He was an incongruous image, sitting there yesterday in Courtroom 9 of the Baltimore County Circuit Court.
After all, John "Boog" Powell is known more for blasting home runs during his 14 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, or his current run as the barbecue king of Camden Yards.
But yesterday, Mr. Powell was in court seeking redress over being stiffed $4,000 in January during a celebrity baseball card-trading and autograph-signing event in Pikesville. Michael Spivack, 24, of Owings Mills was the defendant. His day ended with Judge John Grayson Turnbull 3rd giving him probation before judgment and two years of supervised probation for writing Mr. Powell a bad check.
Judge Turnbull also ordered Mr. Spivack, who has no criminal record, to make $200-per-month payments to Mr. Powell until the debt is satisfied.
"If you don't," boomed the judge, "I am marking it here on your folder that as soon as you miss a payment, you are going to jail, to the detention center."
The dispute goes back to Jan. 10, when Mr. Powell was one of several former Orioles -- Jim Palmer, Dave Johnson and Brooks Robinson among them -- contracted to sign autographs at the event, held at the Pikesville Armory. Mr. Powell was to receive $5,000.
He said he was paid $1,000 in cash and received the balance in a $4,000 check from the show's promoter, Mr. Spivack. Within several days, the check bounced.
"I really tried to get him to make restitution, gave him lots of opportunities to get my money to me, but we had to go to District Court where the guy was found guilty of writing a bad check," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Spivack was supposed to pay $200 a month to the aggrieved Mr. Powell, but that didn't happen, said assistant state's attorney Steven Kroll. "I wanted [Mr. Powell] to pursue this on appeal because it appeared he just wasn't being aggressive enough, that he'd never get his money, and the court frowns on people who write bad checks," the prosecutor said.
Mr. Spivack's attorney, Gerald Zinlin, said the check bounced because the show was very successful but, somehow, "$20,000 was missing from the till." This point held no sway with Judge Turnbull.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Powell talked about how baseball cards, players' old uniforms and other sports memorabilia have become a booming collectibles field and handsome income for former and current players.
"People who walk through the door know exactly what they are doing," he said. "They pay to get in . . . they don't have to come."
But Mr. Powell adds quickly that outside such events, he tries to accommodate autograph seekers wherever he encounters them.
"While pushing barbecue at the ballpark, I sign upward of 500 autographs at every game," he said. "I really try never to turn people down." Joe Bosley, owner of the Old Ball Game, a sports memorabilia store in Reisterstown, said the autograph-seeking business "has gotten out of hand."
"On the home-shopping network on television, you can buy a bat autographed by Joe DiMaggio for $4,000," he said. "But guess what, DiMaggio isn't dead and he's signing bats every day."