Christian Lopez found himself a lucky guy on Saturday afternoon. His tickets were a gift, and he found himself in the right spot as Derek Jeter improbably and majestically launched a home run into the left field seats for his 3000th career hit. The ball — a potential $200,000 lottery ticket that could help pay off Lopez’s $100,000 student loans — was his.
Of course, Lopez decided instead to do what he felt was the right thing. He gave the ball back to Derek Jeter in exchange for some signed balls, bats and jerseys and four season tickets in the Champions Suites. Now, as The Times noted last night, he probably owes taxes on those items.
“There’s different ways the IRS could try to characterize a ball caught by a fan in the stands,” Andrew D. Appleby, a tax lawyer who specializes in prized baseballs, said to The Times. “But when the Yankees give him all those things, it’s much more clear-cut that he owes taxes on what they give him.”
Now, this story has made the rounds today, and people are outraged! How could the Yankees let Lopez incur more debt for his generosity? Now, of course, it’s not that simple; when it comes to the tax code, it never is. Lopez would have owed taxes on the any amount of money he received from the ball, and the Yankees can certainly cover Lopez’s taxes as well. Second, if the items given to Lopez from the club are gifts — given out of generosity and not because Lopez wanted them in exchange — he wouldn’t be taxed on them. The IRS would bill him for the jerseys and balls but not the seats.
Ultimately, the story isn’t as scandalous as it has been made out to be today. The Yanks could cover Lopez’s taxes or he’ll owe less than is being reported or he’s just paying taxes he otherwise would have owed had he chosen to sell the ball. Such are the pitfalls of winning the lottery.
But the story still got me thinking: What would I do had I caught the lucky Number 3000? As powerful as karma — or at least the good feelings associated with it — might be, it’s hard to resist the allure of easy money. And so let me open the floor to you. What would you do? Be honest.