Thursday, February 02, 2006

Say it ain't so, Joe (part 1)

It's February which means that the long and harsh winter without baseball is almost over. In fact some players have already reported to spring camps in order to get ready for the WBC. It's the time of year where I end up watching a bunch of Baseball movies because I'm so anxious for the season to start. It got me thinking about which movies would qualify for my list of greatest Baseball movies of all time and also which one I considered to be the best. I wanted to end (or start) once and for all the debate about the greatest baseball movie ever made. This is going to take a little time so for today, I'll just tackle the movies that didn't make the list and one that did. I'll return to tackle the rest later. First of all, here is the list of contenders that I've come up with:

The Bad News Bears
Bull Durham
Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
Eight Men Out
Long Gone
Major League
The Natural
The Pride of the Yankees

I'm sure you'll notice that some movies are missing (most obviously, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own and Bang the Drum Slowly). I also somehow inexplicably left out Summer Catch (sorry, Brandon). Bang the Drum slowly simply doesn't do anything for me. It's got DeNiro, which is a good place to start, but it's just not up to snuff. The baseball scenes aren't very good and Michael Moriarty isn't really convincing as a baseball player. Great acting, compelling story, but just doesn't make the list. A league of Their Own is a about the all girls baseball league from the 40's. The acting is pretty good (except for Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell), Tom Hanks is in it (which is always a good thing), the baseball is fairly well portrayed, it's got a good and basically forgotten story to tell, but I just can't get over the fact that it's about girls (Sorry about that one).

The more problematic exclusion is Field of Dreams. I'm sure that for a lot of people, this is their favorite Baseball movie. However, It just doesn't meet my criteria of being a Baseball movie. In my mind, there have to be some actual games shown and some winning and losing done on the field. A major problem was the actor chosen to portray Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) is right-handed while Jackson was actually left-handed. How hard would it have been to find a left-handed actor to play Joe Jackson or if they liked Liotta so much, couldn't he just have learned to hit left-handed? Also, why aren't any Negro Leaguers shown on the field? I guess segregation still exists for baseball players in heaven according to the makers of this movie. There's actually a point in the movie where they joke about not inviting Ty Cobb because nobody likes him, I guess they don't like the colored folk much either. Those are just a couple of huge flaws in the movie (Also Amy Madigan produces what may be the single most annoying portrayal of the "spunky" wife ever committed to film), which clearly illustrate that the actual Baseball is not a main focus of the movie. I mean they reversed the film in Pride of the Yankees so that a right-handed Gary Cooper could at least appear to be hitting from the correct side. Field of Dreams is a good movie, but it doesn't make the list. Sorry.

So, now we are down to the movies that are actually in contention. I'll start off with one of the least known movies on the list and that's Long Gone. It was a made-for-HBO movie, so unless you had HBO back in 1990, you probably missed this one. It's the story of a minor league team in the south in the fifties. William J. Peterson is absolutely fantastic as the once great prospect that missed his chance to make the majors by joining the army character named Stud Cantrell. Virginia Madsen is also really good in this one as his girlfriend, Dixie Lee Boxx. The baseball is passable and of course the final game comes down to the bottom of the 9th with Peterson at bat. They also tackle racism, lost dreams and commitment issues in the movie and all is all it's a pretty good, entertaining little yarn. I don't think it quite measures up to the very best Baseball movies, but trust me that you could do a lot worse than spend 90 minutes watching this one.

Anyway, that's the end of part one of this particular rant.



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