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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The forgotten brilliance and influence of ‘Little Big League’

Ron Gardenhire should not have made this movie.

From the beginning, “Little Big League” looked destined to fail — and that’s not just because Pincus wanted to make a movie about the Royals. Pincus was an aspiring screenwriter with zero credits to his name. He had grown up on the East Coast, and relocated to Los Angeles to chase a career in Hollywood. But by the early 1990s, not much had materialized.

But there was one idea in his head, something that sounded fun. What if a kid managed a big-league baseball team? What if a kid ran a baseball team. So in late 1990, more than three years before the movie would arrive in theaters, Pincus went to work on a script. But first, he needed a team. As a child in the mid 1970s, he had been a fan of Royals infielders Freddy Patek and Cookie Rojas, the forefathers of the Royals glory years.

“Some of my favorite baseball cards,” Pincus says.

So it was settled. It couldn’t be a big-market club like New York or Los Angeles. It had to be small.

Billy Heywood would manage the Kansas City Royals…

So if you don’t mind a spoiler from a 20-year-old baseball movie, you might want to know about the final scene. You might want to know that the Twins lose. In the bottom of the ninth, Lou Collins hits a deep drive to center, and then Griffey robs the would-be home run, and the Twins lose.

Twenty years later, Pincus can’t remember all the details about the movie he wrote. But he can tell you this: The Twins always lost.

“It always ended that way,” Pincus says, “and it’s okay to lose. Only one team wins.”

Yes, it should have been the Royals.

 


Saturday, July 12, 2014

‘Battered Bastards of Baseball’ review: Portland Mavericks’ story is true to the team’s name

I give it 4.5 Rob Neyer flannel shirts out of a possible 5.

First-time directors Chapman and Maclain Way are the grandsons of Bing Russell, the cowboy actor who founded the independent, minor-league Portland Mavericks in 1973, so “Battered Bastards” is an affectionate family valentine rather than a hard-hitting exposé.  But the Ways’ family connections probably helped convince a number of erstwhile Mavs to sit for interviews, not least of them Bing’s movie-star son Kurt, who rhapsodizes about his dad’s love for the game. The only person more passionate about the team today, it seems, is onetime bat boy (and current Hollywood director) Todd Field, whose profanity-laced nostalgic rants are a highlight….

Reality provided the story of the Mavericks with a somewhat anticlimactic finale, so the documentary runs out of steam a bit towards the end. And some of the recollections are selective. For instance, Kurt Russell tells a story about the Mavericks’ first game being a no-hitter, but he’s probably talking about their sixth game. The Mavericks’ first manager, longtime minor-leaguer Hank Robinson, is given short shrift compared with his successor, Frank Peters, but Peters’ darker, turbulent post-Mavs life isn’t highlighted.

Then again, it probably would have been impossible to shoehorn every memorable Mavericks moment and strange-but-probably-true anecdote into one film. That’s how chock full of stories the team’s brief life was. It might not be true that the Mavericks could only have happened in Portland, but it’s certainly fun to think so.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Baseball Researcher: Some Very Fortunate Footage

Footage of Babe Ruth’s first game back in 1925 is interesting, but perhaps not worth blogging about. However, it was not this portion of the film that excited me. Instead, it was other footage, shot earlier that same day, that caught my attention. This pre-game footage showed Ruth taking batting practice, tossing the ball around and posing for the camera in front of the Yankees dugout. Here’s are a pair of frames from this section of footage [...]

Behind Ruth, at far left, is a familiar Yankees player: Lou Gehrig. The previous season, Lou had a breakout year with Hartford of the Eastern League, batting.369 with 37 homers in 134 games. But at the moment we see Lou on the bench behind Ruth, Gehrig had played just 11 games with the 1925 Yankees, posting a meager .174 average while seeing intermittent action as an outfielder and pinch-hitter.

That afternoon, just two innings after the Ruth ground out captured on film, Gehrig was sent to pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. Lou flied out to Goose Goslin in left field.  But more importantly, it was the first game in which he had participated in four days. The next day, Gehrig started at first base, went 3-for-5 at the plate, and didn’t take another day off until May 2, 1939.

bobm Posted: April 19, 2014 at 05:43 PM | 4 comment(s)
  Beats: babe ruth, film, lou gehrig, yankees

 

 

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