is, where’s (Jeter’s) guy?” Rodriguez said after Hample refused to hand over ball—which was authenticated almost on the spot, by the way. “The guy that caught (Jeter’s) ball? That’s the guy that I needed here. Where is that guy? I wasn’t so lucky.”
“A-Rod will not be in possession of this ball tonight,” Hample harrumphed, “unless he personally mugs me outside on 161st St.”
Hydes says the Pujols ball now reposes on his coffee table. But not for long, perhaps. “I don’t know it’s been a rat race so far, but I’ve got a brother who’s a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan,” he says, referring to the club where Pujols shone for so long, “so I might give him the best gift ever.”
Pujols’s milestone mash made 4-0 a game that ended with the otherwise struggling Angels blowing the Tigers out, 13-0. He would have been overtaken after awhile by Angels second baseman Tommy La Stella hitting two out, one in the second and one in the seventh, if baseball government hadn’t been so cavalier about the milestone mash.
In a career that’s seen a glandular share of headlines and bombs, married to an equal reputation for being one of the game’s most humane players, Pujols probably never figured to achieve a milestone with controversy attached to it, even as his career has had a sad decline phase provoked mostly by injuries since becoming an Angel.
But, typical of the man, he’s handled this one with the class baseball government lacked.
UPDATE: Several hours after I published the foregoing essay, Ely Hydes changed his mind, agreeing to give the ball to either Albert Pujols or the Hall of Fame.
“All I ever wanted was to sleep on it,” he told the Detroit News. “I slept on it and I woke up and I think [Pujols] is a class act. He’s not my player, he’s not my guy, I don’t deserve the ball. I reconsidered. One-hundred percent, I’m either going to give it to Pujols or to the Hall of Fame.”
Hydes still refuses to accept money for the ball, too.