CHICAGO -- In a display case, among the valuable baseballs signed by the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, suddenly appeared a ball worth all of a few dollars signed by a merely above average second baseman with little chance of joining those greats in the Hall of Fame.
For Benjamin Pogofsky, that was proof that something was rotten with his late father's treasured baseball collection.
What has since transpired is a Major League family feud over a bunch of balls that has included a will, a lawsuit, an order of protection and criminal theft charges. And behind it are two brothers whose father had sat on the Chicago White Sox board of directors and who spent a good part of their childhood at the ballpark rubbing shoulders with some of the game's biggest stars.
On Thursday, Benjamin Pogofsky's brother, Lyle "Brad" Pogofsky, appeared in court in Lake County on felony theft and burglary charges that came after the family alerted police he'd made off with dozens his late father's autographed baseballs from the home of their widowed mother in Highland Park, one of Chicago's more upscale North Shore communities. A judge set a trial date for Nov. 10.
Prosecutors allege that between Jan. 12 and March 6 of this year, Brad Pogofsky stole balls valued a total of $10,000 to $100,000 from Lynda Pogofsky's home. The balls were among more than 200 signed by many of the greatest players in Major League history, which Larry Pogofsky had spent about 30 years collecting until his death last December.
"Basically this is about a family, an age-old story where you have a father who was wealthy and a couple of kids fighting over the money, who gets what, who's entitled to what," said Michael Botti, Brad Pogofsky's attorney. "It should be dealt with within the family and not with a Class 1 felony."
In fact, about the only place this showdown has been not been waged is within the family, as the two brothers have thrown the legal equivalent of brush-back pitches at each other. Brad Pogofsky filed a lawsuit, alleging that Benjamin Pogofsky intimidated and threatened him after learning Brad took some of the baseballs. Benjamin went to court for an order of protection preventing Brad from coming near him or his dog.
At the center of the battle is each brother's contention that their father intended him to inherit the baseballs, not the other one.
According to Benjamin, the balls belong to his mother but he says his father's will clearly spells out that they ultimately belong to him, something his brother Brad only realized when he found the will earlier this year at his mother's house.
Brad's lawsuit indicates that that realization, if true, came as a crushing blow.
"For many years, when we discussed the collection of autographed baseballs, my father invariably commented that the entire collection of autographed baseballs would pass to me in the event of his death," he wrote in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit.
Botti, Brad's lawyer, has since dropped the lawsuit that was filed by another attorney, arguing that it was the exact wrong thing to do because it only inflamed the family feud. Filed just days before Brad was arrested for the thefts, it also included a Highland Park police commander as a defendant, claiming he threatened to arrest Brad if he didn't return the balls. The department did not comment Thursday.
Botti would not discuss the will. But he suggested that one reason his client believes he is entitled to the balls is because he was the one who collected many of them when he was a kid attending old timer's games with his father after the elder Pogofsky, a businessman, joined the White Sox board of directors.
To support his client's case, Botti sent The Associated Press photographs of Brad Pogofsky as a boy, sitting at ballparks next to DiMaggio and Hank Aaron.
One of the few things that the brothers agree upon is that Brad Pogofsky started taking the baseballs after their father's death.
Brad Pogofsky said in court documents that he took "a couple of dozen of the more than 200 autographed baseballs" during a visit to his mother's house in February with his "mother's knowledge, and with her tacit consent."
After The Associated Press attempted to contact the mother, Lynda Pogofsky, Benjamin Pogofsky intervened and said his mother did not want to comment. He tells a different story of how the balls disappeared, alleging that Brad Pogofsky made off with a few balls at a time over several weeks to prevent anyone from finding out what he was doing.
Nobody noticed until Mother's Day, he said, when he noticed an empty spot where a ball should have been.
A closer look revealed that someone had taken another ball and secretly replaced it with a ball signed by Ray Durham, a former second baseman for the White Sox and other teams. Durham is a friend of the Pogofsky family, but his career .277 batting average did not merit his autographed ball sitting among balls signed by the game's most legendary players.
The Durham ball "is worth, like $5," Benjamin Pogofsky said.
An even closer look, he said, revealed other balls that Brad Pogofsky allegedly had placed on the shelf with something else in common.
"A bunch he signed himself and then ... put them back," he said.
Benjamin Pogofsky said many of the valuable balls have been recovered by police from a dealer who, unaware of the family squabble, bought them from Brad Pogofsky.
As for the balls that were recovered and the ones still in the Pogofsky home, Brad Pogofsky acknowledges in his lawsuit that their ultimate home will be decided by an umpire nowhere near the diamonds where his father took him as a boy.
"I fully expect that the Probate Court of the Circuit Court of Lake County ... will make a judicial determination concerning the disposition and ultimate ownership of the autographed baseballs," he wrote.