Being in my line of work, I'm practically required to be on social media, because it is still the fastest place to disseminate information, and breaking stories often hit Twitter (in particular) long before they hit cable news or anywhere else. If not for that, I would happily leave the whole medium behind.
Something about the social media age just practically invites people to make jackasses out of themselves by offering ignorant, idiotic commentary on the personal lives and decisions of total strangers. Nowhere was that ugliness on more prominent and obvious display than during the recent dustup over the fan who caught the home-run ball that drove in Albert Pujols' 2,000th run.
For those who don't know, the ball happened to be caught by a Detroit Tigers fan named Ely Hydes, who is a big time baseball fan. So much so that he named his son after former hurler Cy Young, who last pitched in a major league game 108 years ago. So much so that he found himself in attendance at a Detroit Tigers baseball game in Comerica Park this year, even though the 2019 Tigers are a historically bad baseball team — and were expected to be terrible from the first game.
In fact, they have virtually clinched having the third-worst record in the post-World War II era (only the equally-futile 2019 Baltimore Orioles might displace them, depending on how the last week of the baseball season goes).
Hydes especially loved going to baseball games with his son. By his own estimate, he went to over 20 baseball games with his son and was so frequent a visitor at Comerica Park that the stadium staff recognized both of them and gave them friendly greetings.
Until, that is, his son tragically passed away in 2018 from an infection.
Then, less than a year later, Hydes returned to Comerica Park for one of the first games he attended since his son's tragic death. Amazingly, at that game, future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols crushed a home run that drove in his 2,000th RBI — making him only the third player in Major League history to reach that milestone — and the home run ball fell almost literally in Hydes' lap.
To state the obvious, the ball was Hydes' to do with as he pleased the moment he caught it, both legally and by custom. Courts have consistently recognized the right of MLB ticket-holders to keep and dispose of home run balls as they see fit, once they are in secure possession of the ball. What Hydes' wanted to do with the ball was, quite frankly, none of anyone else's business. He could keep it, or sell it for loads of money, or put it into a wood chipper and use it for mulch, as far as the law (or any of us) should care.
That, of course, did not stop Tigers' stadium management from subjecting Hydes to indignities as he attempted to leave the stadium with the ball. It is natural that the Tigers and Angels would want the ball so they could give it to Pujols, so Pujols could keep it or donate it to the Hall of Fame. But they had no right to the ball, or to basically invite harassment of Hydes.
But then, what happened to Hydes was even worse. When he revealed that he intended to keep the ball as a souvenir, thousands of people who did not know Hydes from Adam descended on his social media accounts to render judgment and condemnation upon him for daring to want to keep an important piece of his own personal history.
Tweets from prominent media organizations basically invited the social media mob to descend.
Despite generous efforts from the #Tigers and #Angels to return it, Ely Hydes decided to keep the milestone basebal… https://t.co/6BLwgQ4NNC— USA TODAY (@USA TODAY)1557479100.0
None of the people who criticized Hydes knew anything about his history, or his story, or his life. None of them stopped for a moment to think about why a grieving father might want to hold on to a powerful piece of memory that no doubt reminded him of his recently deceased son — because none of them knew that about Hydes.
Pujols — who by all accounts is one of the all-time class acts in the sport — was the one guy who was most impacted by Hydes' decision, and he immediately sprang to Hydes' defense, telling reporters in a news conference, "I think he was given a little hard time and I told the guys, just you know, just leave it. Just let him have it, I think he can have a great piece of history with him, you know. When he look at the ball he can remember... this game, and I don't fight about it. You know, I think we play this game for the fans too and if they want to keep it, I think they have a right to. I just hope, you know, that he can enjoy it."
But something about social media causes a certain kind of person to feel entitled to make that kind of public, direct condemnation of a person — right to their face, as it were — without knowing any of those facts. Somehow in 2019, there are still people on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram whose motto is still, "Talk now, learn the facts later, and under no circumstances apologize for anything you say in a rage."
It was revealed Monday that Hydes decided to give the ball to the Hall of Fame — and in fact that he hand delivered it to the Hall last month, in private, for absolutely no compensation at all, even though he says he received offers of upwards of $50,000 for the ball. Hydes donated the ball to the museum in the memory of his son and in honor of the "people of Detroit," and so his son will be commemorated on a plaque next to the ball's display.
I also don't know Ely Hydes from Adam, but this touching gesture tells me a lot about him. He didn't publicly cave to the social media mob when they descended on him in May. He waited, and kept the ball sitting in a safety deposit box, thinking about his son. And when he decided to donate the ball, he traveled in person to the Hall and handed it over in a quiet, off-the-radar ceremony. Just from knowing this, I am glad Hydes is the one who caught this ball and that he will have a memory that he can take with him as long as he lives, and that he found a way to honor his son.
The sad part of the story is that Hydes now has an infant daughter Victoria. And when he tells her the story of this incident, a major part of what he plans to tell her is about "the dangers of social media." What ought to have been a milestone high in the midst of tragedy was instead turned into a stressful, paranoia-inducing pile on by hordes of jackass strangers who felt like their social media account gave them free license to condemn a total stranger for a situation they didn't understand.
And I truly hope most of them follow the meme and actually delete their accounts — for their sakes as well as ours.