It's a sad, but defining statement about America when the pettiest of squabbles captures the public imagination. Or maybe that's the way it should be. Maybe in a world of unimaginable avarice, violence and media saturation, we are better served by the ironic little parable. Assuming, of course, that we learn a larger lesson from it.
Such a tale began to unfold on the last day of baseball's regular season in 2001, when Barry Bonds hit his record 73rd home run into the bleachers at Pac Bell Park. The historic moment had been anticipated: McCovey Cove was wall to wall water craft, fans who never brought gloves to the park had brought gloves to the park, and cameras were rolling. In the often hard-to-fathom subculture of sports memorabilia, the next baseball hit over the fence by Barry Bonds would instantly command a million dollar bounty.
What wasn't anticipated is that two men would claim possession of that fateful ball, that a TV cameraman would capture the whole ugly melee, and that no amount of evidence in the subsequent legal trial could convince a bemused public that two grown men weren’t being really, really silly.
Director Mike Wranovics strikes the perfect balance of investigative whimsy in his documentary “Up For Grabs” which manages to breathe 90 minutes of entertainment into a story destined for the 15 Minutes of Fame file. And the filler is not only forgivable, it’s great texture: interviews with men who caught other famous home runs, the slightly embarrassed hindsight of reporters assigned to cover the story (including their expletive riddled outtakes) and a surprisingly visceral montage of all 72 Barry Bonds home runs leading up to the defining moment.
But at heart it is the story of two men and a ball: Alex Popov who appears to have caught the ball in his mitt, and Patrick Hayashi who definitely had it in his hand as he was whisked away by stadium security. The million dollars at stake suddenly makes the possibility of injustice palpable. And Wranovics searches for the truth in good Rashoman fashion. Popov has our initial sympathies. He's a good-natured extrovert and clearly has the evidence and witnesses on his side. Hayashi tends to avoid the camera, which already appears to have caught him biting the leg of an adolescent boy during the scrum in the bleachers. But a documentary camera can become a character in these stories, goading its subjects to reveal more and more of their ids and egos. Without giving away too much -- because this is a cleverly constructed film -- Alex Popov begins to relish his dubious fame. When at the last second Popov's girlfriend refuses permission to use her face, what could have been a huge inconvenience for the filmmakers becomes both comic and foretelling. And when the ball is finally auctioned -- for a surprising sum indeed -- Popov berates the media for making this story all about the money, giving Wranovics a brilliant bit of irony to wrap things up.
"Up for Grabs" is definitely worth catching.
© 2004 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 4/12/04
Up For Grabs
U.S. - 2004