Michael Wranovics didn’t need extra innings to brilliantly pillory greed and media hounds in his “ballumentary” that follows the life and times of Barry Bonds’ seventy-third homerun. The film will have special appeal to those such as this writer who have seldom been taken out to the ball game and—happily—oblivious to the 626-day saga of Alex Popov vs. Patrick Hayashi as they fought tooth and nail over who legally possessed the fabled sphere. Er, literally: Hayashi was alleged to have bitten a fan during the mayhem of the “catch.” Too late for a lawsuit of his own, the young man shakily recalls saying “ow!” but the forensic evidence of matching the skin impression to the perpetrator’s “in need of an orthodontist” chops has long since vanished, yet whenever there’s a full moon ….
The opening sequence with the ugly pushing match on the Pac-Bell Stadium arcade by “fans” who have come to catch/cash in on sports history is truly pathetic. Coinciding with the opening of official hostilities by the U.S. in Afghanistan (October 7, 2001) it’s easy to see why wars will never end: some people live to fight.
There’s some great archive footage of other famous balls (Roger Maris and Mark McGuire) and a spectacular editing feat of Bonds’ homers before No. 73 is revisited and “a little Asian guy”—eye-witness accounts are loaded with more than a little racist “colour commentary” as they recall the grab—is whisked away with the ball and dutifully presented to Bonds. Before you can say “I was robbed” Popov is asserting that the ball is his and opines “Maybe he’ll do the right thing,” to the eager evening news team.
From there, Wranovics lets the story unfold like a mystery, revealing facts (there was also a “sucker” ball in play, but it mysteriously vanished from the scene), opinions (“Alex created the idea he’d been brutalized … that’s not true, he wasn’t beaten.”) and findings (“… harm done by the unlawful actions of the crowd”) that both heighten the suspense of final ownership and, more importantly, demonstrate the shallow characters of the combatants who have never met “man to man [to] talk it out.” But whoa—isn’t baseball just a game too?
The media kicks into high gear and gives Popov much more than his 15-minutes of shame. The trial takes off all of the gloves and scores big with umpire trainer Jim Evans’ testimony and accompanying clip from his school.
At key moments (the slow motion, split-screen set-up of the rivals and their lawyers heading for court only needed spurs and a six shooter to complete the parody), the music track (largely provided by the fresh and energetic Hollisters) steps up to the plate and effectively underscores the proceedings (“I’m gonna have a lot of friends as long as the money rolls in”).
But the shot de résistance is the unscripted look of satisfaction and despair on the pair of profiteers when the final call at auction liberates the ball from its field of schemes. The market shows its wisdom and knocks the duo out of the park.
Much—but savvy—ado about nothing, as witness the sage member of the San Francisco public who has higher priorities: “We’ve got Osama to kill—let’s get on with it! JWR