The Fall Classic begins today

Every Wednesday between now and the end of baseball season the Cru Jones Society brings you a new baseball movie examined for both overall entertainment value and treatment of our favorite game. To suggest a film, email us at staff [at] crujonessociety.com. Otherwise, pour yourself an $8 beer, crack some shells, and let’s play ball. Because this is the last one.

The Fall Classic gets underway tonight as the Yankees square off against the Phillies in a match-up we certainly didn’t want to see, but in a contest that finally pits the two best teams in Major League Baseball against each other. Each team is an absolute juggernaut and from a pure baseball standpoint, this World Series should be enormously entertaining.

And speaking of entertaining, your faithful CJS authors have spent the last four months combing through baseball movies and examined them thoroughly. While we didn’t hit every movie we wanted to cover, we did bang out 18 of them. That’s a ton of baseball movies to watch and in the spirit of our favorite game, we’re here to hand out some end of the season awards.

But first, here is a list of the movies we covered, in order, along with a few key stats:

A League of their Own 
The Bad News Bears
Field of Dreams 
Hardball 
The Natural 
Fever Pitch 
Bull Durham
Mr. Baseball 
Little Big League
61*
For Love of the Game 
Mr. 3000
The Sandlot
Rookie of the Year
The Rookie
The Benchwarmers
Angels in the Outfield
Eight Men Out 

Highest Grossing Movie: A League of their Own ($107,533,928)
Lowest Grossing Movie: Eight Men Out ($5,680,515)
Oldest Movie: The Bad News Bears (April 7, 1976)
Most Recent Movie: The Benchwarmers (April 7, 2006 – 30 years to the day, spooky)

That’s thirty years of baseball, more than $500 million worth of box office receipts, two stories involving the disgraced 1919 Chicago Black Sox, two children who become gainfully employed by Major League ballclubs, one team full of girls, and The Beast.

We’ve seen baseball cut in virtually every conceivable fashion, so we’re as well qualified to judge these movies as anyone. So, given our self-anointed expert status, it’s time to give out some awards to all the flicks we watched. We’ve structured these like real baseball awards, so put on your tux (or at least that t-shirt with the tuxedo design silk-screened on it), walk the red carpet, and let’s hand out some awards CJS style!

THE PLAYS

Gold Gloves (Best Baseball Sequence)

How many Yen is it to the Peso?

Lee S. Hart: The best looking baseball comes from Mr. Baseball (so it’s not just a clever name). Specifically, I liked the part where the Chief takes Tom Selleck’s advice and actually lets the players play. We are treated to top notch Japanese players playing their hearts out for the championship. Like a lot of the movies we watched, the main character gives up his goal to do what’s best for the team. Selleck does that here and it helps make the scene better.

E Dagger: I stewed over the question for an agonizing number of minutes trying to decide my answer. After looking back at my reviews, I decided the most fun I had watching pure baseball belonged to any of the three montages during Little Big League. The action is filmed nice and wide allowing the action to develop into the frame and giving you the viewer a good sense of the high level of ability of the actors. Whether it was Billy shooing Lou Collins toward the line where a line drive comes gift wrapped to him, or the awesome tailor-made double play, or the runner sliding around the tag and scampering back to touch the plate, this movie had the best pure action of any of these films.

Fool’s Gold Gloves (Most Idiotic Baseball Sequence)

Put me in coach, I’m ready to play

LSH: I got to review Rookie of the Year and if you’ve seen this movie, you know what scene I am going to choose. The one in the big game after Henry loses his magical arm powers and the team resorts to schoolyard antics. God forbid the team carries another pitcher and puts him in to win the game like a normal team. Instead we get a manager who freaks out and actually cries while alleged professionals look like a bunch of dorks. But it’s the Chicago Cubs and no one seems to notice. The play is so ridiculous I still can’t believe it actually worked, and then to add insult to injury, the Mets’ big power hitter can’t hit a high slow underhand lob that Henry floats out to him. On top of trick plays we have an underhand pitch in a defining game. This sequence is for funky butt lovers.

