Field Of Delusions
In 1989 Kevin Costner followed up his 1988 baseball movie "Bull Durham" with "Field Of Dreams". If you haven't seen the film than any synopsis you encounter is sure to include references to the 1919 Chicago White Sox in which 8 players were found guilty of throwing the World Series. This significant event in baseball history is only a subplot, however. Let me tell you what this movie is really about. It's about an Iowa corn farmer who, while working in the field, talks to ghosts that convince him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of that cornfield. Ray Kinsella, played by Costner, decides to invest all of his savings in this venture because a ghost whispered the words "If you build it, he will come". The "he" is referring to Joe Jackson. Besides the obvious hoakiness, there is very little baseball action. If you enjoy watching Costner pitch batting practice to a dead guy than yeah maybe this film is for you. Honestly speaking I would have taken more entertainment from this movie had Kinsella done nothing but farmed the entire one hour and forty five minutes. I'm serious here. Just a day by day account of his activities starting with firing up the tractor at 7 am and ending with singing Old McDonald to his daughter before bed.
The character I was rooting for the most was Kinsella's brother in law Mark, played by Timothy Busfield. He was the leader of the "you're a crazy son of a bitch" bandwagon. Time and again, until eventually it turned into screaming, he would tell Ray "YOU'RE BANKRUPT. SELL THE FARM". Of course his words would fall on deaf ears until finally the tension between the two reached a climax. While Kinsella's daughter was having one of her Poltergeist moments, where she claimed to know things supernatural, Mark finally got so agitated he grabbed his niece at the top of the bleachers and shook her until he dropped her on the ground. This is when Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham reentered the picture. This is the character I felt the most shame for. Actually not the character but the actor himself. This was Burt Lancaster's last film. A man who had achieved legendary status in Hollywood for pictures like "The Killers", "From Here To Eternity", and "Elmer Gantry", had accepted the role as an ex ball player turned doctor. And it was in this scene where the younger Graham was on the field playing baseball when he was called off the field to provide medical assistance to Kinsella's daughter. He diagnoses the problem as "Hot dog stuck in her throat". Really? I was thinking more along the lines of a concussion. But more importantly it was discovered that leaving the field meant he could not return to the field. Lancaster's character was now gone after only one meaningful baseball scene in which he hit a sacrifice fly to drive in a run. Yes I said a sacrifice fly. Not a grand slam. Not an inside the park home run. Not a leaping catch into the corn to rob someone of a home run. A SACRIFICE FLY. Do you remember "The Shootist" and John Wayne going out in style in a blazing gunfight. Well this was at the opposite end of grand exits.
The primary baseball character in the movie is Shoeless Joe Jackson. You probably know that the last man to hit .400 was Ted Williams. But you might not know that Jackson hit .408 in 1911 and his .356 lifetime batting average is the third best in major league history. He won the World Series in 1917 with the White Sox but it is the 1919 Series to which he will forever be linked. His involvement in this scandal would no doubt depend on who you ask so the most accurate source would be Jackson's own testimony at his trial. When asked "Did anybody pay you money to help throw that series in favor of Cincinnati?" followed by "How much did they pay?" he replied "They did. They promised me $20,000 and paid me 5." The prosecutor later said "At the end of the first game you didn't get any money, did you?" Jacksons response was "No I did not, no sir.". "Then you went ahead and threw the second game thinking you would get it then. Is that right?" the prosecutor continued. "We went ahead and threw the second game and we went after him(Chick Gandil) again." said Jackson, referring to the fact that Gandil was supposed to be paying the players after each game. It seems to me that this movie was built on the premise that these 8 players from the Chicago White Sox were done wrong. And somehow, all these years later, playing baseball in the middle of corn in Iowa is redemption. I don't know about you but I'm not feeling much sympathy. Any sympathy should go to the makers of the movie "Glory", which also came out in 1989. They were passed over for a Best Picture Nomination in favor of this corny film. Yeah I couldn't resist.