My Mind Is Looking Ahead To Spring and Baseball: What Baseball Films I Love
"In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."
So said Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1835. In April of 1893, these words were applied to baseball. As I am old my mind tends to follow this later application of the words. My job at SDC leaves me off work in January and February and the first of March and I tend to go stir crazy. I am trying to read more and write more but there are times my mind just wants to rest.
Then, out come my baseball films. I pull the DVD's from our video closet, line them up on our coffee table and put one after the other in, push play and sit back and relax as my mind is swept away by The Boys of Summer.
My Favorite Baseball Films
There are so many films about baseball from over the many years; films that stir the heart and soul, films that are both uplifting and dark. I do not have many myself but I do have access via the internet and Prime. Oh how nice that is! I began with my favorite baseball film I own, 1991's "Talent For The Game" starring Edward James Olmos and Lorraine Bracco. Olmos plays a scout for the Anaheim Angels, and while on a scouting trip with girlfriend Bracco (she also works for the Angels in their office) his car breaks down. While walking to the nearest town their hear, of all things in this vast Idaho wilderness, the sounds of a baseball game. As they near the game they see a game being played by a group of young men, just a bunch of guys having fun. They stop and watch, seeing each and every batter being shut down, striking out on fastballs they cannot touch, they cannot catch up to. Olmos casually asks, after the game, if he could catch the young pitcher. He does, then reveals he is a scout. After some discussion with the parents the young man joins Olmos on a trip to the major league team.
It is a good film, one which did not fare well in theaters but is well worth your time to catch it today. Heartwarming, fun and showing a side of baseball rarely seen it is the first film I reach for every January in my preparation for the upcoming season.
The next one I reach for is...
"Trouble With The Curve", that wonderful film by and starring Clint Eastwood. Also starring Justin Timberlake and Amy Adams it is another "baseball scout" film where Eastwood is an aging scout, Adams his attorney daughter and Timberlake a former find of Eastwood who is now a scout for a rival team. The focus of the film is a young high school player who is referred to as the next Albert Pujols. However, he is an arrogant young man who demeans his high school teammates and is in the game for one reason: to reach the majors and his idea of success. The film's title tells you what is bound to happen however the curve in question is a surprise in and of itself. Combining heart and soul with the life of a scout such as the meals in diners, nights in run down motels and evenings in local juke joints it is a fabulous film well worth the time.
The film Moneyball changed baseball. At least, it changed the perspective of many who watched the game, allowing the viewer and fan to see what goes on behind closed doors, listen in as the general manager, scouts and owners decide the direction of our favorite team. Brad Pitt becomes Billy Beane and shares with us his struggle to put a competitive team on the field to play against the giants of the league, those with three times the money, maybe more, to buy a pennant and a World Series.
While the film is marginally fictionalized, the book tells the tale directly. I found the ebook online and read it through in three days. I then thought about it for a day and began reading it again, more slowly and thoughtfully this time. While the film is a wonderful two hour diversion the book will make you look at the game today in a completely different light. Beane and his ilk changed baseball to the very core. As Pitt says in the film, he wanted to change the way the game is played and when you read the book and understand what the game has evolved into you realize he did exactly that.
Now, every team, every media outlet, every writer, every fan has access to statistics for every play, every player in the game today. Major league, minor league every team. Decisions are made, players evaluated, teams rise and fall based upon these statistics. And not just real teams, fantasy teams. Today everyone who desires can be a manager of a major league team, filled with players of their choice. Some "managers" allow the players to be determined for them while others research the available players in depth, using these statistics made available to them much the same as Billy Beane did.
I am one of these "managers" who does the latter.
Eight Men Out
My oh my how I love this film! Telling the tale of the Black Sox Scandal of the 1919 White Sox and based upon the 1963 book authored by Eliot Asinof it is a wonderful story of what really happened and who was involved. Starring many actors you recognize such as John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Christopher Lloyd and D.B. Sweeney. Sweeney is a joy to watch as he portrays Shoeless Joe Jackson and he looks the part of a ballplayer. I have the book and it is another of my regular reads each year.
When It Was A Game
Filled with home movies made by players and fans alike, "When It Was A Game" and it sequel "When It Was A Game II" are superb recollections on film. These collections show everything, behind the scenes moments where you might actually see Ted Williams actually laughing to on the field games; from before the game antics to All Star game moments. In both black and white and color, you are taken on a trip back into the past watching as time plays before your eyes. Narration and songs are added and they tell the story of our National Pastime as your memory tells you how it was if you were there, or how you always heard it was from your parents or grandparents.
