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Going, Going, Gone -- Baseball Lands in Court

One fan sues another over ownership of the ball hit by Barry Bonds for home run No. 700.

September 29, 2004|Jason Felch and Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Another Barry Bonds home run record, another lawsuit over the ball.

This time, a San Francisco Giants fan filed suit Tuesday against another man who he claims stole Bonds' 700th home run ball from him.

Timothy Murphy, 40, said in court papers that Steven Williams wrestled the historic ball from him during a melee in the left field bleachers at SBC Park on Sept. 17.

One of Williams' attorneys estimates that the ball is worth $500,000.

Murphy's suit contends that immediately after the ball hit his chin and fell in front of his feet, he established "possession, dominion and control over the ball by sitting on it and securing it with his right leg."

Williams and other fans, the suit contends, "systematically reached under [his] body, striking him and hitting him as they did so."

Williams told reporters outside the San Francisco courthouse that he did not steal the ball and hates all the attention it is generating.

"This isn't fun," said the 26-year-old Pacifica resident. "I haven't been able to go to work. It's a drag. I don't want to deal with lawyers."

Despite the pressure of being sued, Williams' loyalty to the Giants remains unwavering as the end of the regular season is approaching.

"We've got six games to go," he told the reporters. "Let's win them all and take out the Dodgers."

The lawsuit echoes a legal battle that was waged over another of Bonds' home run balls.

In October 2001, Alex Popov, a Berkeley restaurant owner, sued Sacramento engineer Patrick Hayashi over who was the rightful owner of the record-setting 73rd home run ball hit by Bonds that season.

Popov contended that he caught the ball only to lose it in another melee in the stands at the then-PacBell Park. After a yearlong legal battle, a judge ordered the men to sell the ball and split the money. The ball was sold at auction for $450,000.

The latest lawsuit has its roots in Bonds' latest historic performance, when he became the first major league baseball player in 31 years to hit 700 home runs.

He is closing in on Babe Ruth, whose career record was 714 home runs. Hank Aaron's record is 755.

Murphy, of Hollister, alleges that Williams committed battery. He is seeking return of the ball and unspecified damages.

His lawyers plan to return to San Francisco Superior Court today and seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the sale of the baseball.

"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," David I. Kornbluh, one of Murphy's attorneys, said in a statement Tuesday.

One of Williams' attorneys, Ivan Golde, dismissed the case as frivolous.

"This ball's worth half a million bucks," Golde said. "It's just like the other case. This was 25 people scrambling for the ball. Our client just got lucky. It's like rugby or a fumble in football."

The Oakland attorney said he had heard that there would be at least one more lawsuit from someone else involved in the melee.

"Baseball is the American sport, but litigation is the American sport too," Golde said. "Baseball, apple pie and litigation."

Another of Williams' attorneys, Daniel A. Horowitz, filed his opposition Tuesday to the temporary restraining order.

"What should be Steven Williams' most wondrous moment is turning into an entanglement of lawyers and legal nightmare," Horowitz wrote. "One wonders if people should [be] running from these famous baseballs rather than trying to catch them. The final bounce of the ball seems to be from the hands of the fans into the jaws of lawyers."

Horowitz said the request for "a temporary restraining order is viewed by Mr. Williams and myself as a first step in holding the ball an economic hostage."

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Felch reported from San Francisco and Rabin from Los Angeles.

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