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Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2001 / 1Kislev, 5762

Sean Carter

Sean Carter
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Consumer Reports

When baseball fans attack ... -- WE really should have seen this coming. It was just a matter of time. Over the last few years, major league baseball has become just another sport dominated by money-grubbing athletes, owners and concession stand operators. Six dollars for a beer? Get real!

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, then, that fans would eventually get into the act. The events surrounding Barry Bonds' historic 73rd home run illustrate the contagious effects of greed.

In the final game of this record-breaking season, Barry Bonds' hit his 73rd and final homerun into the bleachers of Pacific Bell Park. A lucky spectator, Alex Popov (no relation to the "high quality" vodka of the same name) caught the ball. However, his joy soon turned to horror as he became embroiled in an ugly incident.

Within seconds of catching the ball, Popov was knocked to the ground and pounced upon by as many as 15 spectators, all grabbing and clawing for the baseball.

This struggle lasted for almost two minutes. When the dust finally settled, Popov had lost the baseball to another spectator, Patrick Hayashi. But not without considerable effort on Hayashi's part.

In fact, according to two witnesses, Hayashi actually bit into the leg of a young boy also vying for the ball.

When watching videotaped footage of the incident, my wife asked if a "stupid baseball" was really worth that much trouble?

This is no ordinary baseball. It is a piece of sports history. It is a symbol of the best and brightest within us all. It is a testament to every man, woman and child who have ever dreamed the impossible dream. By the way, did I mention that the baseball is worth millions?

Three years ago, when Mark McGuire broke the home run record, his 70th home run ball fetched $3 million at auction. With this kind of money at stake, it is not entirely surprising that fans would resort to biting children. In fact, for $3 million, I'd probably bite my own children, provided, of course, that someone bathed them first.

Of course, the fan who originally caught the ball was not going to let this matter die without waging some kind of counter attack. Therefore, within days, Popov retained a lawyer.

Popov's attorney immediately filed a lawsuit against Hayashi and the others involved in the melee. In his complaint, Popov sued for assault and battery. He has sued for recovery of the baseball under the common law theories of trespass to chattel and conversion.

The terms "trespass to chattel" and "conversion" embody very complicated legal principles that can be only truly grasped by a highly trained legal mind. Unfortunately, that mind does not belong to me. I must have fallen asleep during that day in law school. Nevertheless, as a dedicated journalist, I dusted off my old law textbooks (in some cases, this required actually removing them from the wrapper) and discovered that trespass to chattel and conversion are fancy terms for "he took my stuff and won't give it back!"

With the help of sworn declarations from other spectators and videotaped footage of the incident, Popov has already won a temporary restraining order in the case. This order prevents Hayashi from selling the baseball until the matter is resolved.

Also, in support of his case, Popov has filed a declaration by a law professor who is the world's foremost (and probably only) expert on law and baseball. According to Professor Paul Finkelman, "any baseball hit into the stands belongs to the fan who caught the ball." Therefore, when Popov caught the ball, he became its legal owner. And when Hayashi took the ball from Popov, he wrongfully deprived Popov of his property.

The judge in this case appears to agree with Finkelman as evidenced by granting the temporary restraining order (TRO). In most cases, a judge will only grant a TRO when the requesting party has a strong case (or a great body).

Hayashi's only possible defense in this case is that Popov had never truly obtained possession of the baseball. Unfortunately for Hayashi, televised coverage and eyewitness reports seem to indicate that Popov did catch the baseball.

More importantly, it is going to be difficult for the judge to condone Hayashi's conduct in the melee. While hitting, biting and scratching have their places - WWF matches, Mike Tyson fights and Mistress Helga's dungeon - they have no place at our national past time. Besides, Mistress Helga doesn't charge six dollars for beer.

Sean Carter is a practicing attorney, stand-up comedian and humor writer. Comment by clicking here.


11/02/01: Pop-torts
09/04/01: Can't beat the competition? Sue, baby, sue!

© 2001, Sean Carter