From the first time I watched these documentaries I fell in love with them and quite often I use the title of When It Was A Game as my team name for my fantasy baseball teams, trying to cling to what I perceive to be the Golden Years of Baseball.
Baseball, by Ken Burns
This is the most comprehensive, incredible collection of baseball memorabilia on film one can find anywhere to view. Beginning in the shadowy mists of baseball's beginnings and carrying forward by decade, one is immersed in baseball history. You watch as every moment is revealed to you, watch as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Enos Slaughter and so many others smile and wave, hit and run before you.
I love this series, and will gladly sit for hours watching as one after another time period unfolds before me. I watched as the Babe calls his shot, as Gehrig gives that farewell speech (no, those are not tears in my eyes). I watch the ferocity the Cobb carries on the field, comparing it with Pete Rose half a century later. I listen as the narrators tell of the reason for Ted Williams taciturn feelings towards the media and wonder at his final home run, for his decision to not tip his cap to the crowd even as he runs around the bases for the final time.
I see the infamous glare of Bob Gibson and imagine myself in the batters box, trying to maintain my calm before swinging at his pitch. I listen to and feel for Curt Flood as he takes on the reserve clause of baseball in the court system, trying to compare what he went through to what players have today, wondering if they even understand what he sacrificed for their future.
The moments, ah the moments. Kirk Gibson's glorious home run for the Dodgers and the back story from Bob Costas. Bill Buckner's agony in 1986. Jackie Robinson's entry into baseball. The M and M boys of '61. The summer of '41 with DiMaggio and Williams. Murderer's Row. The Curse of the Bambino. These and a thousand others are captured in this series and allow you to be there, to experience things which occurred long before.
If you haven't seen this series, you owe it to yourself to watch it if you consider yourself to be a fan of baseball.
But I am also reading...
In addition to my viewing these films I am also reading quite a bit. I am an old fashioned reader, preferring to hold the actual tome in my hands, flipping the pages as I go but I am finding the convenience of borrowing e-books from the library to be very satisfying. Some of the books I am reading include Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein; I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson and 3 Nights In August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside The Mind of a Manager by Buzz Bissinger (which is a story based on Tony LaRussa while he was managing the St. Louis Cardinals).
Feinstein's book is a look inside the world of Minor League Baseball, following the loves of several managers, players and even umpires. It is funny, insightful and even a bit sad: in other words, it is real life. One of the funniest parts thus far, which actually made me laugh out loud, was a portion telling what one will see when one visits the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. If you are to feel the urge, a certain call of nature and visit the facilities, you might see this in the urinals; yes the urinals.
"Standing here longer than the National Anthem?"
"Back again? It might not be the beer's fault."
"Has your bat gone silent?"
"Can't reach home plate like you used to?"
"The only place for dribblers in the ballpark is down the first and third base lines."
Each and every one of these are sponsored by Urology Specialists of the Lehigh Valley. Talk about a captive audience...
Jackie's story is one to behold. What he survived, endured and achieved is amazing. This man was, is a true hero.
And LaRussa, as manager of my Cardinals gives us an insight rarely offered.
"How can you not be romantic about Baseball?"
In Moneyball Billy Beane asks this question. The history of the game, the players, the characters. The nicknames. The Babe. The Iron Horse. The Yankee Clipper. The Splendid Splinter. The Bird. Space Man. The Man. Oil Can. Hammerin' Hank.
Then the moments that are magical. The Catch. Jackie stealing home. Pudge's willing the ball to stay fair as it left Fenway. The heartbreak of the Red Sox before the redemption in the 21st century. The Cubs and their century of defeat then their own climb back tot he peak.
But for every amazing memory there are those we wish we could forget. What Jackie went through in breaking the color barrier. The threats Hank Aaron endured as he approached then eclipsed Babe Ruth's home run record. Pete Rose and the wild abandon he played the game which led to his downfall as he bet on the very game he loved. The Negro League and the stars that never were, at least to White America. The waste that was Josh Gibson's gifts. And what might have been for Satchel Paige had he had the chance to play in the Major Leagues.
Baseball is a microcosm of life in America and has all of the ups and downs, the beauty and the ugliness. I recognize that even as I wish I didn't. But if we cannot change the past we must at least learn from it and make sure we do not repeat them.
Baseball is evolving as are we. We hold on to the history of it even as we embrace the new heroes each year. Spring is coming and with it another year of the game I love more than any other. I welcome it.
© 2019 Mr Archer