The Barry Bonds Baseball Case - An Empirical Approach - Is Fleeting Possession Five Tenths of the Ball?
Western New England University School of Law
St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 48, p. 475, 2004
Mr. Barry Bonds hit his record seventy-third home run on October 7, 2001. Mr. Alex Popov was smart enough to be in the standing room only area at San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park behind the right field bleachers known as the Arcade, where Mr. Bonds had hit many of his home runs. Mr. Popov was lucky enough to be located almost precisely where the ball was hit, needing only to take one step back. He also had brought a softball glove to the park, as well as a small earbud radio on which he could listen to the play-by-play of the games. He was also skilled enough when the ball sailed 380 feet over the bleachers and into the walkway to extend the glove fully over his head and catch the ball in the glove's webbing. The catch caused a loud smack and stopped the ball's trajectory. With the ball motionless in the webbing, Mr. Popov brought the glove down, holding the ball for six tenths of a second. But, he was not strong enough to fight off the mob. Mr. Popov testified that as he turned the glove and started bringing it to his chest, the mob tackled him, threw him to the ground, hit and punched and kicked him, and then fell on top of him. He said he felt someone grabbing in the area of his glove, and someone stripped him of the ball. He had difficulty breathing. Someone ripped off his headphones. A lens in his glasses fell out. Security guards had to pull the mob off of him. Some resisted. Guards had to pull one man off by his hair. The court pulled no punches in characterizing this scene: "The videotape clearly establishe[d] that this was an out of control mob, engaged in violent, illegal behavior." A San Francisco television station called the scene it recorded "a brutal melee."
Meanwhile, in an arcade nearby was another gentleman by the name of Mr. Patrick Hayashi. As the ball descended towards Mr. Popov and the crowd began to surge in that direction, Mr. Hayashi was carried along with the surge and knocked to the ground, when his fortune improved immeasurably. For there on the ground within reach was the loose ball. At least, that is what he said, and the court accepted his testimony as true. He grabbed it, stood up, put it in his pocket, and motioned to a television camera man named Mr. Josh Keppel, who was standing nearby recording the scene, to tum the camera on him. Eventually Mr. Keppel complied, and Mr. Hayashi showed the ball to the camera. Mr. Popov, now standing, grabbed for the ball, but Mr. Hayashi pulled it away as security guards took Mr. Hayashi and the ball to a safe area. Mr. Popov, addressing the security guards and speaking of Mr. Hayashi with a certain degree of irritation, told the court: "I said, 'I f--ing caught that ball, and he f-ing took it out of my glove." The court found that Mr. Hayashi was an innocent bystander, not a member of the mob, and "committed no wrongful act." The ball was eventually placed in a safety deposit box under the control of the court.
There is only one ball in the world of baseballs that Mr. Bonds hit out of the park for the seventy-third time in one season, a record that eclipsed Mr. Mark McGwire's 1998 record of seventy home runs. The demand for the Bonds's seventy-third record baseball far exceeds this supply. Judge McCarthy noted that the ball might be worth one million dollars. Mr. McGwire's seventieth home run ball sold for three million dollars at an auction in 1998. Trial witnesses testified that on October 7, 2001, when Mr. Popov momentarily caught and then lost the ball, Mr. Popov picked up a sucker ball, while Mr. Hayashi got the right one. The court, however, found that the ball Mr. Popov held momentarily was the one hit by Mr. Bonds.
Using the facts of the Barry Bonds baseball case as the basis for discussion, this Article argues that it is apparent that Major League Baseball has to address the potential problems of home run baseball possession. In section two, this Article discusses the court's involvement in the Popov v. Hayashi case and analyzes its underlying rationale. Section three puts the court's resolution to the test through empirical experiments. Section four identifies potential solutions to the problem of possession after reviewing the implications of the court's decision in Popov. Finally, section five addresses the fulfillment of the court's orders and its effect on each person involved.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: baseball, property, Barry Bonds
JEL Classification: K11
Date posted: December 8, 2011 ; Last revised: December 28, 2011