So I’m watching Rookie of the Year the other morning, and it’s the scene where the Cubs play the Mets for the NL Pennant. Gary Busey as Chet Steadman is out there laboring away with his thick ass mustache and hat full of crazy. He walks the bases loaded and begs his manager, the wildly emotion Sal Martinella, for just one more hitter. Steadman shakes off a bunch of pussy ass breaking balls and goes for the heater. He rears back, fires, and you hear his arm give out complete with a giant wail from an inexplicable electric guitar on the movie’s soundtrack.

He shatters the opposing hitter’s bat as the ball dribbles toward him. Steadman fields the ball, tries to fire to first, but can’t (thankfully that crazy weedly-leedly-lau!!! guitar is there to alert us to the pain in his shoulder). He and the runner on third lock eyes then get into a mad sprint for the plate – the runner knowing Steadman can’t get to his cocaine in time to revive his shoulder and throw it like Popeye after some spinach and Steadman knowing the runner probably knows about his cocaine habit.

After a brilliant slo-mo sequence, Steadman dives and tags out the runner mere inches from the plate as the crowd goes apeshit. Steadman tells Martinella “Stick a fork in me, I’m done,” to which Martinella replies, “You gave me 6 great innings! I’m saving you for the playoffs!” But nope, Steadman’s done for good. They share some meaningless banter, and then Martinella says, “Rowengartner, you’re goin’ in.” Rowengartner is pleased that after a movie of being called “Rosenbagger,” “Gardenhoser,” and a whole bunch of other goofy shit, his manager got his name right, while I’m confused about why in the mid-1990s a manager puts his closer in for the 7th inning.

One of two things is happening here. Either these Chicago Cubs play in the same universe as Major League’s Cleveland Indians where the Indians managed to survive an entire season with only Eddie Harris and Rick Vaughn in their rotation (and bullpen!). Or, Sal Martinella is a throwback manager who thinks of Henry as a modern day Goose Gossage – a closer capable of getting you 9 outs night after night, thus inventing the role. Considering this is the National League, I doubt it’s the latter considering the near-disaster of Henry batting against big, fat retired Tim Stoddard earlier in the movie. If this were the American League, why not? Toss him out there for three innings game after game and see if arm holds up. After all, he’s only a 12 year-old freak of nature with a cannon for an arm. Why not blow it up in the name of not having any other ideas.

Huh, actually I guess Sal Martinella is actually Dusty Baker.

Anyway, all these mental gymnastics trying to figure what is ostensibly an enjoyable farce aimed at kids really makes you appreciate the verisimilitude of Little Big League. That movie has just as ridiculous a premise as this stupid one, yet manages to be one of the best movies ever in terms of staying faithful to the game.

In Little Big League, Billy Haywood uses no less than 4 pitchers onscreen (McGrevey, Bowers, Gatling and Wegman), has to cut a struggling player (Jerry Johnson), and responds to his star player’s request to marry his mother with the response, “If Johnson gets ahead, look for the slider low and away.” He quotes obscure calls made on Babe Herman and Dazzy Vance of the 1926 Brooklyn Dodgers. He makes a player who made an error feel better by lying about something similar that happened to Fred Lindstrom in the 1924 World Series.

As a baseball nerd, I fucking love that shit. I love the nods to the game’s past and how the movie baits dorks like me with anecdotes that play up baseball’s giant mythology. But maybe that ain’t your thing. Maybe watching Rowengartner walk a guy in the playoffs (with his nemesis Heddo up next) in order to fool him into running to the next base on the promise that he’ll throw the ball real high in the air doesn’t make you go blind with insanity. Maybe that scene is actually funny. Maybe I’m nuts for the boiling ulcer in my stomach every time that preposterous scene comes on.

It’s like in “Friday Night Lights” when the Dillon Panthers get crushed in the first half of what feels like every game playing laughably awful football looking like no-talent amateurs only to come back with a barrage of silly trick plays and improbably heroic effort in the second half to win. Or in The Natural when the Knights go on a cold streak, they really go on a fucking cold streak where every other ball comically goes through a fielder’s legs and Robert Redford goes like 0-for-46. And then they turn around and win their next 11 games by a combined score of like 192-7. I’m not even going to bother talking about Roy Hobbs’s internal injury so bad it bleeds through his skin and uniform, except to say that’s one bad injury.

The point here is that I think sports movies are a lot like time travel movies. The more you think about them, the more annoying they get. Every time I watch Paul Walker in Varsity Blues call in the hook & ladder by pantomiming putting a hook in his mouth and climbing an invisible ladder, I wonder why no one on the other team caught it. How can Rowengartner throw a beer league softball pitch to a guy who looks like a cross between John Kruk and Popeye’s nemesis Bluto and not have the thing end up Lake Michigan? And most importantly, how can Rocky and Apollo throw approximately 350 punches at each other that all land flush and not be dead within the first three minutes of that fight?

I suppose the simple answer is that movies are heightened reality which makes creating a realistic sports movie ultimately impossible and sort of pointless. It could also be that all the gay kids you hung out with in your high school theater department are still gay and still producing stories. What do they give a shit if For Love of the Game or whatever doesn’t hold tightly enough onto its reality button and has the Yankees’ top slugger try to bunt for a hit? And ultimately, what does it matter?

It doesn’t, really. Think about it. Documentary filmmaking is so good now, sports movies are almost redundant. Why would you demean yourself to watching Sandra Bullock explain blocking to Michael Oher by proffering that the other players are his family and it’s his job to protect them? There’s not a fucking single chance in hell that actually happened, so why would you bother? Especially when you can watch the Fab 5 documentary where Jalen Rose thinks Christian Laettner’s a bitch along with the rest of the Duke prettyboys, but still loses to them like a punk. That’s much better drama.

Of course, that still won’t stop me from tuning into Rookie of the Year every damn time it’s on. Maybe the farce is what keeps me coming back…

edagger@crujonessociety.com