Lawyers need time to prepare

Updated: September 29, 2004, 8:49 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge delayed until Friday a hearing on who the rightful owner of Barry Bonds' 700th home run ball is, giving lawyers on both sides time to make their cases.

Steve Williams, the Giants fan who ended up with the prized ball during a melee in the left-center field bleachers at SBC Park on Sept. 17, promised San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay that he would not sell the ball before Quidachay rules on who it belongs to. The president of a Chicago-based auction company has said the ball's value is in the "six figures."

Halting the sale of the ball allows a lawsuit brought by Timothy Murphy, who claims Williams stole the ball from him, to proceed.

If the judge ultimately declines to block the ball from being auctioned, Williams likely would be able to sell the ball immediately and the case would be over.

But, before that, it took a twist.

Minutes before the hearing, another man, Alex Patino, said that he was the rightful owner of the ball and is also planning on suing Williams.

"I just rolled on it and trapped it," he said, adding that Murphy "muffed" the catch.

His attorney, Nikita Scope, said Patino is the rightful owner because Williams snatched it from him -- the same claim Murphy is making.

"He sat on it and had possession," Scope said of Patino.

Murphy sued Williams on Tuesday, claiming he pinned the ball underneath his leg during a scrum after the baseball struck Murphy's chin. Murphy claims he is the ball's owner because Williams stole it from him while he was in a pile of fans.

"We are confident that once evidence is presented in court in the form of both witnesses and videotape, it will be clear that Mr. Murphy had lawful possession of the ball and is the rightful owner," Murphy's attorney, Joseph Scanlan Jr., said.

Williams' attorney, Daniel Horowitz, said the suit was "frivolous" and an attempt "to extract money even when it is not justified."

Bonds became the first new member of the 700-homer club in 31 years, joining Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. He now has 703 career home runs and is closing in on Ruth (714) and Aaron (755).

Analysts said the ball is losing value as it remains ensnared in a legal limbo -- especially as Bonds approaches Ruth's mark.

"It's worth the most right now," said Doug Allen, president of MastroNet, a Chicago-based auctioneering company who valued the ball at more than $100,000.

It is not the first time fans headed to court over the fate of a Bonds' home run ball. In October 2001, Bonds' record-setting 73rd homer of the season sparked litigation that ended when a judge ordered both men to split the $450,000 the ball fetched.

That case included experts in baseball and ownership discussing the rightful owner of baseballs hit into the stands.

With no legal precedent to determine the outcome, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy said that both Alex Popov and Patrick Hayashi each had a legitimate claim and neither should get the ball outright.

A videotape showed the ball in Popov's glove. But the judge could not conclude what defined possession -- Popov's split-second catch or Hayashi's final grab after a scramble.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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