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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 17:51 GMT
Battle for $1m baseball
Barry Bonds
Bonds scored the most home runs ever in one season
When baseball player Barry Bonds made his way into the history books with a record breaking 73rd home run he had little idea of the controversy his winning hit would cause.

The ball rocketed into the crowd and landed in the glove of waiting fan Alex Popov, but almost immediately popped out and was claimed by another man, Patrick Hayashi.


I started to feel afraid that people were trying to attack me for the baseball

Alex Popov
Now the two men are in court battling it out for ownership of the ball - which experts have estimated is worth at least $1m.

As closing arguments in the two-week trial begin on Monday the crux of the debate hangs on just how long you have to hang onto a ball for it to be deemed a catch.

Crowd bundle

Mr Popov has told the court that he caught the ball properly during the match between the San Francisco Giants, Mr Bonds' team, and the Los Angeles Dodgers on 7 October 2001.

But the moment that happened he was engulfed by the crowd, who were all eager to claim the prize, too.

In the ensuing chaos Mr Popov lost the ball and it was pocketed by Mr Hayashi.

Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball
Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball sold for over $2,7m

Both sides agree that television news footage of the incident show the ball in Mr Popov's glove for at least sixth-tenths of a second before he was swamped by the crowd.

Mr Popov argues that in fact he held onto the ball for even longer than that - but Mr Hayashi says that he dropped it.

Mr Popov testified that the ball was firmly in his grip when the crowd surged forward and he was knocked to the ground.

"I started to feel afraid that people were trying to attack me for the baseball. Then I realised this was turning bad," he told the court.

"I started to feel kicking, I started to feel punching, I started to feel grabbing from every angle. Most men don't like to admit they screamed for help, but I did," Mr Popov said.

Dropped or taken

But he claims that even as fans piled on top of him he kept the ball in his glove, holding it to his chest.

However, as he used one arm to push himself up Mr Popov said the ball disappeared.

"I went into my glove and the ball was no longer there," he said.


It's not a catch if you drop the ball

Patrick Hayashi

It was, instead, now in the possession of a smiling Mr Hayashi, who was whisked away by officials to have the ball issued with a hologram sticker, which would properly authenticate it.

Mr Popov says he protested: "I said 'I f---ing caught the ball, and he f---ing took it out of my glove." But to no avail.

Mr Hayashi said that in fact, in the middle of the melee Mr Popov dropped the ball, allowing him to scoop it up instead.

"It's not a catch if you drop the ball," Mr Hayashi has asserted throughout the trial.

'Twilight zone'

Now Judge Kevin McCarthy, who is hearing the case without a jury, has to decide who wins this match.

At the heart of the debate is what exactly constitutes "possession".

Referring to Mr Popov's catch Mr McCarthy said: "OK, there was some degree of control, and I'm struggling with how much control there must be."

He said that there was a "grey area" between securely catching the ball and not touching it at all.

"We can't get out of (the grey area). We're stuck in it. It's kind of like the Twilight Zone," Mr McCarthy said.

See also:

27 Oct 01 | Americas
16 Jul 00 | Americas
20 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
Internet links:


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