Ever notice the crowds in those black and white shots of post-war baseball games? Nearly everyone is wearing a suit and hat, looking more like a Mad Men extra than a sports fan. There's a gentlemanly charm about those crowds that sports fans have lost entirely, and there’s no better illustration of that than the way we react to foul balls. Today, snagging that five-ounce souvenir turns men into inconsiderate boars, willing to trample anyone in their way to claim what’s theirs. How’d they do it back in Babe Ruth’s day? Probably not like this:
Let's quickly recount the action in that clip. An Angels fan who looks to go at least 230 dives backward to catch a foul ball. On the way down he clatters into an older woman like a train smashing into a Geo Metro. And like a train, the oaf hardly notices. Look at Mufasa raise that ball in the air as Grandma mouths "my shoulder, my shoulder." High fives all around, except to the lady with the broken collarbone! Wouldn’t want to hurt her any more.
Unfortunately, that Angels fan has plenty of company. Baseball is overrun with grown-ass men acting like small children when they’ve got a chance to catch a foul ball. Sometimes they’ll even steal the ball from the hands of those children. And for what? A souvenir they’re almost guaranteed to lose once they get home.
I should know. It happened to me. My one and only foul ball came off the bat of David Wright at a cold Mets game a few Aprils back. The stands were largely empty, it being the Mets. So when Wright sent a ball floating into my section, there was no one else to catch it. I didn’t have a glove and it was a rainy night, which is how I explain what happened next. As the ball fell toward my hands, I screeched and jumped out of the way. The ball bounced on a couple seats and I snatched it off the ground, the proud owner of a foul ball and a story that gets me mocked whenever I go back to a game.
The moral of that story is while catching the ball was exhilarating, I have no idea where it is today. Given the chance to put someone’s grandmother in the hospital to get that same ball, I wouldn’t do it. Once you bring it home you realize it looks just like the balls they sell at Sports Authority. Foul balls simply aren’t worth dropping your kid on her head, face-planting on the field, or even losing a perfectly good bucket of popcorn. Now, a homerun ball is a completely different story.
Photos by Jim Davis / Getty Images