Family seeking billions from Anheuser-Busch

Updated: August 2, 2005, 7:31 PM ET
Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Beer giant Anheuser-Busch hatched a secret plan to disseminate lies about and destroy the reputation of a distributing company owned and operated by the family of baseball legend Roger Maris, family attorneys said Tuesday.

The Maris family alleges that Anheuser-Busch intentionally defamed their business, Maris Distributing Co., while terminating their contract in 1997.

Anheuser-Busch claims it only told the truth: that the distributorship was not meeting standards and was relabeling and repackaging outdated beer.

A jury of six women will decide the case over the next four weeks. The Maris family is seeking $2.5 billion to $5 billion in damages.

"There is clear and convincing evidence that Anheuser-Busch acted intentionally to ruin the Maris Company name," Maris attorney Madison McClellan said in opening statements. "They called them crooks, and they let it out to the world so they could acquire the distributorship for pennies of its worth."

Roger Maris, who owned baseball's single-season home run record for 37 years before it was broken by Mark McGwire in 1998, got the distributorship from St. Louis Cardinals owner August Anheuser Busch Jr.

Maris was traded to the Cardinals in 1966 and helped them win the World Series the following year. He then agreed to play one more season in exchange for a beer distributorship.

Maris moved to Gainesville and co-owned the business with his brother Rudy Maris until Roger died in 1985. Maris Distributing was the sole distributor in the Gainesville and Ocala areas for 29 years.

McClellan argued Tuesday that the company had received exemplary ratings until Anheuser-Busch developed "a plan to extort, leverage and pressure Maris to sell on the cheap."

But Anheuser-Busch attorneys say the beer giant only shared facts it believed to be true about Maris based on complaints and inspections of the distributorship.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press