erik lundegaard

Trouble with the Curve
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Trouble with the Curve (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Remember all of those aging decrepit scouts in “Moneyball” who didn’t know shit compared with the sabermetric whiz kid with the computer (Jonah Hill)? Well, they’re back, baby, but this time they’re the heroes, with the lead scout played one of the most iconic figures in Hollywood history (Clint Eastwood), while the whiz kid with the computer is now played by the asshole who cuckolded George Clooney in “The Descendants” (Matthew Lillard). Consider it “Moneyball II: Revenge of the Aging, Decrepit Scouts.”

There’s great irony in all of this, which I’ll get to by and by.

Eastwood hasn’t acted in a movie since “Gran Torino” in 2008, and he hasn’t acted in a movie he didn’t direct since Wolfgang Peterson directed him in “In the Line of Fire” back in 1993. So what’s he doing in this mediocre piece of nothing? Did some big-name director lure him in? Hardly. This is Robert Lorenz’s first movie as director. But Lorenz has been assistant director on 26 pictures, including eight of Clint’s (“Mystic River” and “Million Dollar Baby,” among them), so I assume Eastwood’s thanking the kid or throwing him a bone. Which is a nice move.

Or maybe Eastwood was drawn in by the script? It’s another estranged daughter tale, to go with Laura Linney in “Absolute Power” and the unseen daughter in “Million Dollar Baby.” Clint likes being trailed after by young, smart, talkative women who allow him to do his incredulous, almost Vaudevillian slow burn. Think Tyne Daley, Genevičve Bujold, Bernadette Peters, Rene Russo, Laura Dern, Hilary Swank.

Now it’s Amy Adams as Mickey (named for Mantle), whom Gus (Eastwood), a legendary scout in the Atlanta Braves organization, more-or-less raised himself when his wife died young. Well, “raised.” Now and again, he shunted her off to relatives, which is why she’s in therapy and has trouble committing to men. But at least she’s a top-notch lawyer on the partner track. Unfortunately the name partners at her firm are led by Bob Gunton, the guy who played the asshole warden in “Shawshank Redemption,” so you know she’s going to get the old scroogie, even though it’s 2012 and this law firm doesn’t yet have a female partner. Like it’s 1981 or something. Like it’s a Hollywood studio or something.

Gus, who signed Ralph Garr, Dusty Baker, Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine—basically anyone worth a damn in the Braves system— is in his 80s now, and there are these nerdy sabermetricians hanging around with their computers, and, oops, his ophthalmologist diagnoses him with macular degeneration just as the organization sends him to North Carolina to scout a potential first-round draft pick. Does he fess up? Nah. He puts himself before the organization. He goes. But Director of Scouting and good friend Pete Klein (John Goodman) figures out what’s up and sends Mickey after him even though she’s, you know, estranged and all, and needs to close a big deal to make partner. But she goes, fuming and checking her Blackberry.

While in North Carolina, they run into Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former flame-thrower whom Gus scouted back in the day, but who tore his rotator cuff after being traded to the Boston Red Sox. He’s now scouting for the Sox, and, for some reason, despite being a newbie, and despite wanting to be an announcer, he’s there to check out the Sox’s potential No. 1 draft pick. Seems everyone is after this kid. Or at least the Red Sox and the Braves, who have the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks, respectively.

As for the dude they’re all scouting? Bo Gentry (Joe Massinggill)? We quickly find out the following:

  • He’s a major asshole.
  • He’s a bit tubby for someone in their late teens. Five-tool? More like five-meal.
  • His homeruns are hardly mammoth. Despite the aluminum bat, they only land a couple rows deep.

Gus and Mickey, meanwhile, stay at The Grey Squirrel Motel, owned by a nice Hispanic woman who has two sons: one about 8, the other, named Rigo (Jay Galloway), about 18 going on 25. At one point, Rigo, selling peanuts at the local stadium, has to toss some to Bo, who’s being an asshole, and he throws them pretty hard.

See if you can guess where this is going.

My early guess: the asshole sabermetrician will want Bo, Gus will see some problem (maybe that he has ...I don’t know... trouble with the curve?), and recommend against, but offer up Rigo, the flame-throwing Hispanic kid, instead.

All of this comes to pass. Or nearly. Gus, with macular degeneration, hears that Bo has trouble with the curve, which is confirmed by Mickey, who sees his hands drift. Gus counsels against Bo, and even tells this to Johnny, his rival. For some reason, the Sox listen to the kid and pass on Bo; but the Braves’ GM, Vince (Robert Patrick), ignores both Gus and Pete Klein, and assumes Phillip Sanderson, the asshole sabermetrician who cuckolded George Clooney, knows what he’s talking about, and picks tubbo. The Sox, thinking they’ve been cuckolded, fire Johnny, which leads Johnny to think Gus and Mickey tricked him, which leads to scenes and recriminations and revelations, including the real reason Gus shunted off Mickey to relatives. For some reason this doesn’t bring father and daughter closer together. But it allows Mickey the moment to hear, and then see, and then catch, Rigo, the nice, flamethrowing Hispanic kid; and it’s Mickey who brings him to Turner Field to face Bo, who is hitting batting-practice pitches into the stands for the local press. It take Rigo all of five pitches (two fastballs, three curves) to dismantle the Braves’ No. 1 pick. In the process, Rigo is compared to 1) Sandy Koufax, 2) Steve Carlton and 3) Randy Johnson, and Mickey, who, yes, got the old scroogie from the warden at Shawshank, becomes Rigo’s agent. Johnny returns, he and Mickey kiss, and we get our happy, Hollywood ending.

It’s a long, slow trek to the obvious. It’s painful to watch.

It also ironic, since it unintentionally disproves its point about scouts. “Scouts, good scouts, are the heart of the game,” Gus says. “Anyone who uses a computer doesn’t know a damn thing about the game,” Gus says.

Yet haven’t these guys been to this town in North Carolina before to scout kids? They’re creatures of habit, too. They sit in their same seats, go the same dive bars, and, one assumes, check into the same motels. Which means Gus, and maybe some of the other old-timey scouts, including Ed Lauter, Chelcie Ross and Raymond Anthony Thomas, have hung out before at The Grey Squirrel Motel. And they never noticed the hulking lefthander, close cousin to Sandy Koufax, playing catch with his little brother?

The stats vs. scouts argument is an ongoing one among baseball nerds. I’ve written before that I think Billy Beane, the protagonist of “Moneyball,” was right in adopting the sabermetric lessons of Bill James, but wrong in interpreting the lessons of his own life, including his aversion to scouting. I’ve written that a more balanced approach between the two is probably the best approach. But one area where the Moneyball people have it over scouting people? “Moneyball” was a major league movie. This thing can’t hit its way out of A ball.

—September 24, 2012

© 2012 Erik Lundegaard

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