The Stratton Story (1949, dir. by Sam Wood)


Monty Stratton was one of the greats.

He was a Texas farmboy who knew how to throw a baseball.  Recruited by the Chicago White Sox, he spent five years in the majors.  From 1934 through 1938, he compiled a 36–23 record with 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.  In 1937, he won 15 games with a 2.40 ERA and five shout-outs.  The next season, he won another 15 games and completed 17 of his 22 starts.  For those of you who might not speak baseball, that all means that he was a really good right-handed pitcher.

When Stratton wasn’t playing baseball, you could find him down on his farm in Greenville, Texas.  He lived there with his wife, Ethel.  On November 27th, 1938, Monty Stratton was hunting rabbits when he accidentally shot himself in his right leg.  While Stratton survived the shooting, his leg was amputated, bringing Stratton’s major league career to an end.

No longer able to play in the majors, Monty Stratton spent the next few years as a pitching coach and helping to start a semi-pro team in Greenville.  With the help and encouragement of his wife, he continued to practice his pitching and he eventually trained himself to the point where he could transfer his weight effectively onto his artificial leg so that he could effectively throw a baseball.  In 1947, Monty Stratton made a comeback, pitching in the minors and ending the season with an 18–8 record and a 4.17 earned run average.  Stratton spent the next six years pitching in the minors before retiring from the game.  He went on to start the Greenville Little League program.  If you go to Greenville, you can still find Monty Stratton Field near Greenville High School.

The Stratton Story was made in 1949, shortly after Stratton’s comeback and while he was still playing in the minors.  James Stewart plays Monty Stratton while June Allyson plays his wife.  The movie follows Stratton from his early days on the farm through his major league career, his accident, and his eventual comeback.  Though the real Monty Stratton served as a technical advisor to the film, I don’t know how historically accurate it was.  The movie, for instance, seemed to condense the timeline so that it seemed like Stratton went straight from losing his leg to practicing for his comeback when it actually took ten years for Stratton to eventually get signed to a minor league team.  Even if it does take some liberties from the facts, The Stratton Story is still a good movie.  The baseball scenes are great and Jimmy Stewart is convincing when he’s throwing the baseball.  He’s also convincing in the scenes where Stratton sinks into a dark depression after losing his leg.  Stewart was so good in the role that, when Stratton finally started to practice his pitching again, I wanted to jump up and cheer.

I liked The Stratton Story.  It probably helps that I love baseball but it’s also a good movie about an inspiring story.

Major League (1989, dir. by David S. Ward) and Major League II (1994, dir. by David S. Ward)


I’m so excited that baseball’s back!

The 2020 regular season of Major League Baseball is going to start on July 22nd and it’s going to last until September 27th.  The teams will play 60 games and the World Series will be held in October.  It’s an abbreviated season but there was no way to avoid that.  I’m just happy that there will at least be some games played this year.

Of course, as excited and happy as I am, I can’t deny that baseball almost always breaks my heart.  Just a few years ago, I was so excited when a Texas team finally won the World Series.  Later, we all found out that the Astros won because they cheated, which will forever taint both the legacy of the team and the MLB.  It breaks my heart to say it but, as far as I’m concerned, no Texas team has yet to legitimately win the World Series.

And then there’s the Rangers.  I’m a Rangers fan.  I love the Rangers.  I was so excited the two times that they made it to the World Series and I’ve never gotten over their loss to the Cardinals.  (Their loss to the Giants I can accept because the Giants were a great team and they earned their wins.  The Cardinals, on the other hand…)  Ever since 2012, though, the Rangers have always broken my heart.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a great Rangers season.  At the start of every season, though, I say, “This is our season!”  And no matter how badly things end, I always say, “Next season, we’re going all the way!”

I guess that’s why I love Major League.

Major League is the ultimate underdog baseball movie.  It’s a film about a fictional version of the Cleveland Indians.  Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), the new owner of the Indians, wants to move the team to Miami but to do that, she’s going to need to have the worst season ever, one where the team plays so badly and breaks so many hearts that even the most loyal fans stop coming to the games.  It shouldn’t be too hard since the Indians have’t even won a pennant in over 30 years.  But to make sure that it happens and that the team only wins 15 games over the entire season, Phelps recruits the worst players she can find.