ED: For me nothing can compare to Roy Hobbs’ final at-bat in The Natural. Roy’s been fighting a stomach ailment for the last 30 minutes of the movie, and when he comes to bat to try and win the game for the New York Knights, his internal injury has apparently gotten so dire, it’s seeping through his skin and bleeding through his uniform. That’s some serious internal bleeding when it manages to break through skin and appear on a uniform. He hits a homerun into the lights, sparks rain down on everyone, and Roy’s a hero. Nevermind that the electrical system is so shoddy, a ball breaking some bulbs causes the entire trestle to explode, I love the idea that Roy can hit a baseball over 400 ft. and hit the top of a light pole that’s at least 60 feet high. What’s that? A 650 ft. homerun? Geez.

ESPY Award (Most Improbable/Impossible Play)

The ball is still in my glove, ssshhhhhhh

LSH: Every play in the final scene in Rookie of the Year. I already talked about the underhand lob that fooled the hitter, but there is also the ball tossed up to invoke a runner to try for second eventually resulting in an out. But the crème de le crème is actually the hidden ball trick from Mr. 3000. Hidden ball tricked used by a kid playing in the majors – fine. We’ve already suspended disbelief plenty, what’s one more thing? But Mr. 3000 is a long-tenured veteran trying to redeem his record and he uses the hidden ball trick. Give me a break. What sort of professional pitcher is going to agree to this?

ED: The play at the end of Little Big League takes the cake here as Bowers pretends to throw to first to try to pick off Ken Griffey Jr., Lou Collins pretends the ball gets by him, and everyone from the bullpen to the Twins dugout to the damn security guard act like the ball skips up the line. Griffey bolts for second, but it turns out Bowers never got rid of the ball. He casually tosses to the 2nd baseman who nonchalantly tags Griffey out. In the words of JP from Angels in the Outfield, “Hey, it could happen.” Yeah, provided Bowers didn’t step off the rubber because otherwise the play is a balk.

Comeback Player of the Year (Most Heartwarming Moment)

Ray and his dad make up as men everywhere try not to make eye contact with anyone in the room.

ED: This isn’t even a fair fight. If you’re a dude, there’s one scene in all of these movies that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Without a doubt, that scene is “Hey Dad, wanna have a catch” from Field of Dreams. I knew it was coming, and I still barely managed to hold back tears watching it. Field of Dreams knows exactly what it’s doing in this scene and does it with ruthless perfection. If you love baseball, love your dad, and contain anything in that otherwise vacant chest cavity of yours, this is one of the best scenes in the long history of cinema.

LSH: In 61* when damn near everyone has turned their backs on Roger Maris there is still one man on his side, and that man is supposed to be his mortal enemy, Mickey Mantle. Mantle was friends with Maris and the competition was friendly so when Mantle knew he was out due to injury he threw his support in the corner of a friend. It’s a testament to what it means to have a good friend and to have someone in your corner when the world is against you. Ruth will always be Ruth, but there was something great about Maris breaking the record.

Worst Trade Deadline Deal Award (Most Stomach-Churning Moment)

Blah blah blah we have no chemistry

ED: I cannot stop thinking about that insanely idiotic exchange Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston have after Costner injures his pitching hand from For Love of the Game. She recites one of the most overwrought, clichéd soliloquies I’ve ever seen about making the best out of life’s many trials and tribulations, and Costner shoots her down with a pithy cliché of his own. This scene perfectly encapsulates this film and solidifies each character’s status as a self-involved moron who would do the world a favor by dying alone, not subjecting everyone else to their ugly selfishness, and never breeding. God, I hated these characters.

LSH: This comes from Hardball. The movie features a kid who is too young to be on the team but Keanu keeps him around to keep score and keep him out of a gang and whatever. But in the championship game the team is down a player and this tiny little boy is allowed to go in and hit. He gets the game winning single and the inner city youths find out there is meaning to their life. Then that night, on his way back to the projects, the little kid is hit by a stray bullet and dies. But for one brief moment a kid who leads a sad and hard life got to experience the joy of winning a baseball game. But really couldn’t we have gotten this message without having to see a kid die? Nobody wants that.

