The two men waging a legal battle over Barry Bonds's record 73rd home run ball were ordered yesterday by a San Francisco judge to sell the ball and split the money.
Judge Kevin McCarthy deliberated the points of the year-old case for a month before concluding Alex Popov and Patrick Hayashi held equal claim to the ball Bonds belted into right field on the last day of the 2001 season for his 73rd home run. The estimated value of the ball is at least $1 million.
Videotape of the homer showed Popov, a restaurateur in Berkeley, Calif., was first to get his baseball glove on the ball and held it for sixth-tenths of a second before being swarmed by fans lunging for the ball.
An important issue was whether Popov would have made the catch regardless of other fans.
Hayashi's attorney, Michael Lee, claimed Popov was clearly losing his balance when the ball entered his glove and never clearly took possession. Lacking that, said Lee, Popov never took ownership.
"He would have fallen had he been alone in the stands," Lee said.
McCarthy noted during the 15-day trial, which concluded last month, it was impossible to tell from the videotape whether Popov would have made the catch or if the ball was dislodged in the ensuing melee.
Popov's attorney asserted in court his client was assaulted by "muggers" and "wrongdoers" in the chaos.
Popov was bloodied in the struggle. A 15-year-old boy testified someone bit him in the leg. Several phony home run balls were circulated.
Lee said Hayashi was not a member of the throng that grappled with Popov for the ball. When the ball popped out of the pile of humanity struggling to snatch it, he was "just a lucky fan" who was near the place where the ball finally settled, said Lee.
The judge said his ruling in the civil case was partially made to send a message to unruly spectators.
"This case demands vindication of an important principle," he said. "We are a nation governed by law, not by brute force."
The market for sports memorabilia has skyrocketed during the past two decades. The ball St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire hit to break Roger Maris's single-season home run record fetched $3 million.
The Bonds ball is worth significantly less, and legal bills were expected to devour a large portion of the proceeds from its sale. Both Popov and Hayashi were represented by three attorneys, and expert witnesses were paid to testify.
"It's been an expensive piece of litigation," said Michael Lee, attorney for Hayashi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.