The team that she puts together is made up of has-beens and never-weres.  Some of them have raw talent but none of them know how to play as a team.  Ex-con Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has a killer fastball but is so near-sighted that he’s a danger whenever he steps on the mound.  Catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) is a veteran team leader but his knees are so bad that he can barely walk.  Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) is fast but can’t hit worth a damn.  Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) can hit home runs but only if the pitcher throws him a fastball.  Just as Rachel expected, the team struggles at first.  Even when they start to show signs of improvement, she cut back on their budget and sells their equipment, all to try to make winning impossible.  It’s only when their manager, ex-drywall salesman Lou Brown (James Gammon), tells them that Rachel wants them to lose that the team comes together and starts to win.

Everything that’s great about baseball can be found in Major League.  I love all the scenes with the fans slowly coming around to believing that maybe the Indians actually could win it all.  I’ve been through that so many times with the Rangers that I know exactly how they all felt.  I love the interactions between all the players on the team, from the new players eager to win to the veterans who just want to survive another season.  I love the scenes with the play-by-play announcer (Bob Uecker) trying to put a good spin on the way the team plays.  (All together: “Just a bit outside!”)  And mostly, I love that the film treats the game and its players with the respect that they deserve.  So many other films would have turned a character like born-again pitcher Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) into a punchline.  Instead, in Major League, he gets a standing ovation after he pitches his last game.  The best thing about Major League is that it loves baseball, both the games and the players.

Since Major League was a success at the box office, it was eventually followed by a sequel, Major League II.

Major League II picks up the season after the first movie ended and it tells the exact same story as the first film, just not as well.  Almost everyone from the first film is back (though Omar Epps takes over the role of Willie Mays Hayes from Wesley Snipes) but the charm and the chemistry from the first movie just aren’t there.  The players have to set aside their egos and learn how to play like a team all over again.  The main difference between the two movies is that it takes a lot longer for the Indians to start winning in the sequel than in the first film.  Plus, the sequel just isn’t as funny.

Even if the sequel is a let down, the first Major League is still one of the best baseball movies ever made.  If the Indians could win the pennant in Major League, maybe there’s hope for my Rangers yet!

Bang The Drum Slowly (1973, dir. by John Hancock)


 

The last time I wrote a film review for this site, it was because I was missing baseball.

Guess what?

I still miss baseball!  Luckily, I’ve still got plenty of baseball films to keep me busy until the MLB gets its act together and starts up again.  I hope we’ll get baseball this year but if we don’t, at least I can watch a movie like Bang The Drum Slowly.

Bang The Drum Slowly is the ultimate baseball movie.  It’s about a pitcher named Henry Wiggin (Michael Moriarty) who plays for the New York Mammoths and who has a side job selling insurance and writing books.  When it’s time to renegotiate his contract, Henry says that he’ll re-sign with the team if the team agrees to not release or trade one of their catchers, Bruce Pearson (a really young Robert de Niro).  Henry says that he and Bruce are a package deal.  No one can understand why Henry cares because Bruce isn’t an outstanding player and everyone thinks that he’s slow but Henry finally gets the team’s general manager, Dutch (Vincent Gardenia), to agree to his terms.  What only Henry knows is that Bruce is terminally ill and that he will be lucky to survive the entire season.

Though the Mammoth eventually make a run for the World Series and there’s a lot of great baseball footage, Bang the Drum Slowly is more about friendship than it is about winning or losing.  Henry is willing to sacrifice everything to make sure that Bruce enjoys his final days and Bruce finally gets to play on a wining team.  Because Bruce is so young and he appears to be so healthy for most of the film, it’s really devastating when he suddenly does get ill and he’s finally has to come to terms with his mortality.  I cried a lot while I was watching Bang The Drum Slowly.  You will too.

The other players eventually rally around Bruce and they become a stronger teams as a result.  That’s one of the things that I love about baseball.  One player, no matter how good, can’t win a game on his own.  Instead, the entire team has to work together.  Not everyone can go out and try to hit a home run.  That’s not the way you win at baseball.  Instead, you win by doing what you have to do to bring your teammates home.  Bang The Drum Slowly celebrates friendship and loyalty and it perfectly captures the spirit of the game.

We may not be able to watch baseball right now.  But at least we can watch movies like Bang The Drum Slowly.

The Rookie (2002, dir. by John Lee Hancock)


I miss baseball!

