Catching a baseball is a simple thing, yes? You just predict where the ball will be when it arrives in your vicinity, move your glove to that predicted location, and wait. Sometimes you might have to close your hand so as to grip the ball tighter, but it still is a relatively simple process. Now if you’re at a ball park and catch a home run, you own the ball. That seems simple too, right? You catch it; you own it. But things aren’t that simple when it comes to the law. Here is one professor’s definition of catching and possessing a ball:
A person who catches a baseball that enters the stands is its owner. A ball is caught if the person has achieved complete control of the ball at the point in time that the momentum of the ball and the momentum of the fan while attempting to catch the ball ceases. A baseball, which is dislodged by incidental contact with an inanimate object or another person, before momentum has ceased, is not possessed.
This part of a larger discussion of what it is to catch and possess a basball is found in Popov v. Hayashi, which is the case that decided who owned Barry Bonds’s 73rd homerun ball. Ultimately, the court ruled that both Popov and Hayashi had equal claim to the ball, and so to resolve the dispute the ball was to be sold and the earnings split. The ball sold for $450,000 after only 4 minutes of bidding. In comparison, McGwire’s 70th homerun ball sold for $3.2 million. Todd McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic books, bought both.