Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baseball Movies

A few weeks ago, Love, Life and APBA offered some suggestions for baseball books. This week, I'm looking at a few movies that feature the sport we love. But these movies may be a little more obscure than the mainstream fare. Also, keep in mind I am not a movie-goer and I really don't devote an hour and a half or two hours to staring at a television set to watch drama.

Sure, there's Field of Dreams, The Natural and Bull Durham, the holy trinity of baseball movies, as far as I'm concerned. Throw in Pride of the Yankees, Major League and League of Their Own as other semi-classics.

Instead, these suggestions are just snapshots of eras of baseball. Some are good, some aren't. The Babe Ruth Story, for example, is listed here, but it's also listed by 17 states as a means of cruel and unusual punishment for those who watch it.

Read on and feel free to comment on movies you like.

1935 Alibi Ike —Based on a Ring Lardner short story about a Chicago Cubs player who gets kidnapped by gangsters who want him to throw the World Series. Joe E. Brown plays Frank X. Ferrell. It is a stretch that the Cubs are in the Series, but remember that this was made in 1935. Brown actually turned down a chance to sign with the New York Yankees to continue his career as a comedian and actor. The film is silly and it features his slapstick humor and wide, goofy smile.

1948 The Babe Ruth Story – Apparently acting was not a necessity when Allied Artists Pictures held a casting call. All they needed was a lummox, and William Bendix, a former Yankees batboy, fit the part. A cheesy, sappy, over-emotional film that Newsday called the “worst sports bio of all time.” Still, it has that feel of old baseball and makes for a fun viewing.

1949 The Stratton Story – Another film with that “feel.” Jimmy Stewart plays Monty Stratton who, after playing in the late 1930s as a pitcher with the White Sox, accidentally shoots his leg. He tries to return to the field and in a weird, Festus-stumbling-in-Gunsmoke manner, Stratton fields bunts. I watched this the other night and stayed with it through the end.

1949 It Happens Every Spring — Prof. Vernon Simpson is experimenting with some wood-resistant chemical when a baseball smashes through the lab window and lands in a tub of the stuff. Simpson, played by Ray Milland — who later was in the 1972 movie “Frogs” — uses the mixture and becomes an unhittable pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. I read somewhere that Major League Baseball wouldn't support the movie because it glorified cheating and real baseball players were forbidden to have cameo appearances in the film, like they did in many other baseball flicks. A bit o' trivia. Alan Hale Jr. plays a catcher at Simpson's college. Hale later played the Skipper in Gilligan's Island.

1976 The Bad News Bears — Curmudgeon Walter Matthew leads a team of misfits on the diamond. Tatum O'Neal stars as a pitcher for the Little League team. The movie had a lot of rough toilet humor, kids swearing, cheating. Stuff we, as adults, still like. Roger Ebert reviewed the movie when it came out and called it an "unblinking look at competition." 

1992 Mr. Baseball — Fading baseball player Tom Sellick is traded from New York to a Japanese baseball team. The film focuses on the cultural difficulties and Sellick's issue toward teamwork. Like most baseball movies, the ending is a feel-good action sequence that is pretty cool.

1993 Little Big League — This one has been slammed by critics all over, but, hey, it's a dream of, like me, any Minnesotan to run the Minnesota Twins. This time, it's a kid who takes over the team when his grandfather, the owner, dies. He's like, 12, and manages. But a friend sums it up. “It's the American League. They have the DH. How hard can it be?” The thing that stood out for me was the photography and the action shots. Of course, the Minnesota bias plays heavily for me in this movie.

1999 For Love of the Game — Another Kevin Costner movie. This one brings tears for all. It's a campy love story and half of the movie is about the past relationship with Costner and girlfriend Kelly Preston. The other half is Costner taking the mound for the Detroit Tigers' last game of the season. Women weep at the sentimentality of it all. Guys cry because Costner is headed for a perfect game.

2005 Fever Pitch — Forget Friday the 13th, the Exorcist, those Freddy Krueger movies and the rest. This is the scariest horror movie I've ever seen. It features both Jimmy Fallon and the Red Sox winning the World Series. “The Hills Have Eyes”? Nah. Fallon has speaking lines? The horror, the horror. The ending is trite; they filmed it in St. Louis in 2004 when the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the actual Series. Frightening.

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