I was talking about the issue with friends on Facebook on Saturday afternoon, as soon as we heard about the Yanks giving Lopez the tickets, and I wrote a Squawk on Sunday talking about the fact that he could be facing a huge tax liability on the $50,000 or so in tickets and merchandise that the Yankees gave him in exchange for the ball. So I can't believe it took two days for the press to realize the tax implications. All they would have to do is remember what happened when the "Oprah Winfrey Show" guests got those "free" cars, and then realized they would have to pay taxes on them. There was such a to-do over the tax issue, that when Volkswagen gave away its new Beetle in Oprah's last Favorite Things Show, VW agreed to pay for all the taxes and fees.
Or the press could have paid attention to what happens in sweepstakes and TV game shows. I know this personally from winning two different trips via sweepstakes what a huge hit the taxes are. I loved the trips; the taxes, not so much, especially since I had to pay taxes on the full rack rate and full hotel rate for the voyages, even though I could have bought the trip cheaper myself on the open market. The same thing will happen with Lopez for those overpriced seats that would be worth below face value on StubHub.
Anyhow, even though most of the press was all aflutter about how selfless and classy Christian Lopez was for giving the ball back to Jeter, I made it clear I thought he made a huge mistake right from the beginning. And now that is has come out that he has over $100,000 in student loans, at the ripe old age of 23, to pay, (not to mention that he still lives at home, while Jeter, the beneficiary of his generosity, lives in "St. Jetersburg," one of the biggest homes in Florida), I feel even more strongly that Lopez thought with his heart, not his head, and it will be something he will regret in the near future.
But too many people have confused what Lopez did -- giving a ball back for free to a ballplayer worth hundreds of millions and a franchise worth billions -- to being the equivalent of Lopez, say, returning Jeter's wallet without asking for a reward. For example, ESPN's Rob Parker compared what Lopez did to when Parker found Dave Winfield's 1977 All-Star Game ring, and returned it to him. While Parker absolutely did the right thing, it's not the same issue at all.
Jeter was not entitled to that ball, and certainly not for free. And the last time I checked, Jeter wasn't giving out any freebies, either. The fans who attended Saturday's game will have to pay for their Jeter DJ3K hat and t-shirt, featuring a picture of their hero, just like everybody else who wants it. (Incidentally, I got a lot of grief and angry denials last week for noting how the "team first" Jeter was marketing an individual accomplishment. Um, did y'all see what he was wearing in the postgame Saturday? a DJ3K t-shirt of himself, and Yankee hat with his own logo on it? Does he play for the New York Yankees, or the New York Jeters?)
The reality is that DJ3K is being marketed to death, with game-used dirt, $550 commemorative watches, and all sorts of products Jeter and the Yankees and Steiner Sports and all of Jeter's corporate partners will make a killing on. So much so, that the Bob's Blitz's site wondered whether the real reason Jeter skipped the All-Star Game was because he had whole slew of Steiner Sports DJ3K items to sign. The items are hyped with this line: "PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A PRE ORDER, THESE ITEMS WIL [SIC] BE SIGNED WITHIN A FEW DAYS OF JETER RECORDING HIS 3000TH HIT." Hmmmmm. Wonder when the captain is signing them? Is writer's cramp the reason he can't appear in the All-Star Game?
Anyhow, Christian Lopez sold the Golden Ticket he had -- the baseball -- in exchange for some overpriced seats that are on the foul lines, not between the bases, and don't even entitle him to visit the Legends restaurants and bars. Even Jay-Z and Reggie Jackson told Lopez at Saturday's game he was making a mistake. But he apparently was too young, and too "starstruck," as he described himself, to realize the tax issues. Not to mention all the money he left on the table.
For his part, Lopez had this solution to the tax issue:
"Worse comes to worse, I'll have to pay the taxes," he told the Daily News on Monday. "I'm not going to return the seats. I have a lot of family and friends who will help me out if need be.Bet mom and dad, who already have him still living at home, are thrilled with the idea of paying taxes for this. And good luck getting that kind of coin from your friends, dude.
"The IRS has a job to do, so I'm not going to hold it against them, but it would be cool if they helped me out a little on this."
The thing that made me laugh out loud was Lopez's thought that "it would be cool" if the IRS "helped me out a little on this." Right. The government is facing record deficits, but the feds are going to give Lopez a pass here, just because? Gimme a break.
Funny thing is that Lopez is still too starstruck to ask for money from the people who really owe it to him -- Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees. Because besides gracing him with his presence, the only things Jeter himself has given Lopez is a hat with Jeter's face on it, and some memorabilia he will sign for him. Whoopee.
Maybe it's time for the captain to step up and pay Lopez's tax bill and student loans. This isn't a handout -- this is the rightful payment for the ball that Lopez was too starstruck to request. The ball is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is only fair that the Yankees do this. Jeter makes $105,000 a game. He's selling game-used dirt for $177.99. The least he can do is kick Lopez some money to make up for his taxes and student loan debt. And even then, it's not even close to what the ball is really worth.
Anyhow, it's going to be interesting to see what happens here. Get your popcorn ready!