Making the Next Baseball “Hit”
Today was opening day! That means something if you’re into Baseball, but you might just like Baseball movies. So here’s a re-post of a classic Ryan article.
It’s America’s national past time, a sport that has been embraced by cultures around the world. It is a sport that has affectionately been called ‘The Greatest Game That Ever Existed’, of course I am speaking of Baseball. Over the last several years it is also a sport that has seen it’s validity called into question by performance enhancing drugs and players who have taken them. Throughout this turmoil one thing has remained constant, the fan’s have a passion for the game.
In regards to the film industry, it is fair to say that it has been a number of years since there has been anything close to a blockbuster baseball movie. With summer coming to a close and the postseason upon us it seems like the right time to discuss what can make a good baseball movie. Looking towards the future is difficult without understanding the past. In regards to baseball in film, let’s take a look at what didn’t work, what was successful, and what has yet to be done.
What didn’t work?
Well, quite a bit as a matter of fact. I am a grown adult, I like movies based with some realism. There is nothing realistic about a kid breaking his arm, and having it heal in a manner in which he can throw at superhuman speeds. Not to mention signing a contact to play for the Chicago Cubs, I of course am speaking of Rookie of the Year. What’s that, your Dad won’t come back until the Angels win the pennant? No problem Roger, just pray and God will send some Angels down to literally lift your team to a championship. Without ragging on these movies too much, after all, they are meant for kids, these movies have a lack of realism that fans of the game crave.
A common element a lot of baseball movies seem to possess is that of it’s central antagonist, the dreaded team owner. Major League and The Natural (just to name a couple), seem to rely on the rich owner being evil and attempting to sabotage their team. This isn’t a clever or original idea, it doesn’t even make sense. Owners want to win; you are a lot more likely to have a team owner as an antagonist if you are an under-performing athlete. Unfortunately, a movie about a player in a slump isn’t interesting, which is why that scenario is rarely seen. What is wrong with the central conflict being the obstacles the player must overcome? Whether it be his time in the minor leagues, to the choice of using performance enhancing drugs. To sum it up, it’s time to bring realism back into the sports films.
What was successful?
With a lot of the negativity out of the way, it’s important to look at elements from the past for inspiration. The 80’s and 90’s were a very good time period for baseball on the silver-screen. One I found particularly endearing was Bull Durham. Here is a movie that is not about a major league club chasing down the championship. It revolves around a minor league band of misfits showing the road one follows to get to ‘the show’. Barring the awkward sexual situations in which an aging Susan Sarandon takes up quite a bit of screen time, Bull Durham provides a glimpse into the maturing aspect of baseball. It is important with any sports film that the viewer understands where their protagonist has come from; the trials they have endured to reach such a pinnacle as becoming a professional athlete. Or better yet, we can have a 13 year old slip and fall on a bat and break his arm. Then, when it heals, he can pitch at a super human velocity. Or you know, not.
All of them have it, baseball or not, a sports movie is going to have one of those pivotal game changing moments. Most of them try to be extremely epic, some of them succeed, and some don’t. Any new baseball movie is going to have to have an epic play or intense moment that really draws the viewer in. For The Love Of The Game had such a moment as Billy Chapel tries to perfectly close out the last game of his career and is facing the ‘up and coming’ rookie. It’s a great scene in which Chapel has come full circle, whether he makes the out or not is really a toss up and keeps the viewer glued to the television. In terms of a big pitching moment it doesn’t get much bigger. The equivalent of that occurs from an offensive standpoint with Robert Redford‘s performance in The Natural. The scenario is the same, another player at the tale end of his career looking for a clutch performance. It is satisfying as a viewer to witness the baseball connect with the bat and proceed to shatter the lights in the outfield. Seeing the expression on the faces of friends and foes alike as Roy Hobbs rounds the bases is truly one of the most epic scenes in a sports movie. To recreate something with this much impact can prove to be difficult, but could make all of the difference in making a movie stand apart from the pack.
What has yet to be done?
What the sport of baseball needs is somebody to do for it what Darren Aronofsky did for pro-wrestling in The Wrestler. Showing the impact of the sport on a player, good and bad, should be the message. Witnessing a former pro recounting the story of his rise and fall from success and fame could be a powerful message. Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose, and Jim Leyritz, to name a few, can relate. I am not saying to have it be a depressing tale of how players such as those listed have screwed up. Instead of focusing on an evil owner, a sadistic agent, a begrudged opposing team; make the conflict in the movie center around the affect of the game itself on a player. With all of the choices these young athletes are forced to make, there are easily various pitfalls that would make for a compelling film.
Well, much like the summer, this rant has come to an end. Postseason baseball is upon us, and with most of my teams out of contention I am going to have a lot of free time. Perhaps I will use some of it to catch up on some of the great baseball films in my collection. I can’t help but hope that perhaps somebody in Hollywood will realize that it’s time to make a baseball movie that is relevant. A means by which baseball can be cast into positive light, and it can once again be celebrated as The Greatest Game That Ever Existed.
Peace out Rabbit.