Originally created 09/26/98

McGwire's disputed 66th now in court



MILWAUKEE -- Ownership of the ball that could have been Mark McGwire's 66th home run will be decided in a courtroom, but at least Sammy Sosa will get his 62nd back.

A 31-year-old gym teacher filed a lawsuit Friday claiming an 18-year-old New York man stole the ball from his grasp last weekend at County Stadium.

"I had the ball in my mitt for a good six or so seconds, but when I was about to fall into the pit behind the outfield wall, I put my right hand on the concrete to brace myself and the kid came up and snatched the ball out of my glove," said Michael Chapes, of Waterford, Wis.

"Sure, possession is nine-tenths of the law, but if I come over and I take your watch off your wrist, do I have a right to that?" Chapes' lawyer, Tom Boyd, of Racine, Wis., told The Associated Press.

In Chicago, a lawsuit over the ownership of Sosa's 62nd home run ball was dropped by the fan who claimed the ball was ripped away from him as fans piled on top of him.

A judge had issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Brendan Cunningham -- the suburban Chicago mortgage broker who has possession of the ball -- from selling it or even giving it back to Sosa until the lawsuit was resolved.

Cunningham's attorney, Stephen Libman, said Cunningham plans to give the ball back to the Chicago Cubs outfielder. The ball is currently in a safe deposit box.

In Milwaukee, Chapes sued Johnny Luna, 18, and Gerald Digilio, 40, both of Queens, N.Y., in Milwaukee County Circuit Court seeking return of the souvenir ball that the St. Louis Cardinals slugger hit into the left-center field bleachers.

Chapes also is fighting the trespassing fine he received when second-base umpire Bob Davidson ruled he interfered with a ball in play, sending McGwire back to second base with a ground-rule double instead of his 66th home run and Chapes out of County Stadium with a $518.50 citation.

"Having the ball stolen from you after you've caught an historic home run, being kicked out of the park after being held for an hour with drunks in a holding cell and slapped with a $518 fine?" Boyd said. "The only thing that's missing is Bud Selig letting out the air in his tires when he goes out to the parking lot."

Chapes must appear in court Nov. 18, at which time he plans to ask for a jury trial to fight the citation, Boyd said.

Chapes said the ball cleared the yellow line before the crush of fans pushed him forward. Chapes covered his left-handed Rawlings Bill Madlock-model mitt with his bare right hand, the ball safely inside.

But as the crowd crush pushed him over a chain-link fence about 18 inches behind the yellow home run railing, he feared he was about to drop headfirst into the concrete pit four feet below.

So, Chapes took his right hand away from the mitt to brace himself on the wall. Seconds later, Luna scrambled down the pit area, reached up, snatched the ball and sprinted away, Chapes said.

Digilio was attending the game with his two sons, Luna and a fourth youth, all of whom fanned out in the bleachers in hopes of catching an historic homer. The group attended several games where McGwire and Sammy Sosa played in last two weeks.

Chapes said if he gets the ball back, he wants to see if McGwire wants it. But Boyd wasn't so sure the slugger would care for it.

"If it winds up tied, Mark might never want to see that ball again," Boyd said. "He might want to throw it up and hit it 600 feet into the forest somewhere."

Sosa tied McGwire at 65 by hitting two homers in Milwaukee on Wednesday.



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