Thursday, 12 January 2012

Up For Grabs film review in The Daily Yomiuri on 7th July 2007

'Up For Grabs' keeps eye on ball
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Up For Grabs (Japan title: 100-man Doru no Homuran Boru)
4 stars out of five
Dir: Michael Wranovics
Cast: Alex Popov, Patrick Hayashi, Barry Bonds

In 2001, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds set a record for the most home runs hit in one season, beating Mark McGwire's tally of 70 for the St. Louis Cardinals three years earlier by three.

Up For Grabs does not document that feat, nor any allegations that Bonds was as pumped as the balls he was slamming out of ball parks left, right and center, but the story of one particular ball that flew from his bat into the history books and the hands of Patrick Hayashi...or was it Alex Popov?

Traditionally, any spectator who catches a home run ball in a Major League Baseball game gets to keep it, so balls from record-breaking hits have become highly desirable and, more to the point, extremely valuable pieces of memorabilia.

In Up For Grabs, writer, producer and director Michael Wranovics focuses on the remarkable situation in which two supposed baseball fans ended up going to court over the ownership of Bonds' 73rd home run ball.

As the ball landed in the bleachers at San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park (now renamed AT&T Park) on Oct 7, 2001, little did anyone watching in the stadium or on TV realize that the resulting scrum as fans tried to retrieve the "million-dollar ball" would spark a legal wrangle resulting in several lawyers padding their tidy living for the next 20 months and reveal some of the worst aspects of human greed.

Wranovics captures the absurdity of this 626-day soap opera by interviewing witnesses for Popov and Hayashi, as well as impartial observers such as journalists and regular baseball fans.

The movie will appeal to an audience far beyond the world of curveballs and RBIs as Popov, whose claim for the ball starts strongly as he eagerly grasps his chance to bathe in the media spotlight and milk his 15 minutes of fame. Yet by the end of the film his grip on the media, perhaps like his grip on the ball in the first place, weakens to the point where he is eventually described by Wayne Freedman, a reporter on San Francisco's KGO-TV station, as a "media curiosity" rather than media darling.

He comes across as a rather boorish, greedy, attention-seeker, and his attempt to use his fame (or infamy?) to impress female fans at the ball park comes across as rather pathetic. Not that Hayashi is much better, as the means by which he ended up with the ball remain a mystery. Though he does at least offer to split the proceeds of any sale 50/50 at quite an early stage.

The fans who defend the two protagonists offer some entertaining asides in the film. Popov is backed by Doug Yarris, a dentist who, ever the professional even in the midst of the ball park melee, observes that Hayashi "needed an orthodontist or maybe some dental work," while Hayashi supporter James Callahan introduces himself with a version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on the piano.

An impartial voice of reason is offered by Freedman, who had a sensible solution to the impasse. "The judge should really have ordered the court to saw it [the ball] in half and give each one of them half."

And at the end of this entertaining, insightful and well-balanced chronicle of undignified greed, this reviewer couldn't agree more with that assessment.

At the time of writing, Bonds is on the brink of overtaking Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755. After watching Up For Grabs you might just hope that if No. 756 should happen at AT&T Park, the ball soars right over any get-rich-quick merchants in the bleachers, past the flotilla of boats waiting in McCovey Cove and lands with a big splash in San Francisco Bay.

The movie is currently playing.

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