Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias At first, I thought I'd like to be in the shoes of Tim Forneris.

Now I'm not so sure.

Forneris, a ground crew worker, watched as Mark McGwire made history Tuesday night by blasting Homer No. 62.

It wasn't that great of a home run. Even McGwire, who often belts them at least 500 feet from home plate, admitted he was surprised that the home run — measured officially at 341 feet — had enough to make it out of the park at St. Louis.

As the ball cleared the left field fence, there was no scramble to retrieve it because it landed in an area where no fan could get it.

Forneris picked it up, and said he would give it to McGwire. And he did.

For at least the past month, it seems, there's been a growing debate on sports radio talk shows and other forms of media on the fate of the baseball that cleared the fence to break Maris' record.

Callers to national sports radio shows I've listened to offer a wide range of advice. Some say the guy who picks up the ball from the stands should give it to McGwire, because it's the decent thing to do.

Others say that a rule that worked well during childhood — finders keepers — should apply in this scenario as well.

The person who plucked McGwire's home run ball from the stands should be able to keep it, to take it home, and do whatever they want with it, they argue. They could sell it for an astronomical amount of money, or use it as a fetch toy for Rover.

One topic that hasn't received any discussion that I'm aware of is the financial ramifications surrounding the simple act of extending your hand and catching McGwire's 62nd home run ball as it rattles around you in the cheap seats.

According to Americans for Fair Taxation, a group from Houston, TX, McGwire's record-breaking home run may be taxed by the Internal Revenue Service. According to the IRS, the lucky fan who caught the historic ball and gave it to McGwire as a gift may be smacked with a whopping tax bill.

Americans for Fair Taxation stated in a press release that we received Tuesday that, according to the IRS, a fan who snags the record-setting ball and returns it to McGwire may be subject to a federal gift tax if the ball is determined to be worth more than $625,000.

Thus, the tax man (boo, hiss) would come even if the fan doesn't get any money for the ball. "The giver is responsible for paying any applicable tax on any large gift," IRS spokesman Steven Pyrek explained Monday.

Should the fan who catches the ball give it away he or she would face a 40 percent gift tax, according to an Associated Press story reprinted by Americans for Fair Taxation. While the first $625,000 would be exempt because of a lifetime gift tax credit, the fan as a result would lose the right to use that credit as part of his future estate settlement. For a $1 million ball, $375,000 would be subject to the tax. That would amount to $150,000 in taxes.

My guess is that Forneris had no way of knowing that picking up McGwire's history-making baseball was fraught with danger.

Forget running with scissors. What he did was more like running with bulls. Behind the left field wall, Forneris scrambled for the ball in darkness, oblivious to the delirium above him in the stands. He later delivered the ball to McGwire's hands, denying those collectors who had announced earlier in the day they were willing to pay $1 million for it.

According to Americans for Fair Taxation, the only way that Forneris could avoid the IRS after picking up the ball Tuesday night was to give the ball to a charity, which under the tax codes would not have to pay a tax if it turned around and sold the ball for a profit.

All of this is reminiscent of the stories we heard in elementary school of the "shot heard 'round the world" that began the Revolutionary War, largely because of unfair taxation.

Maybe it will be the cracking sound of McGwire's bat Tuesday night that will inspire the beginnings of some real tax reform in this country.

I mean, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and the IRS

just aren't a healthy mix.

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