THE PLAYERS

MVP Award (Best Baseball Pantomime by an Actor)

To Annie: Let’s fuck next time.

ED: I can’t in good conscience give this to anyone besides Kevin Costner as Crash Davis from Bull Durham although Timothy Busfield as Lou Collins gave him a run for his money. The biggest difference is that Costner embodies a career minor leaguer in everything he does. Whether he’s insolently trash talking the pitcher encouraging him to “bring him that weak ass shit, meat” and promptly striking out, or letting the opposing hitter that big fat fastball is coming next, Costner owns this character. He talks like a dreamer who never quite made, he dresses like one, and most importantly, he drinks like one. Just a virtuoso performance on every level.

LSH: Part of me wants to say Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper for their roles of Mantle and Maris, but we were limited to what we actually got to see from them. Same with Cusack and Sheen in Eight Men Out. So I would have to say this would go to Tom Selleck from Mr. Baseball if only because we got to see a lot more of what he could do and in return that made him have to learn more and look like a real player. Part of this may have come with actually being among Japanese ball players and learning from them, though I don’t know if he actually did that for this movie. Regardless of whether he did or not, he still looked like the best player of all the actors I watched.

Silver Slugger Award (Best Supporting Character)

“Say Evelyn, what team do you play for?”

LSH: Tanner from Bad News Bears. There is nothing more precious than a child, and they say the darnedest things. Tanner’s foul mouth and folksy racism have an easy charm. If he were an adult he’d be an asshole and a very unappealing character, but the fact that he’s a child saying these things makes them awesome and funny. He is what John Rocker wanted to be, but Rocker only had a child’s brain without the benefit of having the free pass to do anything to match.

ED: No one can hold a candle to Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan from A League of their Own in this category. He’s not only the funniest bastards of all the movies I’ve watched, I dare say that he’s one of the funniest bastards in any movie. Lady E and I had a discussion recently about things that are never not funny (among them: a bully on Bully Beatdown’s response of “Pick ‘em up” to the question “What do you do when the chips are down?”, the gay pool cleaner from Legally Blonde, and Stevo’s declaration of “The sun never sets on my asshole!” from SLC Punk), and one of those things for me is Jimmy Dugan’s entrance at the first Rockford Peaches game where he says under his breath, “This is all bullsh*t, and you can kiss my ass. That’s right… kiss my big hairy ass.” How do you not award the Best Supporting Character to someone who says that?

Least Valuable Player Award (Biggest Wet Blanket)

Nothing I love more than a chick at a ballgame with her laptop

LSH: The biggest wet blanket was Drew Barrymore in Fever Pitch, even though she came around in the end. She started off saying she wanted Jimmy Fallon to continue attending games and wanted to let him live his baseball life, but once he actually did, she was all boo hoo. Turns out, she gets annoyed with Fallon’s other interests, and god forbid he spend a few hours a night watching baseball. She wants him to change and give up the one thing he’s passionate about. See if he doesn’t resent you for making him someone he isn’t, lady. Good thing she comes around.

ED: Sweet Jesus, I have to play my Kelly Preston card one more time. There are few characters anywhere this unpleasant unless you’re watching 1940s film noir or something. And those characters are unsavory for entirely different reasons. Kelly Preston in For Love of the Game is just a bitter, unpleasant hedgehog who never even redeems herself. Kevin Costner says he loves her in the airport terminal to which she replies, “I never believed.” Hey bit the knob too, lady. I’m putting my heart on the line and that’s all you can say. Well, why don’t you take your Sylvia Plath and go to England? I’ll stay here and plow a pile of strippers and snort a mountain of blow. How’s that sound? I’m retired bitch!

Yogi Berra Award (Funniest Line)

I haven’t had anything yet, how can I have some more of nothing?

LSH: Fever Pitch – the scene where Lindsey runs across the field mid-game to prevent Ben from giving up his season tickets.

