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The Phillies get sued by a 12 year-old girl

Oct 8, 2009, 9:57 AM EST

A 12 year-old girl caught Ryan Howard’s 200th home run ball back in July. Afterwards, she was escorted to the Phillies clubhouse and exchanged it for an autographed ball.  This being America, she sued (or, I should say, her parents sued) in order to get the ball back.  Two days after the suit was filed, the Phillies gave her the ball back.

Even though I haven’t seen the lawsuit, I see why the team gave it back: 12 year-olds aren’t legally competent to make contracts, and any implied agreement to exchange the home run ball for the autographed ball would almost certainly be nullified by a court.

Maybe the Phillies could win if they went scorched Earth in the case, took depositions of the girl’s parents and got them to admit that it was them rather than their daughter who made the deal, but the Phillies wisely concluded, it seems, that life is too short to get into stupid litigation with speculating fans.  At the same time, Howard strikes me as a more intellectual ballplayer than most, and I have this feeling that he wouldn’t ask the Phillies to go to the mat for him on what is ultimately a minor piece of sentimental memorabilia.

As for the girl — or, in all likelihood, her parents — the lawsuit seems like a dumb move.  200th home run balls from guys who are likely to hit 400+ home runs probably aren’t worth all that much in the grand scheme of things.  Probably less than the retainer they had to pay the lawyer, and probably not much more than the autographed ball anyway (though I assume that they’ll let her keep that too to avoid the trouble).  Even if I’m wrong about that, which story would you want to tell to your friends later in life:

(a) I once caught Ryan Howard’s 200th homer, I got to meet him, give him the ball, and he gave me an autographed one instead; or

(b) I once caught Ryan Howard’s 200th homer, I got to meet him, give him the ball, and he gave me an autographed one instead, and then three months later we sued his ass and got them both!

Maybe your answer is (b).  If so, congratulations, you’re kind of a jerk!

  1. The Common Man - Oct 8, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Craig,
    As little as I like a culture in which we are all sue-happy, don’t you think it’s ethically wrong of the Phillies to try to negotiate a deal with the girl without her parents around? I mean, the power differential between a 12-year old girl and a “team official” (whatever that means) has got to be huge, particularly if this official takes her and her 15-year old brother down to the Phillies clubhouse. I’m not saying they were shortchanged in the original exchange, but isn’t it inherently creepy and fishy for the Phillies to be trying to make this arrangement immediately following the game?

  2. Dan - Oct 8, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Not to be a jerk, but maybe she just wanted the ball? I.e. choice (c) I once caught Ryan Howard’s 200th homer. See? It’s on my desk. Awesome, huh?
    Honestly: I’m a huge Mets fan, and if I had a milestone HR from a likely Hall of Famer (say Mike Piazza’s 200th), I’d have a hard time parting with it. I’m not very into meet and greet photographs with players — never meet your heroes! — and I’m a nostalgia junkie. Dunno.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 8, 2009 at 11:02 AM

    TCM: My guess is that no one really thought of it as “negotiating a deal” at the time. An usher, a clubhouse manager, a P.R. person and maybe Ryan Howard were the alpha and omega of who was involved, and it probably never occurred to them that they were making a formal deal, as it were, as opposed to doing something like swapping a peanut butter sandwich for a pudding cup in the cafeteria. I think of everything in legal terms because of my training, but most folks don’t, so they can be excused, I think, for not considering the legal implications of it all.
    Dan: maybe. And if she did feel that way and still made the trade, the argument TCM is making (and the policy which underlies the law) is a valid one, because it means she was probably pressured into making the trade without being able to properly think about her rights and everything.
    I’m a parent, though, and I’m trying to think how I’d handle the situation if my daughter later told me “um, I really didn’t want to give up that ball . . .I want it back.” My answer, (1) I would have made sure I was with her at the time and made it clear to her (father to daughter) that if she doesn’t want to give up the ball, she doesn’t have to, but that may require saying no to the clubhouse invite; and (2) if the second thoughts came later, I would have told her that she has to live with her decisions, and regret is part of life when it comes to this sort of stuff.
    Tough? Maybe. But I think it’s a better lesson to teach a 12 year-old than “if you change your mind later, sue.”

