Ed-die's ball Valuable souvenir: Don't blame fan who caught historic homer for testing the market.

September 14, 1996

LIKE THOUSANDS of other Oriole fans, we wish we had been at Camden Yards or had stayed awake long enough watching TV the night Eddie Murray hit his 500th career home run just before midnight. Even a casual fan can appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Murray's accomplishment. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays are the only other men in baseball history who have accumulated 500 homers and 3,000 hits.

But note the plight of Dan Jones. He is the 30-year-old Towson man who ended up with Mr. Murray's home run ball in the bleachers. As soon as he caught it, his problems began. The Orioles wanted to negotiate a trade to get the ball back, but the club finally broke off talks, saying, "Enough is enough." Fila, a sportswear-maker Mr. Murray endorses, declined to negotiate on behalf of its client, too.

Certainly, Mr. Murray's mantel merits the keepsake. In an earlier era, Mr. Jones probably would have visited the player in the clubhouse and traded the ball for an autograph and some happy banter, like a scene from the grainy documentary they play at the Babe Ruth Museum down the street.

But that era is gone. Mr. Jones didn't create sports memorabilia madness; he just wants to see what the market will bear. It will probably bear a good bit. The Sykesville carpenter who caught Cal Ripken's home run the night he tied Lou Gehrig sold it for $41,000. He, too, faced public pressure to hand the ball over for a few trinkets. At a time when active and retired players make fortunes signing autographs, when kids weigh the "investment value" of sets of baseball cards that cost $2 to $5, when home-shopping channels are replete with this stuff, it's hypocritical for baseball management to sniff that Joe Fan in this case isn't playing fair.

The ball that soared off Eddie Murray's bat the other night represented the emotions that make the game grand. The ball that landed represented the emotions that have diminished it.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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