Of all the ridiculous traditions in all of sports, throwing a homerun ball back because it was hit by the opposition, is among the most ridiculous.
If somebody had done that to Lou Gehrig's 1928 World Series homer against Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (scoring Babe Ruth on the dinger), then a Connecticut woman wouldn't be able to pay off her son's medical school bills by selling it now.
It is a practice that is believed to have begun in the Wrigley Field bleachers and has, of course, now been adopted by wayward Minnesota Twins fans at Target Field.
But here's what those local fans apparently don't know: Wrigley Field fans (usually) don't throw the real homerun ball back.
I was discussing this new "tradition" with Mary Lucia on The Currrent last week when a Chicago listener, whose name I am withholding out of concern for her personal safety, let me in on the secret in this e-mail:
Sorry you don't like our North Side tradition of throwing an opposing team's home run back. For the record, many of the balls actually thrown back on the field are not the actual home run ball. People in the bleachers often bring extra balls, and security personnel do as well. It may be a dumb tradition, but we're not stupid enough to throw back anything that might be valuable.
"You do not want to be the person who catches a home run and doesn't throw it back. The peer pressure is crushing," our mythbuster says. And so fans bring an extra baseball to the game, just in case.
We found this nugget online to confirm this assertion...
Tell this to Target Field. They're throwing away someone's medical school education.
Based on the teams current performance and the current position of active hitters in relation to the important HR milestones it is unlikely that a HR ball at Target field is going to be worth anything more than sentimental value. If you consider the cost of a baseball and the likelihood of catching one from an opposing player (even with the woeful, but improving Twins pitching staff) you are wasting your money for the insurance ball. I took part in Warrior Dash a couple of weeks ago - the thrill of throwing my $50 (wear adjusted) shoes on the pile of others was spontaneous and frivolous but another bit of excitement in the day. I will happily throw back a HR ball given the chance.
This "myth" is about the worst kept "secret" I know of. I heard about packing extra baseballs for this purpose years ago. (From someone who regularly attends Twins games.) I'd be surprised if the people at Target Field throwing back home run balls aren't doing the same thing they do at Wrigley. I've heard stories of people "collecting" foul balls at games where they sit down the foul lines to have a few "spares" for when they sit in home run territory. During the heady days of the home run record chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, you know if Big Mac hit one out at Wrigley the ball being thrown back was not the home run ball. The Bleacher Bums at Wrigley may be crazy but their not stupid.
Throwing a home run ball back that was hit by the other team is a gesture of loyalty to the team, the kind of loyalty Cubs fans have in abundance. I suspect that if the ball were of value, it wouldn't get thrown back, but it's certainly a Wrigley tradition, whether or not it's a tradition in other ballparks.
Incidentally, when you walk into Wrigley Field there's a sign warning you not to throw items on the field!