  4. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Oct 8, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    (b). If so, congratulations, you’re kind of a lawyer!

    fixed that for ya :)
    http://www.instantrimshot.com

  5. Joey B - Oct 8, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    If the parents were with her, then I think they have no case. But if they weren’t with her, then surely the Phillies took advantage of a 12 year old kid.
    This is really the Phillies’ fault. An autographed ball in return for HR #200, for a guy that might make the HOF? That’s incredibly cheap for an organization, and an individual (Howard), that have millions to throw around. That ball will likely be worth $100s, if not more. The Phillies could’ve pre-empted this by throwing her an autographed bat, ball, and maybe some WS boxes.
    Instead, they tried the $15 payout. Ridiculous. The Phillies should be embarassed.

  6. Adam - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    The girl would have HAD to have had an adult with her when she met Ryan Howard. It’s not like a 12 year old drove to the stadium herself, bought a ticket and went in.
    So it’s not like the Phillies grabbed the girl, shuttled her down a dark tunnel and waterboarded her until she agreed to an autographed ball.

  7. Joey B - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    But it has to be a qualified adult. Like I said, if her parents were there, that’s one thing. If she went with her big brother, or a school group, etc., it can’t count. I’m not saying they did anything wrong, except for being way too cheap, but suppose it was the #500 HR ball? The same principles have to apply.

  8. kardo - Oct 8, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    Regardless, I’d rather have the bat.

  9. jonny5 - Oct 8, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    It’s a stinking ball people!!!
    “Phillies took advantage of a 12 year old kid.”. “This is really the Phillies’ fault”.”That’s incredibly cheap for an organization”.”The Phillies should be embarassed”.”ethically wrong of the Phillies “.”isn’t it inherently creepy and fishy for the Phillies”.
    All these quotes from a few posts above??? Does anyone see the type of mentality many Americans have anymore? No wonder Lawyers do so well today…. The people vilifying the Phillies for trying to get Howard his 200th home run ball should maybe look into the mirror some. You aren’t so perfect either. They gave her the ball back because after all,It’s just a stinking ball people. Howard might get it right for his 300th homer.

  10. Mike Soo - Oct 8, 2009 at 4:11 PM

    I would like to give the Phillies full-faith in the matter and think that they were not not trying to extort a little girl. But from the comments of the attorney to the Miami Herald(1) and NPR’s All Things Considered(2), what it comes down to is money–that the family (mom) felt like they got ripped off on the exchange of a ball that should’ve been worth thousands of dollars being traded for a ball that was worth a hundred. The attorney just made it seem like Ryan Howard could have the ball, if he was willing to pay the right price (thousands) for it. The truth is, at this rate, with every homerun that RH hits, he will be the first to that number, so the baseball probably has very limited value. There is no way that the girl will be able to pay her way through college for the price this ball is worth.
    1. http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/story/1270200.html
    2. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113586589

  11. Joey B - Oct 8, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    “The people vilifying the Phillies for trying to get Howard his 200th home run ball should maybe look into the mirror some. You aren’t so perfect either. They gave her the ball back because after all,It’s just a stinking ball people. Howard might get it right for his 300th homer.”
    It’s not just a ‘stinking ball’. If it was, then Howard and the Phillies can send me his #500 HR ball, and I’ll send them one from my basement. It’s a valuable ball, and it belongs to the girl that caught it. If Howard or the Phillies want it, then they can reach into the $10M pa that Howard makes, or the $100M pa that the Phillies make, and reward the little girl. It’s not that complicated. It just annoys me when rich people get cheap.

  12. jonny5 - Oct 9, 2009 at 4:24 PM

    “It’s not just a ‘stinking ball’. If it was, then Howard and the Phillies can send me his #500 HR ball, and I’ll send them one from my basement. It’s a valuable ball, and it belongs to the girl that caught it. If Howard or the Phillies want it, then they can reach into the $10M pa that Howard makes, or the $100M pa that the Phillies make, and reward the little girl. It’s not that complicated. It just annoys me when rich people get cheap.”
    Just because they’re rich doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes too. from the sound of it, that’s what happened, they did give it back without any fuss.
    I wonder…. is the ball authenticated? if it isn’t, it is just another stinking ball.

  13. Mafalda Rohan - Jan 16, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Very nice site!

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