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Solomon method

Bonds' 73rd home run ball must be sold, proceeds split

Posted: Wednesday December 18, 2002 2:03 PM
Updated: Thursday December 19, 2002 12:38 AM
  San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy explains his ruling Case closed: Judge Kevin McCarthy explains his ruling on the possession of Barry Bonds' record-setting 73rd home run ball. AP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- And Barry Bonds' record home run ball belongs to ...


Not Alex Popov.

Not Patrick Hayashi.

But they'll still get something from it.

Judge Kevin McCarthy ruled Wednesday that neither Popov nor Hayashi could claim ownership of the historic ball, hit by Bonds for his 73rd home run on the last day of the 2001 season at Pac Bell Park.

Instead, McCarthy told them to sell it and split the money -- perhaps more than $1 million.

Since it landed in the stands 14 months ago, the ball has been locked in legal limbo and a safe-deposit box.

With Solomonic wisdom, the judge ruled that Popov -- who gloved the ball for an instant -- and Hayashi -- who ended up with the ball -- each has a legitimate claim and neither should get the ball outright.

Court TV Coverage
In his 20-minute ruling, Judge Kevin McCarthy examined the question of which standard of possession to apply to Popov's would-be catch.

Click here for full coverage of the Barry Bonds baseball trial from Court TV, including a copy of the final decision (in PDF form)

"Their legal claims are of equal quality, and they are equally entitled to the ball," McCarthy ruled. "The ball must be sold and divided equally between the parties."

Lou Constanzo, vice president of sales for sports memorabilia auctioneers Real Legends, said the court battle increased the value of the ball.

"In the market condition right now, I think it will sell for more than $1 million," Constanzo said. "It could very well reach $1.5 million or $2 million."

The judge made a point of saying that if he awarded the ball solely to Hayashi, it could send the wrong message to fans about civility in the stands.

"This case demands vindication of an important principle," he said. "We are a nation governed by law, not by brute force."

The judge acknowledged Popov was "set upon by a gang of bandits who dislodged the ball" in a scramble in the stands. But McCarthy added that Popov never demonstrated full possession and could not be awarded sole ownership.

The judge made it clear Hayashi did nothing wrong and was not part of that gang.

Split Decision
Click the image to launch the clip

* Alex Popov and Patrick Hayashi debate the ruling decreeing they split the proceeds from Barry Bonds' home run ball. Start
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Hayashi said clearing his name was the most satisfying part of the ruling. He estimated his legal bills will far exceed $100,000.

"This whole process, from Day 1, I have been accused of doing some wrongdoing, that I was the person out there attacking people," he said. "And that's not true, that was not true. I was out there just like everybody else. I got pushed to the ground."

Popov was less satisfied with the ruling, maintaining he was robbed of the ball. He said the judge's decision "just shows that mob rule and violence can prevail."

Much of the case turned on a matter of fractions of seconds caught on television videotape.

TV news video showed the ball in Popov's glove for at least six-tenths of a second before he was enveloped by a crowd. Both sides agreed the videotape showed the ball in Popov's glove. They couldn't agree on what defines possession -- Popov's split-second catch or Hayashi's final grab.

Last month, McCarthy repeatedly asked the lawyers for a definition of "possession."

Popov contended he held the ball longer than a split second before it was taken from his glove. Hayashi said Popov dropped it before hitting the pavement.

During closing arguments McCarthy described a "gray area" between securely catching the ball and never touching it. Hayashi's lawyers insisted the case was a simple question of property law.

McCarthy deliberated for a month after hearing closing arguments in late November.

Related information
SI's Barry Bonds Scrapbook
Bonds hits No. 73 to extend record
Swing King: Relive all 73 home runs
Court TV: Judge divides home run ball
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