Monday, February 23, 2009

And the Oscar Goes To...

I had the Oscars on last night as I worked on homework, so I could glance up to see the highlights. Natalie Portman and Ben Stiller in his Joaquin Phoenix beard provided the best moments for me, though Tina Fey and Steve Martin were also pretty funny. I was also pleasantly surprised at how entertaining Hugh Jackman is when he is not killing people with metallic razors protruding from his knuckles.

I started to think about how long it has been since there has been a really good baseball movie. Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore is the last one that comes to mind, and that was put out in 2005.

I understand that the underdog stories are done to death and have become horribly cliched by now, but you would think someone would be able to come up with something fresh about the national pastime.

But until the next baseball movie classic comes to theatres (and because there is not much else interesting going on around the Cubs right now), I thought I would throw out my nominations for Best Baseball Scene. This is not a measure of the movies' quality in their entirety, but rather of the indelible scenes within the movie.

Bad News Bears - Final inning for the Bears - In the final game of the Little League World Series, the most talentless of the underdog Bears mount a two-out rally against the evil Yankees. The bases are loaded and the superstar-bad-ass Kelly Leak is at the plate. The Yankees try to intentionally walk him, but Leak leans out over the plate and smacks a drive into the gap. The bases are cleared as Leak comes streaking around as the tying run, only to be thrown out at the plate. The Bears lose, but take the 2nd Place trophy and tell the Yankees where to collectively stick it. I love the lack of a fairy-tale ending, and the kids drinking/spraying celebratory beers after the game. You wouldn't be able to have that in a movie made with kids today.

Pride of the Yankees - Gehrig's Luckiest Man on Earth speech - I know this is an odd choice in a Cubs blog, and one that seems overly sentimental for our modern, jaded tastes, but this really is a great finish to an excellent movie from its time. Gary Cooper, delivers the speech perfectly, and it is enhanced by having the actual Babe Ruth as part of the scene. It is heartbreaking to see the Iron Horse at the end of his career, and life, facing it with dignity and class.

A League of Their Own - "There's no crying in baseball!" - The AAWBL Rockford Peach's manager, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) verbally chastises his right fielder for missing the cut-off (wo)man, resulting in her breaking into tears. Unable to process how this turn of events could be possible, he breaks into a rant about no crying in baseball that has propelled it into our cultural mainstream.

The Naked Gun - Lt. Frank Drebin searching players for weapons while posing as an umpire - I know this is not a baseball movie, but it has the funniest baseball-themed scene, in my opinion. This could be due to the fact that I believe that many MLB umpires have gone to the Frank Drebin/Leslie Nielson School of Theatrical Umpiring the way they seem to believe that the crowd has paid to see them call a game. Also anything that features Jay Johnstone and the Queen of England doing the wave should get some sort of recognition.

The Natural - Roy Hobbs walk-off homerun into the light tower - I am not as in love with this movie as a whole as some people are. Robert Redford playing someone who could realistically even be an "old" rookie in baseball is a bit much, but the final at-bat is the stuff little boys' dreams are made of. With two outs, two strikes, and the game, the season, and his legacy on the line, an injured Roy Hobbs breaks his magic bat on a foul ball. The following homerun into the light tower to win the game, save his manager, and defeat the evil owner is sheer beauty. The crowd shots, his teammate's reactions, and his own slow trot through the showers of sparks is pure poetry.

Anybody else want to toss in their favorite scenes?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

James Earl Jones' soliloquy in Field of Dreams. The deep, stentorian voice. The eloquent words. More moving and less sappy than the "Hey Dad. Wanna have a catch" closer (which, despite my protestations and efforts to the contrary, always, always, always makes me whimper like a little girl.) Jones' recitation were the last words spoken at last Orioles game at Memorial Stadium, September 14, 1991. With good reason. It reminds us of why we go to ballparks. Why we love Wrigley Field like the cathedral that it is. Why, now almost 20 years gone, my memories of afternoons and nights at Memorial Stadium are of a sweet place where people would:

"Walk out to the bleachers, and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as if they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces.... The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again."

Baseball is about building the memories that sustain us through long winters. A lifetime of memories. Some happen in Wrigley. Some in Pittsburgh. Some in family rooms in Jamestown and basements in Calumet Park. Jones' speech in Field of Dreams reminds of that and what baseball is all about. From Seat 106.

chester said...

I vote for Stealing Home with Mark Harmon. Guy plays baseball, loses his way, comes back to town for a funeral, and ends up finding out what really matters in life. Baseball. Then he "steals home" for the second time. That's the scene. Oh, also, this isn't a movie, but the all time creepiest X Files "Home" where Mulder Reminisces about afternoon pick up games on Martha's Vinyard while investigating a genetically mutated infant buried on a baseball diamond. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

I love a feel good sports movie. Good call to the reader that mentioned "Field of Dreams". Absolutely fantastic. I have to add "The Rookie" to the mix. While I have heard from actual sports/baseball fans that the movie isn't quite "based on fact", there's nothing like the last scene, where the town shows up for his major league debut. Love it everytime.

prkeenbean said...

The Field of Dreams scene always gives me the chills. Plus, I just lost my father last week(huge Chicago sports fan--Cubs-not Sox) and you brought back great memories of baseball with him for me. So thanks.

My contribution would be from Bull Durham and his rant about slow wet kisses and hating the DH. That always gives me a chuckle. His character so typifies what fans generalize for players' attitudes. The superstitions, the cliches. As a sports enthusiast, player, and coach, I have the same quirks. So, it may actually be pretty close to the truth despite Hollywood and Costner's attempt at drams/humor.

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