Ben: You’re gonna get arrested.
Lindsey: You can’t sell your tickets!
Ben: That’s why you ran across the whole field?… Wait, you’ve got to tell me – was it spongy?

This girl risked prison and her job, which she spent the entire movie trying to get ahead at, to stop him from giving up something he loves and all he can think to say is about the grass on the field. Awesome.

ED: The contenders:

“The rose goes in the front, big guy.” – Bull Durham

“Looks like a prison photo.” – Angels in the Outfield

“Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ‘em.” – Bull Durham

But the undisputed champion of this category belongs to Hamilton “The Babe” Porter who gave us a line we can all use virtually every day to express our frustration at the stupidity that surrounds us. What else can I say besides, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

THE MOVIES

Roberto Clemente Award (Favorite Movie Re-Visited)

What’s not to love about this visual?

ED: While this isn’t my absolute favorite movie of the bunch (that honor goes to either The Sandlot or A League of their Own) I felt just great after watching The Rookie. The movie is flat-out wholesome and for as much cynicism as I deal with everyday, having a healthy dose of good old fashioned happy feelings was just what I needed. I’ve been sitting here for the last 10 minutes and can’t think of another live action G-rated movie besides this one. Dennis Quaid nails this role, the kid who plays his son (who’s now on “Two and a Half Men”) damn near steals the movie, and Rachel Griffiths manages not to throw a bucket of water on the whole damn thing. Man, just typing this makes me wish this movie was on now. It’s cold outside, and this movie will warm you right up.

LSH: My favorite movie to revisit was Bad News Bears. I hadn’t watched this since I was young. There was a lot of funny stuff I didn’t appreciate when I was a kid and this time I watched it with a whole new understanding and perspective. Watching Matthau interact with the kids was some fine filmmaking. I also really loved watching how much the kids in Bad News Bears loved the game of baseball. I felt like Paul Rudd watching his kids in Knocked Up in awe of how impressed they were with bubbles. They love bubbles so much and he can’t help but to want to feel that way again. That’s how I felt watching Bad News Bears.

Cy Young Award (Movie You Least Want to Face Ever Again)

The Beers win the Denslow Cup!

ED: Christ Jesus, if I never have to watch For Love of the Game again, it’ll be too soon. But my choice is The Natural just because it was so damned disappointing. I expected big things here, and what I got was an utterly un-nuanced, ham-handed fable about good vs. evil that is 45 minutes too long. This movie seems to go on forever and the audience is about 18 steps ahead of the plot at every turn. Much like I don’t understand how everyone thinks “How I Met Your Mother” is anything but an exaggerated parody of the vagaries of relationships, I’ll never understand how this movie is viewed so reverently.

LSH: Which movie do I choose here, Hardball or The Benchwarmers? As dumb as The Benchwarmers was and as much as Jon Heder is one of my least favorite actors (even the aide of Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory didn’t help), I would still rather watch that, or even Napoleon Dynamite again than have to sit through Hardball for even five minutes. Seriously, who heard the pitch: “Keanu Reeves has a gambling debt and his buddy will pay it if Keanu coaches an inner city kids little league team” and still decided to green light it?

Rookie of the Year (Favorite New Movie)

Uh-oh. Did I spoil it?

LSH: Now this may seem like an odd thing to say, but Fever Pitch was my favorite. Jimmy Fallon was actually kind of charming. But what I liked the most was the way the movie portrayed baseball fans. I have often thought about the relationship people have with “their team.” The unconditional love that exists and this movie covered that very well.

ED: I remain ashamed that it took me this long to see Bull Durham. I don’t know what the hell my problem was, but nobody’s perfect. This movie hits all the right notes balancing great jokes, baseball mysticism, a love story that doesn’t oppress everything else, and an honest-to-goodness non-annoying performance by Robert Wuhl. By all counts, this one’s a winner!

***

Sadly, that wraps up our year in baseball. Enjoy the World Series to the best of your abilities, and we’ll look forward to seeing you on the field next year. Disagree with any of our award winners? Let us hear it in the comments section.

Hart & Dagger

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