Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit, the Ball, and why Christian Lopez is wrong for giving it back

First, allow me to get two points out of the way.

#1 Im a New York City Bankruptcy Attorney, and this is a post solely in reference to my opinion on this matter, and has absolutely nothing to do with anything even obscurely legal.

#2 Im a Mets fan. Always have been. I know, I know. Im not happy either. But, I nevertheless have extremely high respect for Mr. Jeter’s (when we hang, I call him DJ) amazing perseverance and dedication to his craft and wish him the best, irrespective of what I write below.

Now, to Mr. Lopez. I think returning that ball was one of the worst things he could have done, and I think its symptomatic of our society and why so many people find themselves in the financial holes that they are in. Let me explain. This guy catches the homerun that Jeter hits. Conservatively speaking, if sold now, the homerun ball would go for about $250,000 at auction. Derek Jeter’s net worth hovers around $125,000,000.00. That’s million. Christian Lopez has, based on reports, no assets, and $100,000 in student loan debt. Meaning his net worth is about negative $100,000 or so. So let’s understand this. Christian Lopez could have sold the ball and made $250,000. He could have paid off his student loan debt in full and not worried about any more monthly payments and still would have had plenty of money set aside, after taxes, to put in a reserve fund or to use as a downpayment for a home with him and his girlfriend. If he gets fired from the cell phone store where he works, or if he needs to see a Doctor and doesn’t have insurance, hes OK. But, what does he decide to do? He decides to give up the ball to get good Yankee Tickets for the rest of the year. Is it classy? On his part, yes. Is it smart? No. Its dumb. He’s now a classy guy thats in $100,000 worth of debt and he gave up a ball that would have changed his life for the sake of….what exactly?

Back in the old days of Baseball you could make an argument that you should give the ball back. In fact, I’m sure plenty of people still will. People are lauding Mr. Lopez’ decision. Brings back nostalgic memories of the purity of the game and its fans and the fact that money isn’t everything. Except for one problem: DEREK JETER MADE $30 MILLION DOLLARS LAST YEAR. The game, if nothing else, is about money. If this played out 50 years ago, when ball players made close to what an electrician going to the game made, then sure, give the ball back. But when the ball players make more than the companies that the electricians work for made, the decision is just plain dumb. I somehow doubt that Jeter would have re-upped with his former team if it said “Look, your skills are diminishing, and we need this money to sign some more talent. You’ve made a lot with us, so please take $1,000,000 for this season, as its the classy thing to do, since this game shouldn’t be about money.” He would have laughed it off. And so he should have. The game, and life for the most part, is about money. Not in the sense of getting richer and richer(in terms of life), but in the sense of allowing you to improve your circumstances and those of your family.

Which brings me to my next point: If Derek Jeter was really a classy guy and if this game really wasn’t about money, he would have cut Lopez a check for $250,000 on the spot. Right there. Jeter wouldn’t have even felt it. He’d make another Gillette commercial and recoup it all and then some. But he didn’t. And Lopez goes home with $100,000 in debt, some good karma (maybe), and some free Yankees tickets. Again, Jeter’s worth $125,000,000. The Yankees are worth BILLIONS. Lopez…negative net worth. How does this make sense at all?

Heres why I think this is pertinent for a Bankruptcy blog: Too often, we give too much of ourselves to people who may or may not need it, and we end up paying the price. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t help family members in need, per se. But theres a distinction between helping out your mother who is in the hospital, or putting your name as a co-signor for a gf/bf that you’re not sure is trustworthy. Too often, because we want to feel “good” about ourselves, or do something thats “right”, we don’t realize that our “right” may equal a wrong. If you allow someone to put a mortgage in your name, and that person defaults, and now you can’t co-sign on your child’s Student Loan payments, is that doing something “right”? The answer can sometimes be “it depends”. But, before we do this, we really need to take a big step back and try and realize why is it that we’re doing what we’re doing. One year from now, Lopez will have been to 50 more Yankee games, but he’ll likely still not be in the same financial position he would have been had he kept that ball. He could have improved the quality of his life and that of his family by doing something that, although seemingly “classy” at first, would become insignificant later. You can’t tell me that after his 15 minutes are up, anyone is going to remember the name several years from now. They’ll remember Jeter’s. They’ll remember the home run. They’ll maybe remember the nice guy who gave the ball back. But that doesn’t and wont affect the mans day to day life. Can he strike it rich from the publicity? Maybe. But if the past is any indicator…probably not. And where will Jeter be? He’ll be rich somewhere, probably with Minka, with little Jeters running around. Thats not to say he doesn’t deserve to be rich with Minka. It just goes to illustrate the “What the hell are you doing giving that ball back” principle.

For me, the lesson here is simple. What is commonly regarded as the right action is not always the right action. We’re not talking about returning $20,000 left on the sidewalk by a forgetful grandmother. We’re not talking about stepping down from a job so someone else isn’t fired (and I know someone who did this and they should be lauded for this—but only because they could afford to do it and it wouldn’t hurt their own family.) We’re talking a good, working class kid, returning a ball, for absolutely no compensation, to a rich ballplayer and an even richer organization. Everyone thinks this is something to be commended. I dont.