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HIFF film documents historic baseball dispute

by Kyle Galdeira, Sports editor

Every baseball fan knows it is vital to bring a glove to games. If a ball hit into the stands is caught, it can become a souvenir.

Alex Popov remembered his glove but couldn’t hang onto the ball, a costly mistake documented in the film Up for Grabs. The documentary, directed, written, and produced by Michael Wranovics, follows the battle for the baseball hit by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants in his single-season record 73rd home run on Oct. 7, 2001.

Bonds’ record-breaking home run ball ended up in the right field bleachers of Pac-Bell Park, and a melee broke out as fans scrambled for the precious keepsake. A local television news cameraman, Josh Keppel, whose footage makes up most of the movie, has his camera running as the ball is jarred from Popov’s glove and ends up in the possession of Patrick Hayashi.

This ball was expected to fetch millions of dollars. After all, when Mark McGwire hit what was at the time a record 70th home run to end the 1998 season, the ball was sold at auction for $2.7 million—the most ever paid for a sports artifact. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and broke Babe Ruth’s record 40 years earlier in 1961, but the ball, which was caught by Sal Durante, sold for a mere $5,000.

Major League Baseball officials credit Hayashi with hauling in the ball, but Popov has accused Hayashi of stealing it from his glove and insists he, Popov, is the rightful owner. Popov filed a lawsuit against Hayashi claiming that the ball was stolen.

The film follows the court case as numerous witnesses come forward and share their opinions about how the ball ended up in Hayashi’s possession. Some bystanders say that Popov had the ball and then dropped it, making it free for Hayashi to recover. Others say Hayashi dove into the pile of fans and punched, kicked, and clawed until he emerged with the ball. A video clip even shows Hayashi apparently biting the leg of a boy near Popov in order to get closer to the ball.

Judge Kevin McCarthy presided over the case and is given the arduous task of determining who owns the ball. However, more and more evidence piled up against both plaintiff and defendant, and the public focused on who told the fewer lies instead of the most truth. As the 2002 World Series came and went, Popov was seen as an egomaniac who took every opportunity possible to remain in the public eye.

Finally, 437 days after the home run was hit, a verdict was reached and the film followed both men as they dealt with the consequences of taking the matter to court instead of settling the issue without lawyers.

Judge McCarthy ruled that both men had an “equal and undivided interest in the ball” and ordered that the ball be sold at auction. The proceeds were then split equally between Hayashi and Popov. The ball sold for $450,000 at auction and after fees incurred at the auction, each man receives roughly $200,000.

While Hayashi’s lawyers declined payment and allowed him to keep all the profits, Popov racked up a $640,000 legal bill—a fee that he refuses to pay. Popov filed a lawsuit against his lawyers claiming that he was not represented fairly and has yet to receive a penny from the sale of the ball as he fights his new court battle.

The film made its Hawai‘i debut Oct. 25 in the Louis Vuitton Hawai‘i International Film Festival at the Signature Dole Cannery Theaters. Wranovics and coordinating producer Michael Lindenberger were in Honolulu for the screening of their first film which has already won Best Documentary honors at both the Phoenix and Los Angeles Film Festivals.

“ My goal was to capture the story accurately and to get this film under my belt,” said Wranovics. “I knew that the story would have suspense and drama because it involved a legal case that was unprecedented.”

Instead of focusing only on the baseball aspect of the story, the filmmakers put an emphasis on the characters and their actions which seemed more absurd as time went by. The unbiased portrayal of events presents both sides of the story and leaves the audience in suspense until the final verdict is read.

“ People see an interesting character (Popov) not stopping at anything and even making a fool of himself,” said Lindenberger. “There’s a lot of comedy, lots of twists, and you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this film.”

The film is expected to be released nationwide next spring, just in time for baseball season. It has a running time of 88 minutes.


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