May 14, 2005

MOVIES: Up for Grabs (Michael Wranovics, 2005)

Up for Grabs is a delightful documentary about the legal battle over a baseball. When Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run a few years back, setting the new single-season record, two men lay claim to the ball, which was worth a lot of money, potentially as much as $2 million.

A TV cameraman was only a few feet away as the ball came down, and we can see the ball land in Alex Popov's outstretched glove; as Popov brings his arm down, he's knocked to the ground by the swarming crowd. We can't see what's going on in the melee, but it's another man -- Patrick Hiyashi -- who comes up with the ball. It only takes a few days for Popov to file suit against Hiyashi, claiming that the ball was stolen from him.

Neither man is a particularly sympathetic figure -- Popov, in particular, is intensely self-absorbed and arrogant -- and the general reaction to the trial, which was front-page news in San Francisco, is that it's a waste of time and money. The movie follows the case through the verdict, which manages to be both surprising and inevitable, and on to the auction of the ball, which brings surprises of its own.

This may all sound a bit dry, but director Michael Wranovics tells the story with a nice comic touch, playing up the absurdity of the events and the poetic justice of the outcome, in which each man gets about what he deserves. It's a charming little movie.

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