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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Note: The following blog was written by a woman in my Baseball and Statistics course. Please comment on this touching story or supply your own story of how baseball/softball changed your life.

The first time I picked up a softball was my first t-ball game. From that moment I became addicted to being on the diamond. I continued practicing and growing as a player. I was a shortstop and eventually found that my favorite spot on the field was right behind home plate. I started taking batting and catching lessons with an instructor and started to play on more and more teams.

My life was great, maybe even perfect. One night my life changed. I fell asleep at my best friend’s house. Her dad was one of my softball coaches and we’ve been best friends forever. Her family was my family and vise versa. Unfortunately I didn’t wake up where I fell asleep. A day or two later I woke up in my house extremely confused about what had happened. Sometime that night I had a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was 11 at the time. I started to learn about epilepsy and how it would affect my life. I knew things were going to change. I had to go to sleep early, take medicine every day, and I had to be more careful. I started to feel really different than the kids I went to school with. They were experiencing new things and doing normal kid things. I remember going to the town carnival and watching all my friends go on the roller coasters and the bumper cars. I watched. I started to feel like I was being forgotten about. The kids I used to hang out with would go out and I wouldn’t be invited because I wouldn’t be able to participate in all of the activities or I’d be stuck at home because I wasn’t feeling well.

After my first seizure I was supposed to go to my batting and catching lesson. I’m from Jersey and went to Teel’s Baseball. It’s well known around my area and a lot of kids go there as well. My mom called to cancel my lesson with my instructor. I knew softball was a special sport when I received a get well card from my coach. It was signed by all of the instructors at Teel’s. I have the card hanging on my wall and it means the world to me.

Softball was the one thing that made me feel normal, and my teammates became my best friends. They asked me questions to learn more about my epilepsy. I always was nervous to tell kids about it because I didn’t know how they would react. I didn’t want to be rejected. Soon I realized that the girls all accepted me for me. I knew they weren’t going to judge me and I knew they would always support me. I remember one game when it was too hot for me to catch the whole game so half way through I went to shortstop and another girl went to catch. There was a pop up and I was blinded by the sun and got hit in the head. I sat down and my coach came out to make sure I was okay. The ump yelled at me to get up and I explained to him that I was epileptic and I needed to make sure I felt ok before standing up again but he didn’t believe me despite the fact that I was wearing my medical bracelet. My team and my coach all had my back and came to my side to help me and talk to the ump.  To see them come to my side like that was amazing. It made me realize I could do anything as long as I had the right people helping me. When I wasn’t with my brothers and parents, my team was my family.

To me softball is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life and the field becomes a home away from home. If you can’t call your team your family then something’s wrong. Softball was my escape; where I could forget about the struggles I was facing. I’m 20 now and I plan to coach my own team, and give individual lessons just like I received. I want to give girls a place where they will always feel welcome and accepted.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

The record paid for a home run baseball is $752,000. This was the amount fetched for Barry Bonds’ record breaking 756th home run. Clearly, Jose Molina’s home run, the last home run hit at Yankee Stadium, will not get anywhere near that amount. In fact, an auction held in 2008 with a minimum starting bid of $100,000 had bidders but no bid met the minimum. As previously mentioned, I am unaware of any other auctions held to sell the ball and even if the ball is still in the custody of Steve Harshman. Molina’s home run occurred in the fourth inning. In the third inning a home run hit by Johnny Damon was caught by Brian Elmer. This ball was auctioned with a starting bid of $5000 and I believe was sold for that amount. If anyone knows anything more about these two balls please comment on this.

Does this ball belong to Steve Harshman or Paul Russo? The time has come for me to give my opinion. When the home run ball landed on the net and stayed on the net, the net became the owner of the ball. Since the Yankees own the net, the Yankees became the owner of the ball. Steve Harshman, putting his hand through the net trying to pull the ball through the net, was violating the law by attempting to rip the net. This should nullify his claim that he ever had possession of the ball. A security guard, standing on a chair, dislodged the ball causing it to roll down the net. Subsequently, the ball was caught by Paul Russo. Paul then actually did have possession of the ball, if only for 30 seconds. The security guard then told Paul to hand him the ball which Paul did. Upon receiving the ball, the guard handed it to Mr. Harshman, who left the stadium with the ball.

