Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Baseball on the brain

On the first day of every Major League Baseball season, my beloved Baltimore Orioles, by sheer power of alphabetical order, are in first place in the American League East.

Unfortunately, for almost 20 years now, that's about as close as we O's fans can come to bragging. But, with spring around the corner, that's all about to change (yeah, right.)

The Orioles have bolstered their simply woeful bullpen with Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Scott Williamson and Chad Bradford. The Orioles also traded for right-hander Jaret Wright and signed first baseman/designated hitter Aubrey Huff to a three-year, $20 million deal; outfielder Jay Payton to a two-year, $9.5 million pact, and right-hander Steve Trachsel to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.

OK, I know that not one of these comes close to an A-List player, but baseball is all about dreams, so let me enjoy my moment of delusion. And, for one day, the Orioles being in first place.

From "Half Nelson" to the minors

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks the world needs more baseball. In what could be a very intriguing project, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the team behind "Half Nelson," will write and direct a pic about Dominican baseball.

"Sugar" will look at the promise and broken dreams of a Dominican baseball prospect plucked from his native country to play in the U.S. minor-league system. It will be a fictional tale based on creators' research; it focuses on Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a teenager who ends up far from home playing for a team in the Midwest after showing baseball aptitude in his native country. It's described as a dramatic and cautionary account of the baseball scouting machine with a good-natured character at its center.

And here I thought the definitive movie about minor league baseball had already been made with Brendan Fraser's turn in "The Scout." (In case you have doubts, I am kidding. Give me "Bull Durham" any day.)

Five baseball flicks I can't live without

1. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg
Though it's been well acknowledged that Jackie Robinson went through a world of shit he certainly didn't deserve, it's been largely overlooked that Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg also suffered lots of abuse as a Jewish player. Aviva Kempner sets out to lionize him and succeeds with this doco, a must-see for anyone who loves baseball.

2. The Natural
This is the one exception I'll allow to this otherwise ironclad rule: If you change the ending of one of my favorite books, I will not support your movie. "The Natural" somehow succeeds with this, however, putting a feel-good spin on Bernard Malamud's novel that just works for me.

3. Eight Men Out
This one should really be subtitled "the movie that proved John Sayles will never have a megahit." With Jon Cusack on board and the story of the 1919 Chicago Blacksox to work with, he may not have made his great box-office breakthrough, but he did turn baseball's blackest eye (so far, at least) into a solid drama.

4. The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings
I probably would never have seen this little gem if it hadn't been filmed in Macon way back in 1975. Starring Richard Pryor, Billy Dee William and James Earl Jones, this often funny, often touching movie is about a Negro League team that, to rail against the corrupt ownership of the league, sets out on a barnstorming tour against teams across the midwest. If you can still find this on VHS, I recommend it most highly.

5. The Bad News Bears
I'm probably the only person in the world who didn't just flat out hate the remake with Billy Bob Thornton (and yes, I realize that laughing at the wheelchair-bound kid who shows up at practice in a Wheaties-Breakfast of Champions T-shirt probably means I'm damned for eternity), but that's not what I'm talking about here. What made the original so much better is that the kids truly were dirty little castoffs, the kind of genuine losers you just don't get to see often enough, so when they win it's just that much more fun. And, of course, it's just funny as hell.

So, there you have it. And, if you're a long-suffering Orioles fan like me, tune in April 2 at 7:10 p.m. on ESPN2 when Erik Bedard leads the birds into opening day battle against the Twinnies (and, presumably, the unhittable Johan Santana.) What's at stake? The right to say you're in first place for one more day, of course.

25 comments:

jeremy said...

Ooh, there's a doco about Greenberg--the only way I even know his name is from a line from a song in a musical. A Jewish father is yelling (singing) to his son at bat, "Take heart from Hank Greenberg / Its not genetic / Anything can be co-pa-ce-tic."
Love your list. Can't believe you've seen Bingo Long. It used to air on Saturday afternoons occasionally. I didn't even remember it until you just listed it.
And what? No Major League II? (Just kidding)

Reel Fanatic said...

I love Major League the first, Jeremy, but that's about as far as I can go ... The Greenberg doco is hardly an objective, hard-hitting work, just a portrait of a great man, and a very entertaining movie

Chalupa said...

I echo your thoughts and feelings about Bad News Bears. Personally, I'd have to add Sandlot to the list as well.

sanchapanzo said...

i liked bull durham, thought it was a very good movie

Reel Fanatic said...

Sandlot is indeed a fun movie, Chalupa, so definitely a welcome addition .. I could have listed at least 20 movies about baseball that I adore, but I'm not sure anyone would ever want to read that much

Christopher55 said...

Hi Keith. Solid list. What would I add? Let’s see:

“A League of Their Own” (yep, that would be on my list just for the “There’s no crying in baseball” scene but overall just a good, fun baseball movie)

Costner’s “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham.” (Okay, they’re about baseball but not about baseball really)

Two guilty pleasures (they wouldn’t be on my list but I enjoy them every time they’re on)
“Mr. Baseball” with Tom Selleck and, I'd add “The Sandlot", too.

I remember the musical “Damn Yankees” being cool but I haven’t seen it in years. I wonder if it is on DVD. Have to check.

Kara said...

