Craig: Bill Weeghman and why fans get to keep foul balls

From Mary Craig at Baseball Prospectus on June 29, 2017:

In a game overflowing with wonder, one of baseball’s greatest allures is the prospect of attending a game as a child and leaving with a foul ball. Although the probability of this occurring is miniscule, the prospect remains no less thrilling from game to game, lasting long into adulthood, the joy shifting from obtaining a ball of one’s own to bestowing it upon a child. Indeed, foul ball etiquette is often used to judge the sincerity of one’s attachment to baseball as well as one’s character as a whole: if the ball is not given to a child, it is the act of a bad fan, and perhaps a bad person, and if one muffs a catch due to holding a phone, one is dismissed as a casual fan who does not belong at the ballpark. Indeed, broadcasts would be at least 15 percent more boring were it not for detailed replay analyses of each foul ball catch. Although the foul ball has become an integral part of modern baseball, this was not always the case, and its origin required marketing ingenuity and a lawsuit.


But like every story, the common public lore is riddled with inaccuracies and impartial truths. Though Reuben [Berman] was instrumental in changing league policy on foul balls, he was not the first fan to hold a legal claim to a foul ball. In fact, he was not even among the first hundred fans to do so. The real story dates back seven years before Berman’s lawsuit, beginning with one of the great baseball innovators of the early 20th century, Bill Weeghman.

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Originally published: June 29, 2017. Last Updated: June 29, 2017.