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Baseball great on stand in theft trial

Defense attorney George Evans played pitcher when he attended a baseball fantasy camp.

Tuesday, Evans lived every hurler's fantasy, firing fastballs at Hall of Famer Ted Williams from about 12 feet away.

Williams, the last major-leaguer to hit over .400, was the prosecution's chief witness in the case of an Inverness man charged with grand theft.

The former Boston Red Sox slugger spent four-and-a-half hours in the witness chair at the trial, which was assigned to Circuit Judge Jack Springstead and moved to Brooksville from Inverness on change of venue.

Vincent Antonucci is accused of stealing from Williams $37,800, the amount of a check Williams wrote to Antonucci in 1989. Williams alleges Antonucci was to have bought 200 cases of baseball cards as an investment for Williams.

"I was aware that cards were getting to be a hot item," testified Williams, who was dressed in an untucked white Izod shirt and a loose-fitting, plaid sport coat.

Williams' presence in the Hernando County Government Center caused a stir among those who knew he would be there. Sheriff's deputies were prepared with baseballs they wanted autographed, and by late in the day even some of the other witnesses were holding bags of balls they hoped to get signed.

After 19 minutes of direct examination by assistant state attorney Jim McCune, Evans went to work on a marathon cross-examination. The Miami attorney felt he threw some strikes, and thought Williams the witness was not nearly so formidable as the Williams who hit .406 in 1941.

"To be real honest, his testimony was really inconsistent," Evans said. "He made some confusing statements throughout, and I was prepared."

Evans came right at Williams, trying to pin him down on specifics of memorabilia-show earnings and dates relevant to the case. Williams seemed rattled at times and annoyed with Evans at others, though he was perceptive enough to snap back at his inquisitor when he deemed it appropriate.

"You're not presenting the question properly," Williams told Evans at one point.

Williams, who is 73 and has a home in Citrus Hills, cited health concerns as one possible reason for discrepancies between his testimony Tuesday and that in an earlier deposition hearing. He suffered a minor stroke in December and last month underwent surgery for removal of an artery-blockage in his neck.

"I went against my doctor's orders to go to your deposition," Williams rapidly responded when asked by Evans to explain a contradiction.

Both sides in the case apparently scored some runs Tuesday, the defense showing Williams went to the state attorney with his criminal complaint against Antonucci partly because he was unhappy with the slow progress and the cost of ongoing civil litigation between the two. And the prosecution preventing the defense from the tying the baseball-card transaction with other business dealings.

"It's my understanding it's a different ball game altogether," Williams said of the two cases. "One's criminal and one's civil."

Prosecutors say Antonucci failed to produce the cards but kept the money, spending some of it. Evans is trying to show the transaction was one of many between the two former business associates and that Antonucci was owed the money by Williams. Antonucci and Williams are ex-partners in the now-defunct Talkin' Baseball memorabilia store in Crystal River.

If convicted of the second-degree felony charge, Antonucci faces up to 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The trial resumes with more witnesses this morning, possibly including fellow Hall of Famer and Citrus County resident Monte Irvin, and is scheduled to conclude late Friday or sometime Saturday.

After finishing his testimony Tuesday, Williams had plans to fly to New York today to promote a baseball-card venture.

But because neither prosecutors nor the defense would release him from subpoenas he is under, Springstead ruled Williams must postpone his trip and remain within the court's jurisdiction for a possible return to the witness stand.

Springstead tried to reassure Williams that the court order would hopefully insulate him from any litigation arising from his failure to make the contractually agreed-upon appearance in New York.

If it didn't, Williams told the judge, "I'll blame you."

Then Williams indicated he had spent about enough time in the box.

"All right," he said with a reassuring nod toward Springstead. "That's it."

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