Business Strategy | Taxation

A feel-good story, ruined by tax talk

Baseball Just because you can doesn't always mean you should.

As Exhibit A, I give you the IRS.

You might know the story by now. When New York Yankees great Derek Jeter hit a home run for his 3,000th career hit on July 9, 23-year-old Christian Lopez caught the historic ball in the left-field stands.

Rather than keep the ball and try to sell it to the highest bidder, Lopez decided to give the ball back to Jeter to commemorate the event. In return for Lopez's kindness, Jeter gave him three autographed bats, three autographed balls, two signed jerseys, and four Champions Suite tickets for each of the Yankees' remaining 2011 home games, including playoff games.

That's where the Tax Man comes in.

"Pretty clearly he's going to have to report as income the value of all the stuff he got for the ball," University of Cincinnati tax professor Paul Caron, author of Tax Prof Blog, told the New York Times.

Assuming a total value of about $50,000 for the memorabilia, The Times reports that Lopez's decision to give the ball back to Jeter could cost him about $14,000 in taxes.

Others aren't so sure about Lopez's liability.

"The legal question of whether it is a gift or prize is whether the transferor is giving the property out of detached and disinterested generosity," Columbia University professor Michael Graetz told The Times. "It's hard for me, not being a Yankee fan, to think of the Yankees as being in the business of exercising generosity to others, but there's a reasonable case to be made that these were given out of generosity."

For its part, the IRS isn't commenting yet. Meanwhile, a number of companies are hoping to cash in on some good P.R. by offering to foot Lopez's tax bill, should he owe anything.

Look, I know there are rules that need to be followed, but aren't there also exceptions to some of those rules? Can't we let a genuinely historic, feel-good moment like this pass without regulating the heck out of it?

Or am I being naive?


Bill Sheridan