Bull Durham is the holy grail of baseball movies and while the Bad News Bears are near and dear to my heart (WTG Jackie Earle Haley), I've gotta give it to the Sandlot.. I mean.. that's how I knew who the kid in The Black Donnelly's was - the kid with the bad hat who couldn't play ball!!! I respect your choices as a fellow O's fan, but you HAVE to have Bull Durham on that list..

Anonymous said...

we want to see your top 20! baseball movies are too good to just name 5.

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all definitely worthy additions ... I can't quibble with "Bull Durham," Kara, and I indeed mention it at the end of the middle segment as my favorite movie about minor league ball .. Not sure I'll have time to do the Top 20, anonymous one, but I'll see if I can get around to it

Jonathan said...

Love the baseball movie list especially the inclusion of "Bad News Bears." I don't think people ever give that film enough credit. That would actually make my top five sports movies list. Cannot get enough of Walter Matthau in that film, and Tatum O'Neal is just as good if not better than she is/was in "Paper Moon." Rip me for that if you want, but I stand by it.

Would have to also include "Major League" for nostalgia sake; that was one of those movies I couldn't get enough of as a kid, and I still watch it whenever it's on today. And how about "Bang the Drum Slowly," maybe not a pure baseball film, but that is definately the centerpiece. "Fear Strikes Out" with Anthony Perkins is another good one. Never have been much of a fan of "The Natural" and "Eight Men Out" as most, but they've got a lot of fans, so those inclusions make perfect sense.

Reel Fanatic said...

I would never knock anyone for liking Paper Moon, Jonathan, because I have to admit I'm guilty of that offense also ... I think the major flaw with the Bad News Bears remake (beyond that it was thoroughly unnecessary) is that the young lady (whose name I've long since forgotten) who they got to play the pitching ace just made no impression at all

agblog said...

Hi thx for the link. i just put your blog in my link

* (asterisk) said...

We don't really do baseball over here in the UK, but you gotta love Field of Dreams, don'cha? But maybe that's because, like christopher55 says, it's about baseball... but not.

Oh, and if you're throwing linkages around, feel free to add either one of my two blogs that link to yours, RF
:-)

Jake Mabe said...

Some people loathe it, but you'd have to put "Field of Dreams" on any baseball movie list. A fine film on so many levels. The W.P. Kinsella novel, "Shoeless Joe," is even better. Almost poetry.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll gladly add a link, Mr. * ... Lately I've been holding off adding any more unless people come out and ask me to, definitely not because I don't like their sites, but simply because the list has gotten so unweildy ... As for "Field of Dreams," I have to agree with Jake that the book is better, but it's also a damn fine movie

Divinity said...

I've always had a soft spot for baseball movies. There's something almost Western-ish in the seventh inning stretch right down to the final pitch/hit. Rookie of the Year and the first Major League are two of my oldest and dearest. Scott Bakula lured me into watching the third ML "Back to the Minors". There's a scene near the end where everyone in the dug-out take one step up to present a united and somewhat menacing team-front. Chokes me up everytime :P

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm afraid I didn't make it all th way to ML III, Divinity ... The first one is doubtless a comedy classic, but after No. 2 that was about enough for me .. With your endorsement, however, I might have to give it a rental try

Divinity said...

Yeah, the second one was pretty awful. I think Corbin Bernsen is the only holdover in the third one. Like I said, it was Quantum Leap nostalgia that got me to watch and I did enjoy it. It's not a comedy classic but it's good baseball.

Nell Minow said...

A lot of great ones on your list and in the comments -- I'd say that baseball has been the focus of more great sports films than any other sport. Don't forget the Ken Burns series with its nine innings/episodes. And for some reason it has also inspired more fantasy films than any other sport, like little unknown gems "It Happens Every Spring" and the original "Angels in the Outfield." Oh, and Jeremy -- I love the quote from "Falsettos" -- great song!

Eaglewing said...

Good list. For me, I'd have to add (other than Bull Durham, of course) For Love of the Game. Some good moments in that one - "Clear the mechanism." and when his catcher comes out to the mound in the 8th and tells him "We don't stink right now. We're gonna be awesome for you out there."

Good luck cheering for the O's. Hey, I've got the Blue Jays. We're paying Frank Thomas 9 mil to DH. How can we not win?

Reel Fanatic said...

I've always been a fan of Frank Thomas, Eaglewing, and at DH he should certainly have at least a couple of great years left in him ... But hopefully not too great, of course, so my O's have at least a miniscule chance of finished in better then fourth place in the division

Elizabeth said...

I thought "The Natural" was sexist, although I saw it so long ago, I'm not sure I could support that argument with details...

Reel Fanatic said...

Hmmmmm ... It's been a long time since I've seen it too, Elizabeth, but I don't remember it that way .. Perhaps that's enough of a reason to watch it again

John Fitzgerald said...

Great discussion here. I'd vote for "Field of Dreams" and "Eight Men Out." There just something about Shoeless Joe...

For honorable mention, I'd suggest a TV pilot that Jon Stewart's company did called "Three Strikes" - you can find it on YouTube. It's not a movie, but it's funnier than 99% of the movies in the theater.

I'd also recommend the documentary "The Emerald Diamond," about the Irish National Baseball Team. (Full disclosure: I directed it, but I still think it's pretty good!)

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll definitely check that out John, assuming I can find it on Netflix ... I hadn't heard anything about the Jon Stewart show, but there's no way to waste time at work than watching YouTube, so thanks for the heads up