In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa treated baseball fans to the electric home run race that ended with the former setting the single-season record for the most dingers with 70. That year, both men surpassed the mark Roger Maris had set when he hit 61 HRs in 1961, but the St. Louis slugger beat Sosa to the punch on September 8th—a day where one Cardinals employee voluntarily gave up a fortune.
In 2001, Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record with the 73 long balls he hit over the course of that campaign. Toward the end of the season, a trend emerged that saw some absolute chaos unfold in the stands as fans scrambled to get their hands on what had the potential to be the ultimate souvenir.
Of course, that reaction could be traced back to what unfolded a few years prior, as comic book artist Todd McFarlane shelled out $3 million for the baseball Phil Ozersky managed to grab after McGwire went deep for the 70th time (which wasn’t exactly the wisest investment when you consider it’s worth closer to $250,000 today).
There was plenty of chatter concerning how much McGwire’s record-breaking balls might sell for in the lead-up to his historic feat, and when he tied Maris with his 61st of the season on September 7th, everyone who was sitting in the outfield at Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals host the Cubs the following night was praying they might end up with his 62nd.
However, they were ultimately outdone by a man who didn’t earn a single penny.
Why the guy who caught Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run gave up a huge payday
McGwire had the chance to make history when he stepped up to the plate to face off against Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel in the bottom of the fourth inning, and he did exactly that—although the manner in which he surpassed Maris was slightly anti-climatic.
The man known as “Big Mac” was obviously known for his power, but the home run he it that night was really a line drive that managed to sneak over the left-field wall below the stands and out of the reach of any spectators.
Prior to the game, multiple potential bidders had already announced they would pay at least $1 million to buy the baseball from the person who managed to snag it. That honor ended up going to Tim Forneris, a 22-year-old computer programmer who was getting paid $40 per game to work as a member of the Cardinals grounds crew and tracked it down near a batting cage next to the bullpen.
While there’s a chance Forneris would’ve ended up out of a job if he’d decided to hang onto the ball, he would’ve also had to work at least 25,000 games to earn what he likely would’ve made by selling it. However, he decided to do what most people who’ve never been in that kind of position would tell you is the “right thing” by reuniting McGwire with the baseball without asking for anything in return.
Forneris (who now works as a public defender) says he never had any regrets about the decision. It also came with some perks: he was on the field when McGwire was presented with the ball after the game, got to meet Bill Clinton, received a watch from the team, and was given a free minivan after Chrysler decided to reward him for his selflessness.
It’s not $1 million, but I guess it’s still something.