Monday, October 12, 2009 PTI: Was Ryan Howard Robbed?

[Editor's Note: SportsJudge PTI appears every other Monday at 9am as Chris Stanley and Adam Primm weigh in on hot topics in the world of sports.]


Ryan Howard hit is 200th career home run at Land Shark Stadium where it was caught by a 12 year old girl named Jennifer Valdivia. Howard naturally wanted the ball back given the major significance of the 200 HR milestone. He invited the girl down to the clubhouse and met her. He also autographed a different ball and gave it to her. That is a class act in my opinion, and more than a fair trade.

Apparently the 12 year old’s parents saw things differently. Instead of giving Howard credit for being a good guy in a world of athletes who make the newspapers almost daily for the wrong reasons, they did the American thing….they filed a lawsuit.

Only in America. This is one of those threatened lawsuits that make me understand why all the lawyer jokes fly around so often and why there is so much disdain for attorneys in this country.

You just had the great fortune of catching a ball at a baseball game, something that not every fan gets to experience in their lifetime. Just ask my co-author how hard those things can be to catch (especially the Travis Hafner foul ball that went through his paws this season!) To top it off you just got to meet one of the best players in baseball today. And then Ryan Howard gives you an autographed baseball as icing on the cake. Still, the family claims that Howard took advantage of the young girl by offering her less than what he should have given for the ball and threatened a lawsuit.

So what would you do if you were Ryan Howard at this point? Would you hire a better attorney and battle it out in court? I don’t think anyone would blame you for doing that, but that’s not what Howard did. Instead, Howard simply gave the ball to the family.

If this would have happened to me when I was 12 years old, it would still be the best moment of my life to this day. Instead, the little girl looks back on the moment as the day that Ryan Howard screwed her out of a ball and mommy and daddy hired an attorney to get it back. You gotta love the American justice system. Kudos to Ryan Howard for being the bigger man (pun intended).


Normally Chris and I debate both sides of an issue, but I can’t on this one. I agree 100% with what Chris said. In fact, we had this conversation earlier this season, and I said that I would give the ball back to the player in exchange for one ball autographed by the player and another by the team (except for a home run ball that could be auctioned for over $1 million, although I think I would still see if the player wanted it first).

This whole situation comes down to one thing – greed. In America today, no one thinks of what the other person is feeling; they only try to maximize their own benefit. One of the reasons the parents felt their daughter was taken advantage of was because they heard the ball could be auctioned off for a few thousand dollars. While the ball may have been worth that much, I still have a problem with this situation for two reasons.

The first problem is that the girl made a deal already. She traded the ball for a chance to go into the dugout, meet Howard, and receive an autographed ball. Now she has both balls and a trip to the dugout while Howard has nothing.

Second, no one auctioned the ball off to earn the few thousand dollars. The Phillies representative whom the parents accused of taking advantage of their daughter never was in possession of the ball, so he couldn’t auction it off. Howard wanted to keep the ball for the sentimental value, so he wouldn’t auction it off either. The argument is totally false. The parents and their attorney created the straw man of a sinister baseball executive taking advantage of a 12 year old girl to make a few thousand bucks. But that person didn’t exist and no one tried to make any money.

Instead of a nice story about a fan giving a ball to a player because the player has a sentimental attachment to this particular ball, we have a story about good, old-fashioned American greed present in a twelve year old and her parents. While Jennifer may have made the trade without a parent present increasing the chances of her being taken advantage of, it is hard to argue that she was taken advantage of when the trade is pretty standard in Major League Baseball. It is fairly common for a player to trade an autograph for a ball that means something to a player, generally a first home run or a milestone homerun. So even if Jennifer was not accompanied by a parent, it is hard to argue that she was taken advantage of when the result would have been the same regardless.

In the end, it makes me sick that Jennifer and her parents cried foul on a fair deal, Howard is deprived of his piece of his own milestone, and the legal system defends greed and seller’s remorse. The lesson that this is teaching Jennifer, and the potential it holds for others like Rudy Giuliani’s spoiled golfing son (article here), doesn’t show much class for our nation’s youth. The only person showing class in this story is Howard, who quietly gave the ball back even though he could have fought to keep it.

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Mike Colligan said...

I didn't hear about this situation which was probably a result of Howard just making it go away, but I do disagree a little bit.

I don't see any way the girl can be blamed for this situation. At 12-years-old, she's under the influence of her parents directly or indirectly. Either way, it teaches her a terrible lesson which you guys both mentioned. It's a shame that a few years down the road Jennifer will probably be the one that has phantom neck pain after a minor car accident.

For the bad reputation that millionaire pro athletes have, it's interesting to see it go the other way this time.

Brian Doyle said...

It wasn't so much that the Phillies/Howard were going to auction it off for money, but that the parents COULD auction it off for money. This isn't quite Popov v. Hayashi, but those parents probably deserve the same fate as Popov. ( I agree with Mike, in no way is this the girl's fault. But hopefully she doesn't grow up to become this guy: .

From the Phillies side, all they really had to do was have one of the girl's parents accompany her when she made the trade and this probably wouldn't be an issue.

rakeback said...

I think its sad that everyone is trying to capitalize off a good deed. I think Ryan Howard's intentions were very genuine as were the intentions of this girl, its too bad the family had to screw it all up!