The Yankee spokesman said during an interview that the Yankees had a policy that provided for this situation. Their policy was the Yankees could award this ball to whomever they feel is entitled to the ball. Assuming such a policy existed and this policy left the decision of who should get the ball to a security guard, one could argue that Mr. Harshman was the rightful owner of the ball.

The other side of the argument is that once the ball was freed from the net and started rolling, it wound up off the net and in the hands of Mr. Russo. The Yankees then gave up possession of the ball and the possession was obtained by whoever wound up with the ball. That person was Mr. Russo. At that point in time Mr. Russo had possession of the ball. When he was asked to hand over the ball, he could have refused the request. If he had done that my feeling is that the security guard would have had no choice but to let Mr. Russo continue his possession of the ball.

We now have a situation of two men claiming possession of the ball. One man, Mr. Harshman never had possession of the ball legally. The other man Mr. Russo had possession of the ball for 30 seconds. The dispute evokes memories of the bitter feud after Barry Bonds' record 73rd homer in 2001. Fan Alex Popov was first to glove the ball, but another crowd bystander, Patrick Hayashi, emerged with it after a melee. After three weeks in a courtroom, a judge ordered them to sell the ball and split the money.

In my opinion, this dispute should have had the same ending as the dispute over Barry Bonds’ record home run ball. Mr Harshman and Mr. Russo should be ordered to sell the ball and split the money. Now, it is your turn to comment. I especially encourage any attorney to express their legal opinion. Please either email me or comment below.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Please read the previous posting to get up to speed. This posting is based on my phone interview with Paul Russo, one of the two people who claimed possession of the last home run ball hit at Yankee Stadium. The phone interview took place on January 27, 2013. In my phone conversation with Paul I took notes and will now put the notes together to give Paul’s version of what happened on September 28, 2008.

Paul’s story begins with what happened the day before the game. Paul wanted to go to the last game at Yankee Stadium but his brother seemed uninterested in going. In an attempt to persuade his brother into going Paul told his brother that he had a vision of catching the last home run ball hit at the stadium. His brother decided to go and they invited two cousins. One cousin is handicapped and so the four of them took seats in the handicapped seating in the stands in left-center.

According to Paul as Molina’s drive headed for the left field stands people reached up ignoring the fact that a net would stop the ball from reaching their hands. The net wound up catching the ball. One man, later identified as Steve Harshman, reached up and tried to pull the ball through the net. Paul then told me, “ a security guard told Harshman to remove his hands from the net and leave the ball alone.”

By this time, the head of security arrived at the scene and also ordered Harshman to release the ball. He finally agreed to release the ball. At this point the ball was still stuck in the netting and did not move. The head of security, feeling a riot would occur when the ball was released from the net, ordered everyone to sit down. Paul was one of the people standing. Everyone sat down except Paul. The reason Paul was still standing is the security guard stood on Paul’s chair to dislodge the ball. Once the ball was allowed to move it rolled down the netting right into Paul’s hands. At this point Paul had possession of the ball.

Here is Paul’s account of what followed. A security guard told Paul to give him the ball. Paul felt that the guard was asking for the ball to protect him from the crowd and handed him the ball. Within 30 seconds the guard just flipped the ball to Mr. Harshman. Paul was shocked. He approached the head of security and wanted the ball back. The head of security just walked away.

