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Rookie of the Year (1993): Movie Review
Rookie of the Year (1993)
I will admit to being slightly biased towards Rookie of the Year because I originally watched it through the rose-tinted glasses of youth, but I watched it again recently, and I have to say: it’s not that bad. Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a terrible youth baseball player who breaks his arm and spends the summer in a cast. Once the cast comes off, though, he discovers that his tendons have healed so tightly that he can pitch over 100 miles per hour. Seeing an opportunity to save the franchise by selling out the rest of the season, the Cubs sign Henry to become the team’s new reliever. With a little coaching from veteran pitcher Chet “Rocket” Steadman (Gary Busey), Henry turns into quite a ballplayer. There’s even a montage to prove it! The best image is a pre-steroids Barry Bonds swinging, whiffing, and shaking his head in disbelief at the flames shooting out of Henry’s cannon. What started as a sideshow to draw people to the ballpark has gotten the Cubs back into contention. Can Henry juggle his friends, girls, and his newfound fame long enough to lead the Cubs to the playoffs?
Rookie of the Year has plenty going for it. The family-friendly story is full of positive messages about friendship, family, loyalty, and not trying to grow up too fast, making it a nice option for younger viewers. Any adult familiar with sports is going to cringe, though, because no one in the movie can throw a baseball. It’s hard to believe, even with batters taking exaggerated swings and the catcher acting like the pitches stung his hand, that Thomas Ian Nicholas ever picked up a baseball before filming this movie. There is just no way that a baseball shoots out of the kid’s hand with that awkward delivery. Same goes for Gary Busey. As nice as it is to see him as a normal actor before his stint in Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, there’s just no way any amount of editing can make us believe him as a professional baseball player with that windup.
Director Daniel Stern made a major misstep by casting himself as beaned-in-the-head pitching coach Brickma. His over-the-top antics don’t match the tone of the rest of the movie, so it becomes distracting every time his character is on screen. I remember him being funnier when I first saw the movie, but I suppose taking a few baseballs to the head holds more water for younger viewers. He did a nice job directing the child actors, though. I wouldn’t say Thomas Ian Nicholas’s performance was better than Macaulay Culkin’s in Home Alone, but he is good enough and cute enough to carry the film. I hadn’t seen him act in anything else until 1999, when I was thrilled to see him pop up in American Pie. Let’s just say that this is still probably his best acting job to date.
Interestingly, for a movie with so many outlandish moments, it doesn’t go far enough when predicting the 24-hour news cycle and the hounding of celebrities we often see now: Henry is needled at press conferences, chased through airports, and forced into multiple endorsement opportunities by his unscrupulous manager. But imagine a 12-year-old fireballer making the majors in today’s culture. Henry would have even less privacy and even more handlers trying to get a piece of him. He’d be on television all the time, even when he wasn’t pitching, splashed across magazine covers, constantly being hounded for interviews, autographs, and appearances. He would probably need bodyguards to even attend school. The scenes that are meant to demonstrate the crushing downside of fame therefore come across as quaint.
Don’t be afraid to let your kids check this movie out on DVD, and don’t be afraid to sit down with them: the final scene provides the happy ending you knew was coming with a heartwarming twist.