With baseball season about to start, I turn our attention to one of the national pastime’s most maddening, odious traditions: fans throwing back home run balls hit by opposing teams. When it comes to modern-day crimes against the integrity of the game, I think this one bothers me more than steroids, the designated hitter and artificial turf put together.
We’ve all seen it happen. A member of the road team hits a home run. A fan catches it. A chant rises up: “Throw it back! Throw it back!” The fan tosses the ball back onto the field, and then everyone cheers.
The tradition, according to most accounts, started with Chicago Cubs fans, though it’s been adopted by various other fan bases, those at Citizens Bank Park included. But anywhere it happens, it’s an awful thing that needs to end.
There are many reasons for the loathsomeness of this practice. On top of the bad sportsmanship, it’s an impotent gesture that smacks of sore loserdom. It also doesn’t affect the outcome of the game; it’s not like throwing the ball back makes the home run not count. Nor does it psych out or intimidate the opposing team or “send a message,” as though an opposing slugger is going to think twice about swinging for the fences again if he knows the fans aren’t standing for it.
Throwing back a homer is the fan equivalent of losing a hand of poker to someone, and then reacting by slapping them across the face.
But even more than that, throwing the ball back on the field is a waste of a perfectly good souvenir. Catching a home run ball at a baseball game, for most people, is a once-in-a-lifetime event, something that defies astronomical odds. And if you make a spectacular catch of the ball, that’s even better, especially if you have kids with you, and they’re just beginning to discover the wonders of the game. If you catch a ball, there should only be two options: 1) Keep it, or 2) Give it to a kid sitting near you.
In a perfect combination of the opposite of both, I give you this heartwarming father-daughter moment from the 2010 season, in which a gentleman in the front row of left field at Citizens Bank Park catches a home run ball and hands it to his buddy—a man holding what appears to be his baby daughter—who then motions the baby’s arm to throw the ball onto the field.
Had it been me, I’d have let my own baby son keep the ball, just to have a game ball in his room. He doesn’t need to know that Rod Barajas hit that homer three years after leaving the Phillies.
I realize I may be alone on this one. There’s a Facebook group called Phillies Fans Against Throwing Back Home Run Balls, but it only has one member (not me) and hasn’t been updated since mid-2010. Baseball, unlike every other sport in the world, lets you keep the ball if you’ve caught it. So why just toss that aside for no particular purpose?