Even in the early days of the sport, spectators had the chance to catch home run or fly balls as they left the park. The former, of course, were hit so high and so far that outfield players couldn’t catch them. Indeed, sluggers like Babe Ruth are still famous today for the hits they had in the early 1900s. In 2014 a home run ball hit by Ruth came up for auction after one of the bats he used sold for almost $1.3 million in 2004.
The reason this type of memorabilia still shows up on auction blocks, in museums and on children’s nightstands is because fans can easily collect it. Whether it’s a foul ball or a home run, once a ball is out of play and in the stands, the lucky fan who catches it can take it home.
Of course, there have been some contentious fan catches in the past. Just ask Steve Bartman, a lifelong supporter of the Chicago Cubs, who attended an important post-season game against the Florida Marlins in October 2003. Bartman reached out for what he thought would be a foul ball, but ended up blocking Cubs player Moisés Alou from catching it. The Cubs ended up losing the game, and with it the chance to go to the World Series.