You Be the Judge: A Valuable Baseball Up for Grabs

A record setting baseball and a scuffle for control, how would you decide?


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On October 7, 2001, it was widely anticipated that Barry Bonds would set the MLB single-season home run record. It was the last game of the season, and he had broken Mark McGwire’s record earlier that week. Could he hit a 73rd homer? If he did, the record would probably last for years, and the ball that set the record could be worth millions.

Fans didn’t have to wait long. In the first inning, a cameraman captured the event as Bonds whacked the ball over right field, toward spectator Alex Popov’s outstretched glove. Just as the ball made contact with his glove, the rowdy crowd tackled him to the ground as people grabbed for the ball. The video clearly shows an out-of-control mob engaged in violent, illegal behavior.

Meanwhile, Patrick Hayashi, who had been standing near Popov, was also knocked to the ground. He was not involved in the violence, but was pinned down near Popov and saw the ball after it was dislodged from Popov’s glove. Hayashi grabbed it and held on.

Once security arrived and cleared the mob, Popov was horrified to discover that the ball wasn’t in his glove. As he frantically searched, Hayashi stood in front of the cameraman and triumphantly displayed his prize. Popov tried to take the ball back, but security stopped him and escorted Hayashi to a secure area.

Popov filed a cause of action for conversion and wrongful possession of the baseball.

At trial, Popov claimed that video evidence shows he caught the ball and therefore had possession and would have kept the ball in his glove but for the illegal, violent attack. Hayashi argued that Popov was still in the act of catching it when he was pushed down. Because he did not complete the catch, he never had control of the ball and therefore could not claim possession of it.

How Would You Rule?

The court determined that Hayashi had possession of the ball and proved it when he showed it to the camera. Popov could not establish that he would have otherwise retained control of the ball; consequently, he did not achieve full possession.

The court explained, “A ball is caught if the person has achieved complete control of the ball. … A baseball which is dislodged by incidental contact with an object or another person before momentum has ceased, is not possessed. The first person to pick up the loose ball and secure it becomes its possessor.”

However, the court thought that a decision in favor of Hayashi would be unfair to Popov, noting Popov’s “efforts to establish possession were interrupted by the collective assault of a band of wrongdoers.”

In the final decision, the court ruled both parties had equal and undivided interest in the ball and ordered them to sell it and split the proceeds. It sold for $450,000.

Popov v. Hayashi, 2002

This article is featured in the November/December 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Sell the ball, donate proceeds to charities and give the two civilian “fielders” the actual cost each of one major league baseball. A ruling of this sort for professional baseball games could go a long way to reducing the risk of life and limb to the people in the stands.

  2. It’s really a shame what happened to both Popov and Hayashi at that baseball game due to that ugly, violent mob crowd behaving illegally. Still, Mr. Popov’s glove had made contact with the ball immediately (being first) preceding his being tackled to the ground. Had that not happened, it’s clear it was his ball. Due to the incident, Hayashi (also tackled) grabbed it and held on.

    I basically agree with the court’s decision. Instead though, I would have awarded Mr. Popov $300,000 and Mr. Hayashi $150,000 per the above, Joan. If Hayashi complained about the amount I’d awarded him, I’d remind him it’s a generous amount under the circumstances. If he doesn’t like it, I can lower it to $100k or $50k, so it’s best he accepts the awarded amount with appreciation and gratitude leaving the courtroom, before I change my mind.


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