'Split' decision by judge in Bonds dispute

Dec. 18, 2002 at 6:05 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- A Solomon-like decision by a San Francisco judge Wednesday settled a legal dispute between two baseball fans that both claimed ownership of the record-setting home run ball blasted into the crowded stands at PacBell Park last year.

Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy ruled that there was no solid evidence that either Patrick Hayashi or Alex Popov caught and had control over Bonds' 73rd home run of the season, so he ordered the highly coveted valuable baseball sold with the proceeds to be split evenly between the two battling litigants.

"Their legal claims are of equal quality and they are equally entitled to the ball," McCarthy averred during a brief hearing that was televised and closely watched throughout the Bay Area and the rest of the United States as well. "The court therefore declares the plaintiff and defendant have an equal and undivided interest in the ball.... The ball must be sold and divided equally between the parties."

Popov and Hayashi were part of a scrum of frenzied fans grabbing and clawing for the ball that Bonds drove into the right field stands Oct. 7, 2001, the last day of the season, for his record-setting 73rd home run of the year. He had earlier eclipsed Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals who had belted 70 homers in 1998.

Hayashi emerged with the ball, the sale value of which has been estimated by memorabilia experts as high a cool $1 million.

The litigation over the ownership of the ball relied largely on videotape of the home run and the resulting chaotic mob scene in the stands. Popov was seen for a split second catching the homer ball in his glove; however he was quickly swallowed up in the frenzy and, McCarthy said, could not prove he held on to the ball long enough to be considered the sole owner.

As Bonds rounded the bases, Hayashi eventually emerged from the pile with the ball, but McCarthy said there was no evidence that he had picked up a loose ball.

Popov claimed the ball had been taken from him while Hayashi claimed he had true possession of the ball -- a legal version of "finders keepers."

"Neither can present a superior argument against the other," McCarthy said.

McCarthy gave the two until the end of the month to come up with an agreement on proceeding with the sale of the ball.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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