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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Where Did the Great Hollywood Baseball Movie Go?

The silent spaces in baseball used to be filled in by novelists and filmmakers. They supplied quick-witted, slang-driven repartee that felt both revelatory and reassuring for dugout conversations and meetings on the mound. The makers of films like 1989’s “Major League” and 1988’s “Eight Men Out” gave us the thoughts of the batters as they dug into the box, the catcher’s mantras and occasional trash talk, the umpire’s endless exasperation. And while all that may have been fantasy, it convinced you that what you couldn’t hear or see while watching a baseball game could be translated directly into cornfed American English.

Some mix of skyrocketing salaries, the steroid-era hangover and camera technology has rubbed away that implicit charm. Relatable baseball heroes are in retreat — and Hollywood seems to have lost interest in creating them. Over the past decade, there have been only four major studio baseball releases. Compare that with the late ’80s and early ’90s, when a handful of baseball movies came out nearly every year, including classics like “Bull Durham,” “Major League,” “Field of Dreams” and “A League of Their Own.”

Phil Alden Robinson, the director of 1989’s “Field of Dreams,” attributes the decline in the number of baseball movies to Hollywood’s need to court foreign audiences and financing — despite increasing numbers of international players in the majors. He also acknowledges a cultural shift. Two decades ago, baseball and its sepia-toned past could stand in for any number of sentimental ideas about the country. No longer. Robinson says football might better fit the American psyche, “a reflection of more violent times.” He believes he could probably scrape together the money to make “Field of Dreams” today, but, he told me, “it would have been a lot less money.”

Baseball’s visual clock, which once kept time for a changing country, now seems frozen.


 

 

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