I know that the regular MLB season being delayed (or even — gasp! — cancelled) is hardly the worst thing that we have to deal with right now but I still really miss watching baseball!  I miss the swing of the bat, the sounds of the stadium, and I even miss getting upset over the Rangers having a disappointing season.  I’ve been dealing with my grief by watching old games and a lot of baseball movies.  It’s not the same as getting to watch a real game but I guess it’s as good as things are going to get right now.

When the quarantine stated, one of the first baseball movies that I watched was The Rookie.  Starring Dennis Quaid (who gives a really good performance), The Rookie is based on the true story of Jim Morris, a former minor league pitcher who retired from playing the game after injuring his arm and took a job coaching baseball for Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas.  In 1999, Morris promised his players that if they managed to win the district championship, he would try out for a major league baseball team.  When his team went on to win the championship, Morris honored his side of the bargain by trying out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Even though no one expected Morris to make it onto the team, he was given a chance because it was felt that it would be good publicity.  The 35 year-old Morris shocked everyone by throwing a 98 mph fastball.  The team started Morris out in the minors and then, when the roster expanded in September, called him up to the majors.  At an age when many other players were calling it quits, Morris made his major league debut at the Ballpark in Arlington and struck out Royce Clayton.

Though I’m sure it probably takes a lot of liberties with Morris’s story, I really like The Rookie.  It’s a really sweet movie that was filmed on location in Texas.  It’s one of my favorite baseball movies because it captures everything that I love about the game.  It’s about more than just who wins or who struck who out.  It’s about teamwork and healthy competition and fairplay.  (Or, at least, that’s what baseball should be about.  That’s one reason why the Astros cheating scandal hurts so much.  For me, it’s not just that the first Texas team to win the World Series did so dishonestly.  It’s that what they did goes against the spirit of baseball.)  I liked that the movie is as much about Jim coaching his high school team as it was about him eventually getting to play a few games in the majors.  The whole reason that Jim even tried out for the Devil Rays was to keep a promise to his high school team and, in a perfect world, that’s what baseball would be all about.

The Rookie is not just a baseball movie.  It’s also a movie about never giving up on your dreams.  Jim Morris may be happy coaching high school baseball but he’s never stopped thinking about how he once dreamed of playing in the major leagues.  Even he’s surprised when he discovers that he’s still a good pitcher.  (My favorite scene is him throwing a baseball at one of those radars that tells how fast you’re driving.  He only thinks he’s throwing a 78 mph fastball and it’s only after he drives off that the full sign lights up and reveals that he was throwing 98 mph.)  When Jim makes his major league debut, it’s real stand up and cheer moment.

Here’s hoping that we’ll all be back at the ballpark soon!

Congratulations To The Super Bowl 54 Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs!


Congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs on their amazing come from behind victory in the Super Bowl tonight!  I thought that the 49ers had it all wrapped up until the final six minutes of the game when the Chiefs came alive and scored two touchdowns, giving them a 31-20 victory and their first Super Bowl title in 50 years!  It was a great game.

And now that the football season is over with, bring on baseball!

You’re Killing Me, Smalls!: Let’s Play in THE SANDLOT (20th Century-Fox 1993)


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Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.

Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play…

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RIP Pumpsie Green


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Most people these days think of Boston (and the Northeast as a whole) as a modern Athens, the standard bearer for progressive, liberal thinking. But it wasn’t always so. The City of Boston in the 1950’s and 60’s was a hotbed of racial tensions, with frequent rioting over such issues as forced busing and integration. While Jackie Robinson was the first black player to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947, the Boston Red Sox (owned by avowed racist Tom Yawkey) didn’t add a player of color until 1959. That player’s name was Elijah “Pumpsie” Green.

Green was born October 27, 1933 in the small town of Boley, Oklahoma. As a youth, he excelled at sports, as did his brother Cornell, who wound up playing 13 seasons as a Defensive Back for the Dallas Cowboys. After playing college ball at Contra Costa, Pumpsie turned pro in 1954, and…

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I Watched Hero


Joe Finn (Burgess Jenkins) used to the best Little League coach in the state.  That was until he decided to leave his family to seek fame and fortune in the Big Leagues.  After his wife dies of cancer, Joe returns home to discover that his teenage son, David (Justin Miles), wants nothing to do with him.  Determined to stick around and repair his relationship with David, Joe tries to return to coaching Little League but he discovers that things have changed since he left.  Runners aren’t allowed to take a lead off base.  Pitchers can only pitch for one inning at a time.  Practice can only last an hour a day.

That’s not real baseball!

