When a pitch is crushed by the away team, why do some fans throw the home run baseball back? We dive into the historic tradition…
The sun is shining bright, your beer is icy cold and the sound of the announcer is soothing as you sit down in your seat in the middle of a baseball game.
All of a sudden, a loud crack of the bat and “Holy crap that ball is coming right for me.” You knock down the ball and pick it up before a mad rush of people start clamoring for the home run treasure.
But there’s a problem.
That home run wasn’t hit by your home team. On what was a perfect day now comes a decision which could determine how fans treat you for the rest of the game.
Do you ignore the “throw it back” chants and keep the once-in-a-lifetime souvenir? Or do you prove your fanhood and respect for the home team?
Test of fanhood or ridiculous tradition?
The most difficult part of this research was actually finding out where this tradition originated from. Apparently back in 1969, the founder of the now-famous Cub’s Bleacher Bums, Ron Grousl, was the first fan to ever throw a home run ball back on the field after the legendary Hank Aaron smacked one into the stands.
“It was spur of the moment,” confided Murphy (local Chicago sports radio host) “Grousl caught a Hank Aaron home run and said, ‘I don’t want this ball!’ He threw it back to the umpire Chris Pelekoudas … and that had never been done before. … It said we don’t want any stinking enemy ball out here!”
Leave it to a Cub’s fan to start a tradition that is now a heated debate among fans in all ballparks.
Once in a lifetime test
It’s no secret baseball fans are passionate about their team. But they’re also vocal on how you should display your passion.
Some fans measure your passion on what you will or won’t do at a game. Such as the decision of throwing home runs and foul balls from the opposing team back on the field.
Throwing the ball back is perceived as being a “real fan” ultimately saying, “I want nothing to do with your achievement on my home turf.”
It sounds a little silly to think your fanhood could be tested the minute after you receive one of the greatest treasures in all of sports. But when one baseball’s most coveted pitchers, like Stephen Strasburg, makes a start against the visiting Pirates the decision was easy for this fan.
Nationals fan Bill Corey went to the ballpark and made the decision if a home run was hit off of Strasburg, he would be the first one to throw the ball back. The night happened to play out to his favor as a home run was hit his way.
Immediately following the home run, Corey threw the ball back. After the throw, he was quickly asked for a comment by the media to which he replied, “I’m just letting Strasburg know I have his back, as should everyone else here.”
Others sitting around the fan who threw it back agreed with his actions:
“You do whatever you have to do for your team, This guy’s a hero.”
“I thought he should have been the fan of the game. It’s an American tradition. That’s what baseball’s all about, you throw that [junk] back.”
Not Everyone Thinks You Should Throw it Back
Former manager of the Yankees and Dodgers Joe Torre has the opposite opinion on the age old tradition:
“This has to be one of the dumbest sporting ideas ever. Peer pressure gone very bad, in a public setting. To me, that’s the greatest souvenir in the world, and you throw it back? Now fans feel like they’re criminals if they don’t throw the ball back.”
Torre’s assumptions on peer pressure playing a factor have to measure in at some point. But as a fan, you’re probably going to make that decision of whether you’re a keeper or a thrower-backer prior to catching a home run.
what if there are extending circumstances?
What if the home run ball actually is worth some coin as in the case of the Strasburg game? That home run ball, because it was hit off Strasburg in his rookie season, was valued at least $1000.
Another setback for the “throw it back” crowd is the increasing number of MLB stadiums prohibiting throwing anything onto a field, including home run baseballs.
Some fans have been kicked out of games for showing their “fan hood” and dedication to their team. The ban is understandable in principle, but as with any rule, there are exceptions and this choice should be left up to the fan.
What would you do?
Personally, I find it hard to imagine catching a home run or foul ball (something that has never happened to me before) and choosing to throw it back.
To counteract that feeling, I’m extremely superstitious and firmly believe in doing everything possible to help your team win.
But as with many baseball fans, I also love memorabilia. And what better souvenir than a home run ball from a game?
If I picture myself in that moment of catching a home run ball, my first instinct would be to say “This is going on the shelf at home after I buy a trophy case for it. To hell with what other fans think.”
But then a commenter following the debate said this:
“Sometimes in life you’ve got to decide who and what you stand for. I think it’s almost your duty as a fan to throw back a home run ball from the other team.
It’s the best way to get the crowd back into the game because when the ball goes back on the field the crowd starts cheering, the home run doesn’t hurt as much.”
A visiting team’s home run will never feel as good as that moment you stepped up for your favorite team when all eyes were on you.
Featured image via Beach Photography