Baseball movies are watched every spring

I have a baseball movie to report on as well: since I had a cold and called in sick to work today, I took advantage of the extra time at home to watch “It Happens Every Spring,” which had been sitting on my TiVo since Fox Movie Channel ran it on December 15th. (Why would Fox Movie Channel run a baseball movie on December 15th, you ask? I have no evidence that Fox even realizes that Fox Movie Channel exists, much less pays any attention to their programming, so they just pull random Fox movies off the shelf and put them on TV.)

College chemistry professor Ray Milland inadvertently discovers that a substance can be applied to baseballs — or any object, for that matter — that makes it completely avoid contact with wood. So in order to make money for his wedding (to the daughter of the college president, he takes a leave of absence from his professorship and secretly goes to St. Louis to become a pitcher for the — well, they don’t use any team names in this movie, but if Levi wants to pretend it’s the Cardinals, I guess that would work, since the opponents mentioned are all cities that had National League teams in 1949. The exterior shots of the stadiums show that they all have names like “St. Louis Stadium,” “Pittsburgh Stadium,” “Brooklyn Stadium,” and so on.

The movie is a little ridiculous in that, despite the obvious strange hops the ball is taking, no opposing player or manager ever demands to examine the glove, in which Milland has a rag soaked with the substance hidden so he can wipe it on the ball. Why, that’s even more blatant than steroid abuse! (Someone on IMDB already made the comparison, I see.) But it’s not supposed to be a serious sports movie, it’s supposed to be a romantic comedy, so I guess we’re supposed to overlook that.

Interestingly enough, the crusty catcher who befriends Ray Milland is played by Paul Douglas — who, two years later, would play the crusty manager in the original version of “Angels in the Outfield,” another baseball movie in which the laws of physics are broken. And then he would have played another crusty baseball manager in a certain episode of “The Twilight Zone” if he hadn’t died during the filming. Talk about being typecast.

Bud, Mickey’s, Schlitz, Coors, PBR, High Life, Red Stripe

The headline is the brands of beer that alcoholic former minor-league pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) drinks in The Bad News Bears. Or at least, those are the ones I saw and remembered. It’s entirely possible that he drank more varieties, because he’s constantly drinking beer.

Luke, Sandy, Sarah, Stacey, and I watched The Bad News Bears Friday night, after I had read a couple of recommendations of it online from baseball fans who loved it as a baseball movie. And they were right. I had seen it when I was about three, but unlike another movie I saw when I was three, it didn’t leave very clear memories.

I feel like I shouldn’t say much about the details of the movie, because I think everyone who regularly reads this blog–all, what, eight of you?–would greatly enjoy it and should hie thee to the nearest video emporium, take its dusty box to the counter, and enjoy it in the company of a friendly six-pack. It’s funny, and it’s surprising, and it’s not hokey, and it’s utterly impossible to imagine being made in anything close to the same way today. (Don’t mention the remake. Unless Bill Murray’s got the Walter Matthau role, it’s going to suck.) I tend to be suspicious of aesthetic or artistic creeds–stifling little things, aren’t they–but if you were to pin me down, make me choose a style or tendency in movies (and, to some extent, in books), I’d pick works of art that mostly show–without making a pretense of being truly real–people going about their business in the world. A lot of my favorite films–Yi-Yi, Maborosi, George Washington–are a bit that way. And that’s what’s most surprising to me about The Bad News Bears: it’s a sports movie and a kid movie, and it fits more or less into the sports and kid movie patterns, but it has a rhythm and sensibility of its own that hew much more closely to real life than anyone would have expected.

And it loves baseball. The baseball scenes are great. The swearing is great. And the talk about baseball is great, and funny. Rent it while you wait for Sunday night’s game.

Original comments…

Toby: Unbelievable, Levi. This movie has been playing on HBO the last month and I have watched it about 10 or 15 times. Like you, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid and, like you, I appreciate it so much more now than I could have then.

I think one of the things that’s so great about it is that everyone can identify with one (or more) of the Bears. At age 10, I had Timmy Lupus’ ability and Albert Ogilvie’s personality wrapped up in Mike Engleberg’s body. My best friend, Troy Nelson, was Kelly Leak to a “T.”

I would peg you for identifying with Ogilvie.

Plus, is there any better ending line for a baseball movie than “Just wait ’til next year…” (uttered by Lupus)

I’m also very hesitant to watch the remake (which will star Billy Bob Thornton and Greg Kinear) when it comes out…

I just downloaded the prelude to Bizet’s Carmen from iTunes (the theme used in the movie). This is a scary coincidence, Levi.

thatbob: So, any more thoughts about coaching a Little League team of your own? I understand there’s an opening at Cabrini-Green ever since Keanu had to go fight demons.