I decided to pick a lighter topic of interest for the Sunday News Extra today. With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought it would be nice to acknowledge and give thanks to the person that I consider “the father of the game used collecting community…” New York Stockbroker Reuben Berman.

I am sure to most the name Reuben Berman is not a familiar one… but then again, why should it be? He never ran an auction house or wrote a letter on a jersey or bat. What he did do took place on May 16th 1921…so why the interest in him. A bit of background first. Up until this point in time and in accordance with a ruling to this effect in 1904, major league baseball had given ball clubs the option of using ushers to retrieve foul balls hit into the stands. This continued until 1916 when Charles Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs.

Weeghman, in an effort to help declining attendance, decided that it might be better to let his fan’s keep the balls batted into the stands. This idea became popular and was adopted by some clubs, but with no real sense of uniformity or entitlement. Fast forward to 1921 and one Reuben Berman. Berman, sitting in the grandstands at the Polo Grounds watching the Giants play the Cincinnati Reds, caught a foul ball. When an usher approached Berman and ask for the ball back, Berman refused. As things began to escalate, Berman hurled the ball back into the crowd. He was then made to leave the stadium and the Giants refunded the cost of his ticket.

As any true collector will acknowledge, they would rather have the item and not the replacement cost. Also in keeping with that often collectors will place an inordinately high value on their prized gamers, Berman sued the Giants for $20,000.00. The Giants countered with the statement that appeared on the back of the ticket that Berman had bought, specifically that the ball club “reserved the right to revoke the license of the ticket by refunding the price “if the ticket holder broke any club rules.”

The jury hearing the case felt that refusing to surrender the ball and then tossing back into the crowd was not sufficient reason to revoke the ticket. They also awarded Berman a $100.00 in damages. After this, fans at the Polo Ground were able to keep foul balls.

Today we find fans sitting in rafts and kayaks out in McCovey Cove hoping to land a ball. We have fans in the bleachers at Wrigley Field waiting for the chance to catch one and then throw in back. The Giants and the Cubs…part of the same story over a hundred years ago and today with distinctly different traditions.

Collecting game used balls, bats, uniforms, and equipment is about establishing a link to or connection with a player or team. It’s about wanting “the stuff.” Eighty-Six years ago Reuben Berman wanted “the stuff” and maybe a nice payday as well (see things haven’t changed that much).

As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.