Why do fans keep foul balls at baseball games?

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For better or worse, baseball sticks to its traditions – as if the rules of the American pastime had been handed down to Abner Doubleday on Mount Cooperstown by God himself.

But all traditions, no matter how long they lasted, started somewhere.

This is because a batter was once ruled out if the ball was caught after a rebound. Previously, it took eight called balls to win a ride. And the fouled bullets in the crowd were once dutifully surrendered.

“The ball was truly a sacred object,” said author and baseball historian Peter Morris. “The referees kept the ball in play until it literally fell apart, and you couldn’t use it anymore. So the idea of ​​a fan keeping it was a little ridiculous.”

Morris said that as 20e century has dawned and baseball crowds have grown, fans have become increasingly reluctant to part with game balls. Teams have responded by hiring bailiffs and security personnel to retrieve them. There were occasional incidents, especially after 1920, when Major League Baseball changed the rules regarding balls and required that new balls be used throughout every game.

“When you roll the ball out of the game after a few hits with the stick, but then tell the fans they can’t keep them, it doesn’t feel right,” Morris said.

In 1921, the New York Giants’ property raised eyebrows when it kicked Rueben Berman, a 31-year-old businessman, from the Polo Grounds for refusing to return a foul ball. To be an example of a grown man is one thing, but what about an 11 year old?

This kid, Robert Cotter, changed the trajectory of the game.

Holden resident Patrick Cotter said that when he was a kid in Philadelphia his grandfather Robert “Toughie Reds” Cotter used to spend summer afternoons watching Phillies games, which he used to have. whether or not he has a ticket.

“It sneaked up by climbing up a waste pipe and then going under the door while the guards looked away,” Cotter said.

On July 18, 1922, Cotter, 11, caught a foul ball and refused to surrender it to security, who dragged it in front of the team’s business manager. When Cotter continued to hold onto his ground – and the ball – ownership saw a chance to set a legal precedent, once and for all, that playing balls – even foul balls – were the property of the team.

“So he took him to the police station and insisted that he be arrested for theft,” Cotter said.

By the time Cotter’s mother arrived to bail out her son, the courthouse was closed and young Robert Cotter spent the night in jail. On arraignment the next morning, Judge Charles Lincoln Brown ruled in Cotter’s favor and blasted the Phillies’ property.

In his ruling, he said that “such an act on the part of a boy is just proof that he is following his most natural impulses.” And he added, “It’s something I would do myself.”

The incident turned into a public relations nightmare, with newspapers in major cities, including the Boston Globe, picking up the story.

“Her mother, Anne Cotter, she contacted the newspapers and she pushed this story,” said Patrick Cotter. “So it wasn’t just ‘Toughie Reds’ that was difficult, it was Nana.”

Morris said it didn’t take long for club owners in the league to adopt a new policy regarding fans and foul balls.

“It was worth the expense,” he explained. “Baseball was sort of realizing that if you make someone a fan as a kid, you get a lifelong fan. And there’s no better way than a special memory that somehow captures. sort the essence of the game. “

As for Robert “Toughie Reds” Cotter, the Phillies made amends in 1998, honoring him as their “Fan of the Century” and gifting him with a fully sanctioned baseball signed by the entire team, including two men who would appear. later in a bit of Red Sox history too.

“In 1998, Curt Shilling and Terry Francona were Phillies,” Cotter noted.

And while Patrick Cotter would love to see his grandfather one day inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his contribution to the game, he will settle for more people just by knowing the story of the 11-year-old boy who endured one night. in prison to help establish a beloved baseball tradition.

“You can go say to your son or daughter, when they bring their glove to the game, ‘Thank you’ Toughie Reds, ‘” Cotter laughed.


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