Fans who snag Aaron Judge home run balls face a choice: Cash in or take one for the team

For the rest of the season, an outfield seat to a New York Yankees game is a lottery ticket.

If you were lucky enough to hit it, what would you do? It's a question every fan with their sights set on snagging an Aaron Judge home run ball should ponder prior to taking their seat. Once that home run is hit, decisions are going to come fast and packed with pressure.

Judge hit the 60th home run of his historic season on Tuesday. The tally tied him for Babe Ruth's single-season career high and left him one short of fellow Yankee Roger Maris' AL record. Judge's next home run ball — presuming he hits it — will tie Maris and command a small fortune on the collector's market. As would record-breaking No. 62. Each home run Judge hits from there would likewise carry collector's value with his final longball of the season officially establishing the new mark— and possibly procuring the highest price.

The fans who secure these balls will be faced with multiple options:

1. Keep it.
2. Sell it.
3. Give it away.
4. Give it back to the Judge and the Yankees.
5. Negotiate with Judge and the Yankees.

Pressure in the moment will be intense and lean heavily toward options Nos. 4 and 5 — especially for Yankees fans at Yankee Stadium. Security will likely be there to provide an escort — as it was for Michael Kessler, the fan who snagged No. 60 on Tuesday. At that point, it's decision time.

Kessler is a 20-year-old Yankees fan who was sporting a Yankees jersey Tuesday. After meeting with security, he and his friends met with Judge after the game. They took pictures with Judge and all left with autographed baseballs. Kessler also took home an autographed bat.

But he didn't leave with the No. 60 baseball. That he gave to Judge.

He explained his decision to reporters prior to meeting with the Yankees slugger.

"That's history," Kessler explained to reporters. "Any way I could give back to Judge, he's given so much to the organization — just do my part."

For Kessler, it was a great night, one that he'll tell stories about and surely exceeded the expectations he had for his Tuesday. Meanwhile, the ball he gave back is estimated by multiple industry experts to be worth six figures. Ken Goldin of Goldin auctions told Action Network's Darren Rovell that he expected it would fetch $150,000 on the open market. Brahm Wachter of Sotheby's valued it at $100,000. David Kohler of SCP Auctions placed a $50,000 to $70,000 value on the ball.

Is that a fair trade? Is there really a moral imperative for a fan in Kessler's shoes to "just do my part?" The high-end estimated value of the ball is life-changing money for a lot of 20-year-olds. The low-end estimate of $50,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

Meanwhile, the Yankees aren't a charity. They're worth $6 billion. Judge has $36 million-plus in career earnings and was in a position last offseason to turn down a $213 million contract offer from the Yankees. He'll command considerably more as a free agent after posting one of the best seasons in baseball history.

Sep 20, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; Fans watch as New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) bats against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees and Judge are in a fine position to offer fair-market value for a ball — if they so choose. But this isn't how these scenarios play out. Teams tend to offer packages that include memorabilia and season tickets when high-stakes balls are involved. Tom Brady gave the fan who returned his 600th touchdown ball a bitcoin valued then at $63,000 — and now considerably less. He also acknowledged that the fan should've held on to the ball.

"Byron realized he lost all of his leverage once he gave the ball away," Brady said during a "Monday Night Football" broadcast. "He should've held it to get as much leverage as possible."

This isn't to say that the Yankees and Judge are obligated to offer fans fair-market value. If they don't want to, that's fine. At the same time, fans aren't obligated to just give them the ball in exchange for some autographed gear and a meet-and-greet. In no other circumstance is an American who legally and rightfully stumbles upon a six-figure-plus payday expected to just give it up. But that's the dynamic that will play out in conversations among fans, on airwaves and in social media around Judge's home run balls.

Meanwhile, the stakes moving forward are going to only climb. The same industry experts who put a price on No. 60 estimated that Nos. 61 and 62 and Judge's final home run ball of the season will command a range of $150,000 to $1 million-plus. If you're lucky enough to grab one, it's best to already have a plan in place.

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