Paul said to me, “since the ball was stuck in the netting before Mr. Harshman tried to pull it through, the ball belonged only to the Yankees at this point.” Paul went on to say, “Mr Harshman never had possession of the ball. In fact by trying to pull the ball through the netting, Mr Harshman was violating the rules of Yankee Stadium. Why should a person who violated rules and never had possession of the ball be allowed to keep the ball?” Paul felt throughout the event he was the only person who actually had possession of the ball and therefore was entitled to the ball.

Paul was advised by my son Matthew, himself a corporate attorney, to see a civil attorney. The attorney was interested in the case but told Paul it could cost Paul several thousand dollars. Paul told me he was in no position to take on that type of expense. Paul admitted to me money was his first motivation but after thinking it over he would be satisfied in donating the ball to the Yankees to be thrown out on opening day 2009. He just wanted to be a small part of Yankee history. He contacted Mr. Harshman, the possessor of the ball, and suggested this to him. Mr. Harshman turned down the offer.

My last posting will give my thoughts on the controversy. I welcome your ideas. So please comment. Also, if you know what happened to the ball please comment.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

The next few postings concern the controversy over the ownership of the last home run ball hit in “The House That Ruth Built”. This posting takes the information from various websites. The next posting is based on my phone interview with Paul Russo, one of the two people who claimed ownership of the ball. Paul, a good friend of my son Matt, and is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where I am a professor of mathematics.

It was Sunday night September 21, 2008 and the game was between the Yankees and Orioles, the last game played at Yankee Stadium (1923-2008). In the 4th inning Jose Molina hit a towering drive that cleared the left-field wall winding up stuck in the net over Monument Park. Of course at that moment no one knew that this would be the last home run hit at Yankee Stadium. The first home run hit at Yankee Stadium when it opened in 1923 was by the Babe and the last home run was hit by a guy who in 13 seasons had a total of 39 home runs. As Molina rounded the bases, the fans reached and pushed trying to position themselves to catch the ball.

A fan named Steve Harshman, a Wyoming state legislator, teacher, and high school football coach, reached his hand up to the net and grabbed onto the ball trying to pull it though the netting.  His claim was that the security workers told him not to rip the net and to let the ball go. Mr. Harshman added, “He was reassured by security, who told the crowd, it’s his ball.” Then security told him, “just release it when you’re ready.“  After releasing the ball, another man named Paul Russo jumped up and grabbed it. “It went right into my hands,” said Paul Russo, 31, a schoolteacher and coach in the Bronx. “I have possession of the ball. I’m like, wow.” Russo’s account of the story as told to a Daily News reporter is, “When the security guards told me to give them the ball, I thought they were helping me out. The next thing I know, they handed it to the other guy."

Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Yankees said, “Yankee Stadium had a long-established procedure for when a ball is caught in a net and a fan reaches into the net to grab it. Security guards are instructed to tell a fan to let go of the ball, and once it was free of the net, a guard would return it. The fan “doesn’t give up his ownership, he only gives up custody.”

A legal opinion was given by Professor Paul Finkelman, a professor of Law at Albany Law School. He said, “it appears to me that when it went into the net, it went into the legal possession of the New York Yankees, and if stadium officials retrieve the ball and say ‘We’ll give it to you’ — whoever they’re pointing to — they have the right to do that.”

The dispute evokes memories of the bitter feud after Barry Bonds' record 73rd homer in 2001. Fan Alex Popov was first to glove the ball, but another crowd bystander, Patrick Hayashi, emerged with it after a melee. After three weeks in a courtroom, a judge ordered them to sell the ball and split the money.

On October 18, 2008 Mr Harshman decided to sell the ball through a sports memorabilia auction in Manhattan. The minimum bid was set at $100,000. The auction people expected a final bid of between $200,000 and $300,000. The ball received no bids that met the minimum. My search of the internet seems to indicate the ball is still possessed by Mr. Harshman. If anyone has more information of where the ball is now please comment.

The next posting will be based on my phone interview with Paul Russo which I conducted on January 27, 2013. I was fascinated to hear how Paul described the whole incident. I think you will find Paul’s description of the entire incident very interesting.




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