Baseball Scenes in Non-Baseball Movies
I have a piece up on MSNBC today on the top 5 baseball scenes in non-baseball movies. The idea came to me after reading that Koufax biography over Labor Day weekend and thinking about how thoroughly dominated the Yankees were during the ’63 World Series. Yet in my no. 1 scene, the “Cuckoo’s Nest” scene, the Yankees dominate Koufax. Amusing. And that’s not in Ken Kesey’s book. That scene isn’t even in Kesey’s book. So who came up with the pro-Yankees play-by-play? My guess is Jack. Jack, the Yankees fan, recreating the ’63 Series to the Yankees’ advantage. You gotta love the jutzpah, but let’s face it: Anyone who thinks that Koufax in '63 could be hit that easily deserves to be in the cuckoo’s nest.
Here are a few other scenes that didn’t make the cut.
Seeing about a girl in “Good Will Hunting” (1997)
This was the second scene—after “Cuckoo’s Nest”—I thought of: a South Boston genius with issues, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), is seeing a South Boston therapist with issues, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), who breaks through when he hits Will in his vulnerable spot: Will lacks experience in everything that matters—particularly love. Maguire has been there and back, and eventually Will begins asking questions. When did he meet his (now dead) wife? Turns out: Oct. 21 1975. The day of Game Six of the ’75 World Series, the Carlton Fisk homerun, “biggest game in Red Sox history,” says Maguire in those post-Babe Ruth, pre-David Ortiz days. Then he begins to explain the game. But who’s he explaining it to? Will knows. So he’s explaining it to us. That feels false right there. Then we find out Maguire wasn’t even at the game. He had tickets but told his friends “I gotta see about a girl”—his future wife—whom he saw in a bar beforehand. I.e., rather than get her number, go to the game, and call her afterwards, he gives up the ticket immediately. Immediately. It’s supposed to be romantic, and maybe it is, but it’s Hollywood romantic. It rings false. Hell, rather than the grand romantic gesture it’s supposed to be, it could be a negative symbol of domesticity: "You can get the girl you want; but no more Game Sixes for you, chief."
A bush-league pitcher comes close to creating a third (Fascist) party in “Meet John Doe” (1941)
Has any movie been so schitzophrenic about populism? The people are good, although easily manipulated, and watch out or they’ll turn into a mob quickly. Hell, they’ll go from loving you to hating you in 30 seconds. The mob follows the mob. The overall story is about a media creation, John Doe (Gary Cooper), who, even as a creation is a bit schitzophrenic. First he’s angry. I Protest! Then he offers hope, and small-towners, aw-shucks folks, flock to him. They love him, because he’s an aw-shucks kind of guy himself. But he’s really a ballplayer with a bad wing who just needs money to survive, and who acts a bit cutesy for a guy who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. The main baseball scene is a pantomime in a hotel suite, and it, too, is overly cutesy. It adds nothing, detracts a lot. Parts of “John Doe” feel amazingly contemporary—a placard reading “The Bulletin: a free press means a free people” is chiseled off its building and old experienced reporters are subsequently fired—and oil man and media baron D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) is genuinely, powerfully scary. But the movie can’t overcome its schitzophrenia.
No lucky hats or bats for “Max Dugan Returns” (1983)
One of my favorite childhood books was Leonard Kessler's Here Comes the Strikeout, and it contains the following lesson, much repeated in the book and much repeated by both my father and I ever since: “Lucky hats won’t do it. Lucky bats won’t do it. Only hard work and practice will do it.” When it comes to little league, Hollywood generally relies on lucky hats and bats. One time the kid strike outs, the next time he gets a game-winning hit. “Max Dugan” is one of the few films that prescribes hard work and practice. OK, it’s a mostly forgettable movie. Marsha Mason plays Nora, an early ‘80s widow whose refrigerator is breaking down, whose car is stolen, whose life is breaking down and feels stolen. Then her absentee father, Max Dugan (Jason Robards), returns, on the lam and loaded for bear ($680,000), and ready to solve all her problems. New fridge, new car, and, for her son (Matthew Broderick, adorable in his first role), who can’t buy a hit in little league, batting lessons from former Royals batting coach Charlie Lau. We get free lessons, too. Where’s the weight on your feet? Relax the grip. Head down. Wiggle the butt. Basically: concentrate but stay loose. It leads to another Hollywood ending but this time it’s not lucky hats or bats that do it. That one was for you, Wittgenstein!
Dads and baseball in “City Slickers” (1991)
Billy Crystal, the little Yankee-loving schmuck, knows his baseball: in the Ken Burns doc, in “61*,” which he directed, and in the baseball dialogue in “City Slickers,” which I’m sure he helped write. Mets cap aside, we know his loyalties, and they’re present in the “best day” discussion. For Mitch Robbins (Crystal), the best day of his life was when he was 7 and his father took him to Yankee Stadium: “Sat the whole game next to my dad. Taught me how to keep score. Mickey hit one out. I still have the program.” Earlier (or is it later?), there’s the Clemente vs. Aaron argument, which, I have to side with Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby), is no argument. 755 homeruns, end of discussion. But the best line is this explanation to Helen Slater about the deeper meaning of baseball: “When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn't communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball. Now that—that was real.” And that’s such a good line it almost elevates “City Slickers” into the top 5.
What about you? Favorite baseball scenes in non-baseball movies?