Ownership of ball remains in dispute

BOSTON -- The baseball Doug Mientkiewicz caught for the out that ended the Boston Red Sox's 86-year championship drought is going back to the team -- for one year, anyway.

The club and its former first baseman announced Friday that while no decision has been made on who owns the ball, it will be encased in a special plaque and join the World Series trophy on its victory tour.

"Doug was a key part of our stretch run and postseason victories and he won over our fans in a very short period of time," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "We thank him for his many contributions and are pleased that our fans will be able to get close to the ball. We wish him the best of luck in the other league in 2005."

Mientkiewicz was traded Wednesday to the New York Mets. He's a better fielder than Boston's other first baseman, Kevin Millar, but lacks Millar's power at the plate.

Still, Mientkiewicz played an important part as a late-inning replacement for Millar in each of the four World Series games. It was in that role that he recorded the final putout of the clinching 3-0 win over St. Louis when Edgar Renteria hit the ball back to pitcher Keith Foulke, who threw to first.

Mientkiewicz, the 2001 Gold Glove winner with Minnesota, clutched the ball and kept it as a souvenir. The team asked for it back this month and the decision was made to let the Red Sox display it.

"There was never a fight, there was never words exchanged" over ownership of the ball, Mientkiewicz said this week. "It was very cordial, and we worked something out.

"I want the fans to see it, and that's what both the Red Sox and I agreed on. They waited a long time to see that ball and to live it. The fact that I had it was just so we could keep it and give it to the fans and let them see it," he said.

He also said he would "probably" get the ball back after a year.

On Friday, the statement issued by the Red Sox and Mientkiewicz said that at his suggestion, proceeds directly derived from exhibiting the ball will be donated to the Red Sox Foundation, the team's charity organization.

"We truly appreciate the cooperative spirit with which Doug and his wife, Jodi, have approached this matter and their willingness to make the ball available to Red Sox fans," Lucchino said.

The team said the decision to trade Mientkiewicz for minor-league first baseman Ian Bladergroen was a baseball decision, not a decision about a baseball.

"The ball issue was never a factor in this trade or in this negotiating process," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said when the trade was made.