We are greedy crybabies

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2004

We are becoming a nation of crybabies. And greedy ones at that.

This week's reminder comes courtesy of a lawsuit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court over ownership of another Barry Bonds home run ball.

The last time this happened was three years ago. The plaintiff wound up with a legal bill more than twice as big as his share of the profits from the sale of Bonds' 73rd home run ball. Thanks to the generosity of his lawyers (two words you rarely see in the same sentence), the defendant walked away with ''tens of thousands of dollars.''

Here's wishing this latest lawsuit ends the same way.

In it, Timothy Murphy contends Bonds' 700th home run ball hit his chin and then his seat before he sat on it briefly, and thus established possession. That was before a mob descended on Murphy's seat in the second row of the left-field bleachers at SBC Park a week ago Friday night, grabbed and hit him for a full minute, and someone else emerged from the scrum holding the baseball aloft.

That someone is Steve Williams, and he comes in for special scorn. While all the other defendants are referred to as ''Does 1 through 100 (as in ''John Does'' and not female deer),'' and their actions described in general terms, Murphy claims Williams grabbed more than the baseball.

''Defendant Williams,'' the complaint reads, ''placed his hand on and under Plaintiff's crotch.''

There weren't many more details available Wednesday, when Williams told a judge he wouldn't sell No. 700 until the lawsuit is decided.

Murphy's lawyers did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment, but here's how Williams' lawyer, Dan Horowitz, sees the claim: ''When the judge finds out how insanely inventive it is and throws it out, we'll determine whether to sue for wrongful prosecution.''


The scary thing is Horowitz has already heard about -- but not from -- an 11-year-old who was roughed up and actually has witnesses. His name is Jack Harrington and he told the San Francisco Chronicle he trapped the ball against his left arm before someone snatched it away.

''I had it,'' said Jack, scraped up and red-eyed from crying at the time, ''and then I didn't.''

Small wonder.

''My son disappeared under five grown men,'' his father, Sean Harrington, told the newspaper. ''They just jumped on him, literally. Five grown men. His heart's broken. It's sick. It made me so sick to see it, I almost threw up.''

And Wednesday another man, Alex Patino, joined the fray, claiming he is the rightful owner and suing Williams.

Williams, 26, an athletic type, said he was already on the ground when the ball squirted loose and he grabbed it. Never mind how he got there, since Murphy's lawsuit contends Williams had a standing-room only ticket. When he did meet with reporters, flanked by a half-dozen cops and security guards, someone asked Williams what he would do with the ball.

''Are you kidding?'' Williams replied. ''I'm going to sell it. It's the only reason I came to the game.''

And competing claims didn't scare him.

''If these guys want to get a lawyer, fine,'' Williams said. ''Bring it on. I got the ball fair and square.''

He also got himself an experienced lawyer in Horowitz, and free of charge, to boot. In one of those wonderfully convoluted twists the legal profession sometimes takes, Horowitz advised Alex Popov with his claim two years ago that Popov was entitled to Bonds' 73rd home run ball because he briefly trapped it in his baseball glove.

Horowitz, who worked for free in that case, too, doesn't see any conflict taking the other side in this one.

''In both cases, I was on the side of the guy that had the ball. Alex made the catch -- videotapes showed that -- and then got mugged. Everybody knows what a catch is, and it's not a catch when the ball hits your chin, if that part even turns out to be true.

''Look,'' Horowitz added, ''there have to be limits, otherwise everybody sues. That was established last time. If you have clear possession, you've got a talking point at least, and remember, Popov still only got half.''

And even that came at a very dear price.

The legal tug-of-war consumed so much time that when Bonds' 73rd home run ball was auctioned off last summer -- after a judge ordered the proceeds split between Popov and Patrick Hayashi -- its value had plummeted from an estimated $1.5 million to $450,000. The clock is already ticking on No. 700.

Doug Allen, president of MastroNet, a major memorabilia auctioneer, put its value at ''six figures.'' But he also expects way more valuable Bonds souvenirs will follow as the slugger pursues the career marks of Babe Ruth (714 home runs) and Hank Aaron (755).

You might conclude nobody gets in these battles except the lawyers, but even that wouldn't be correct. Popov and his former lawyer, Martin Triano, are still fighting over a legal tab of approximately $470,000, this time before an arbitrator.

Major League Baseball is hardly blameless. Whenever Bonds comes up with a shot at history, ballpark security restricts access to possible landing sites to ticketholders, closes down the aisles and posts extra guards in the area. But MLB also puts special markings on the ball to establish authenticity, encouraging the free-for-alls that ensue, and then wipes its hands when things turn messy.

''A scene like this comes from greed, not from love of the game,'' Stefanie Berntson, who briefly had No. 700 pinned under her sneakers for a moment. ''It was money that did this, not baseball.''

You think?

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

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