Litigation: America’s favorite pastime? |

Litigation: America’s favorite pastime?

For most of us it was disappointing to watch the Giants lose the World Series in the seventh game. Well, at least the Yankees didn’t win.

Barry Bonds was robbed of the MVP award. He was the most valuable player in the Series. No doubt about it.

After all, last year Barry hit the record setting 73rd home run over the right field fence at Pac Bell Stadium. Whatever came of that valuable ball?

Funny you would ask.

On Oct. 7, 2001, Barry, using his unique black, maple bat, crushed a 380-footer over the right field bleachers and into the mitt of Alex Popov, a health food restaurateur from Berkeley.

Popov had done hours of research on the trajectory of Barry’s home runs, traded his right field seats away, and stood, glove in hand, on the walkway, figuring he had more maneuverability to catch any record-setting ball.

After all, in 1998, Mark McGuire’s 70th home run ball had sold for $3 million at auction. Barry’s final ball, setting the new record should be worth even more.

Popov, like the Angel’s outfielders during the World Series, was positioned perfectly. The ball soared right into his outstretched mitt as television cameras zoomed in.

But as soon as the ball hit his glove, a dozen folks piled on, and moments later Patrick Hayashi, a Cisco software engineer, held the ball above the crowd, proclaiming it was his. He said the ball was “loose on the ground.”

Popov and Hayashi have been fighting ever since. After an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, Popov finally sued Hayashi, and the matter is being decided by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy, while the ball, marked by league officials, sits in a bank vault.

The Judge seems to be leaning toward Popov, based upon the videotape of his catching the ball in the web of his glove. Most of the eyewitnesses are testifying in support of Popov.

The definition of a “catch” is an important part of the case. Major League Baseball’s definition of a catch is 12 sentences long (no doubt written by lawyers), and essentially states that a fielder must “hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.” If a player drops the ball as a result of a collision with another player or a wall, it is not a catch. Popov takes the position he was “mugged” and stripped of the ball.

One eyewitness testified Hayaski bit him on the leg.

Several umpires are weighing in with expert testimony. Even a University of Tulsa law professor is expected to testify. He published an article entitled “Fugitive Baseballs and Abandoned Property: Who Owns the Home Run Ball?”

He believes Popov is the rightful owner, based upon the videotape.

He also writes that as a matter of public policy a ruling in favor of Hayashi could encourage the sort of free-for-all that may have robbed Popov of the ball.

Because of the economy, apparently the ball is worth less than the $3 million paid for Mark McGuire’s 70th.

America’s favorite pastime – going to court.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno.

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