Joe decides to start his own league, one where pitchers can pitch multiple innings, bases can be stolen, there’s no such thing as a tied game, and everyone practices daily for three hours.  To be a part of the league, the players not only have to get their fathers to agree to come to every game but also to practice with them at home.  It’s not going to be easy.  One player’s father is always busy with his job as the warden of the local prison.  Another player’s father is an inmate in that same prison.  But Joe is determined to teach his players and their fathers about both baseball and life.

Hero‘s a sweet movie and it made a good point about the importance of not only allowing kids to truly compete but also about teaching them the importance of both winning and losing with dignity and sportmanship.  It shows why baseball is important but why it’s also just as important to play a real game instead of a toned down version.  Burgess Jenkins, who used to play Billy Abbott on The Young and The Restless, is convincing as a coach and Justin Miles does a good job as his son.  My only problem with the film is that it spent so much time emphasizing that the fathers needed to come to their son’s games that I felt like it shortchanged all of the moms who have been there for their children whenever a father couldn’t or wouldn’t be.  Anyone who has ever been to a real little league game (or just a soccer match) knows that a mom can get just as into the game as a father.

People who complain about “participation trophies” will probably respond best to this film’s message but there’s also enough action of the field that people who just like baseball movies might enjoy it as well.

I Watched The Phenom


The Phenom is a movie that really took me by surprise.

It’s about a pitcher named Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a kid just out of high school who has a 100 mile fastball and a big future in major league baseball.  However, after a promising start, Hopper is struggling.  He has control issues.  He’s throwing wild pitches.  He’s losing games.  The team finally sends Hopper to see Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti), a sports psychologist who say that he can help Hopper regain his focus.

Hopper has a lot to deal with.  He’s still just a teenager but he feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He promised his mom that he’d buy her a new house and, at the same time, the press is constantly hounding him and demanding that he give them a good quote every time that he loses a game.  Meanwhile, Hopper’s father (Ethan Hawke), who has always put tremendous pressure on his son, is failed ball player himself and a drug dealer.  Hopper finds himself torn between two philosophies, his father’s belief that winning is the only thing that matter and Dr. Mobley’s more gentle approach to the game.  The problem is that, with everyone wanting someone from him, Hopper doesn’t know who he can trust.

The Phenom is a baseball movie and the main character is a pitcher but hardly any of the action takes place on the mound.  Instead, most of the movie takes place in either Dr. Mobley’s office or in Hopper’s head.  The Phenom does a good job of showing the type of daily pressure that Hopper is living under.  All of his life, everyone has told Hopper that he has a special gift and now, he’s so scared of not living up to his potential that he can’t get the ball across the plate.  At the same time, the film is also critical about the the emphasis that society puts on celebrities and professional athletes.  While Hopper goes into the major leagues straight out of high school, his valedictorian girlfriend struggles to pay for college.  Because Hopper can throw a fastball, no one has ever cared about whether or not he actually got an education.  But what’s going to become of Hopper and all the professional athletes like him when they can no longer play the game?  Hopper is a kid who was always told that he would never have to grow up and now, he’s expected to make adult decisions about the rest of his life.

Johnny Simmons does a really good job playing Hopper and the film really makes you think about the pressure that society puts on professional athletes to constantly win.  Most people can get away with having a bad day but, if a pitcher or a quarterback does it, the whole world wants their head.  The next time I want to yell at whoever’s pitching for the Rangers, I’m going to remember Hopper and this movie.

The Phenom was directed and written by Noah Buschel and it is currently streaming on Netflix.

The Great American Pastime: IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (20th Century-Fox 1942)


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Major League Baseball’s Opening Day has finally arrived! It’s a tradition as American as Apple Pie, and so is IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, a baseball movie about a lousy team in Brooklyn whose new manager takes them to the top of the heap. The team’s not explicitly called the Dodgers and the manager’s not named Leo Durocher, but their improbable 1941 pennant winning season is exactly what inspired this charmingly nostalgic little movie.

When Brooklyn’s manager quits the team, dowager team owner Mrs. McAvoy seeks out ex-player Frank Maguire, who seven years earlier was run out of town when an unfortunate error cost the team the pennant. She finds him running a club out in the sticks, and convinces him to come back to the Big Leagues. He does, bringing along his faithful bat boy/sidekick ‘Squint’, and just before the season’s about to begin, Mrs. McAvoy abruptly dies. Her family…

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