The Frisco RoughRiders make the next great baseball film
Tomorrow is the one-month anniversary of the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson. The most recent Hollywood cash-in on America’s pastime has done well in the box office, but not because Alex or Ryan have piled into the local Cinemark (OK, I admit, I just saw it, so I didn’t really affect those numbers either). Baseball season can get in the way of trips to the silver screen, but with the team’s off day on Wednesday, I made the journey to big screen. It’s hard to be a fan and student of the game and not spend a couple hours, at some point, invested in a well-made interpretation of arguably the most significant story in the history of the game, so I know Alex and Ryan will make their way soon enough.
Jackie Robinson is an American icon but moreover a symbol. And like most symbols, stands for something much more than the man himself. He makes for the perfect film, yet the movie industry, for the longest time, was scared to tackle the topic. The last Robinson movie came in 1950 and was mediocre at best.
Rob Neyer over at Baseball Nation put together a great piece with some of nation’s best baseball writers, asking them to pitch the next great American baseball movie never made. I asked our crack staff of baseball afficiandos to do the same:
Though it may end up being simply a darker version of “Major League,” I think the 1986 New York Mets would make for a ridiculously entertaining film. There’s already a well-known book by former Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman (The Bad Guys Won!) written to adapt to a screenplay, so there’s an actual chance that we see this on the silver screen sometime in the future.
When you think about it, there are very few individual teams that have made such an indelible mark on the game. The ’86 Mets were a team that had it all: success, stars, notorious characters and lascivious behind-the-scenes stories that could only come out decades after the other baseball team in New York won its second and most-recent championship.
Taking place in the heart of the hard-partying ’80s, Doc Gooden, Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson eclectically mixed with each other and their teammates to finish with 108 wins and appear to fall just short in the World Series, only to have you know what happen to you know who and the Boston Red Sox. All along the way, there were hotel rooms destroyed, copious amounts of drugs taken and anecdotes that probably shouldn’t be shared with children. It’s a story and a cast of characters that makes the “Idiots” of the 2004-champion Red Sox look like choirboys.
There’s no way this would be a PG-13 movie, but that shouldn’t scare off someone from trying to capture the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the ’86 Metropolitans.
A moment in baseball history I would like to see made into a movie is the rise of baseball in Japan, and the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
On March 11, 2011, the fourth largest earthquake recorded on earth hit the coast of northeastern Japan, triggering a large tsunami with waves as high as a three-story building. Tens of thousands of lives were lost, and the destruction was tremendous for the country. The country was left in devastation and under careful watch of a radiation plant hit hard by the storm.
With the relief and recovery from the destruction, baseball in Japan was an afterthought, causing many to think that the league’s demise was imminent. In fact, the opposite occurred. Baseball was a means for the people of Japan to have their spirits lifted, with attendance for the 2011 season rising about 1,000 more than in 2010. Baseball was a source for healing.
The resolve of the human spirit is the very reason this movie should be made. It is a story of recovery and rebuilding in the toughest of times and how a common interest in baseball helped the people of Japan ease their suffering if only for a little while. Baseball was a sign of hope that the country can pick up the pieces and carry on.
As for me,
Let me start by saying that I really love America–5% ironically but mostly genuinely. I really can’t envision ever living outside this country for a very extended period of time–mostly because of baseball. This great baseball fan might be able to leave in the UK and still follow baseball season, but not me. Give me July 4th post-game fireworks, Opening Day as a near national holiday, and crisp autumn air signalling, not the coming of winter, but the arrival of the Postseason.
I bring that up because most of the great baseball stories I think need to be told are international ones. Although MLB spends plenty of time and effort trying to stimulate the American baseball labor force with programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), a major pool of organized baseball labor comes from the international sphere, and more specifically, it comes from Latin America. Over 50% of minor league baseball players come from Latin America. These players are often the product of a system of “baseball academies,” facilities run by major league teams to house, feed, and teach the game to children before they “come of age,” 16 or 17-years-old when they are eligible to be signed by major league teams. The living conditions of these academies has, over the years, ranged from luxurious to borderline human-rights violating, and nowhere are they more prevalent than in the Dominican Republic: thus, I bring you…Sammy.
One of the most beloved yet controversial figures of my baseball lifetime, Sammy Sosa not only has the personality of a great film character, but also he could provide a lens into the steroid era AND the latin labor market / academies. Sosa is native of San Pedro de Macoris, a town that according to New York Times bestseller Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris (Mark Kurlansky), has produced more major leaguer per capita than any other town in the world. Yes, the world. 76 to date, according to the wikipedia page in a town of less than 200,000 people.
Anyway, it could begin on the streets of the Dominican Republic, maybe with Sosa playing ball in the streets as a kid. With Vladimir Guerrero even(!)–that would make for a great shot (nevermind that Vlad is from Nizao, about a two-hour drive from San Pedro de Macoris…and that the two are six years in age apart, it’s Hollywood).
The corked bat, the steriod allegations, the congressional hearings, the depressing Cubs, the home run chase with McGwire in summer of ’98, the skin-lightening incident–the source material is there. Like 42, the trouble will not be telling a great story, it will be condensing it.
Baseball term of the day: rake – to hit the ball very well