SI Vault
And the Ball Plays On
Gary Smith
January 20, 2003
A court ruling hasn't ended the fight over who caught Barry Bonds's homer
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 20, 2003

And The Ball Plays On

A court ruling hasn't ended the fight over who caught Barry Bonds's homer

View CoverRead All Articles

'Twas a few days before Christmas, and the Barry Bonds 73rd-home-run-ball controversy at last seemed put to rest. Judge Kevin McCarthy had startled lawyers on both sides and turned property law on its head with his Solomonic ruling that plaintiff Alex Popov, who gloved the record-breaking homer on Oct. 7,2001, and defendant Patrick Hayashi, who ended up with the ball after fans clashed in the bleachers at San Francisco's Pac Bell Park, must sell the ball and split the estimated $1 million it would generate.

Neither combatant was thrilled, but there was relief that the long ordeal was over. Hayashi, 37, the son of Japanese-American parents who were held in internment camps during World War II, could melt back into the anonymity he craved. Popov, who thrived in the media glare, seemed ready to desist after the near death of his father. As the trial wound down, Popov, 38, watched his dad, Nikolai—a Russian immigrant who'd fled the Nazis during World War II—undergo three surgeries for stomach cancer, then suffer a seizure that left him incoherent. "I was saying, 'God, if you're putting me in a position to choose what's more important, my dad or the ball, then 111 give up the ball in a heartbeat,' " said Popov.

The day after the ruling, Popov entered his father's hospital room. "I heard about the ball," Nikolai said. "I guess that means I get my money back" It was the first lucid thing the 73-year-old man had uttered in four days. The money he referred to was $100,000 worth of property he'd put up as collateral in case his son's suit failed and the ball's value dropped at Hayashi's expense.

Grateful to have his father back, Popov hack-sawed a $5 baseball in half and featured photos of it on Christmas cards that wished friends "Halfy Holidays." The bang of an auctioneer's gavel would soon end the battle.

Or would it? Now Popov, feeling that ballpark violence is being half-sanctioned by the ruling, has proposed that Hayashi name a reasonable sum and allow him to purchase Hayashi's half-share—or possibly face a Popov appeal of the verdict that could continue the litigation for another year. Popov refuses to submit the ball for an appraisal. "They'd just find three guys to say it's worth $10 million, and I'd find three to say half a million," says Popov, the owner of a health-food restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. "I want to use the ball to promote baseball among youth." The court has asked the men to meet with the judge in late January to resolve their differences—again. "I don't understand," groans Hayashi, who'll soon enter a university in San Diego to pursue a business degree. "I want it to end, but this ball just goes on forever."