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Why is Catching a Baseball Taxable Income?

August 8, 2007

Tags Big GovernmentTaxes and Spending

As soon as 21-year-old Matt Murphy snagged the valuable piece of sports history Tuesday night, his souvenir became taxable income in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service, according to experts.

"It's an expensive catch," said John Barrie, a tax lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP in New York who grew up watching the Giants play at Candlestick Park. "Once he took possession of the ball and it was his ball, it was income to him based on its value as of yesterday,"

By most estimates, the ball that put Bonds atop the list of all-time home run hitters with 756 would sell in the half-million dollar range on the open market or at auction.

That would instantly put Murphy, a college student from Queens, in the highest tax bracket for individual income, where he would face a tax rate of about 35 percent, or about $210,000 on a $600,000 ball.

Even if he does not sell the ball, Murphy would still owe the taxes based on a reasonable estimate of its value, according to Barrie. Capital gains taxes also could be levied in the future as the ball gains value, he said...

[A]t least one ball was as much a source of embarrassment for the IRS as revenue.

As Mark McGwire chased the mark for most home runs in a season in 1998, IRS officials initially said the ball that broke Roger Maris' long-standing record could be subject to taxes even if it were returned to McGwire. The statements were ridiculed by politicians and quickly disavowed by the agency's top brass.

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