Our theme this week
Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday — Documentaries: The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
Baseball Biopics & Baseball History
Best in class
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
61* (2001) — An HBO film directed by Billy Crystal with a great deal of heart and affection; the story of the 1961 season, with Yankee sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle vying to top Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers.
Eight Men Out (1988)— A solid drama from John Sayles about the darkest chapter in baseball history, the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Think money is a problem in the game today? How about a payoff from gamblers to throw a World Series? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Fear Strikes Out (1957)— The Jimmy Piersall story, starring Anthony Perkins as the Red Sox outfielder who struggles with mental illness and with a domineering father played by Karl Malden.
The Rookie (2002) — Dennis Quaid in an underrated film about Jim Morris. Who’s he? One of the oldest rookies ever to play in the majors. The story should resonate with anyone who has an unfulfilled childhood dream.
For the real fan
The Stratton Story (1949)— Jimmy Stewart stars as Monty Stratton in the true-life story of the White Sox pitcher who loses his leg in a hunting accident, then makes an improbable comeback.
The Winning Team (1952) — Ronald Reagan plays the great pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose struggles with liquor force him from the game, then is saved through the efforts of his wife, played by Doris Day.
The Babe Ruth Story (1948) — Interesting as a cultural artifact, perhaps. William Bendix plays the slugger in one of the least-convincing portrayals of a major league star. (For the other side of the story, see The Babe, with John Goodman.)
One year in Little League I wore the number 4. I was very proud to wear that number. It was Lou Gehrig’s. Even decades after the Yankees slugger had died, his legend was the legend I cherished most when I was just learning about baseball and its storied history. Still today, nothing else is close.
Gehrig was born in New York, pitched for the Columbia Lions, and then signed with the hometown Yankees. In 17 years, the Iron Horse hit 493 home runs, knocked in 1,995 runs batted in, and played in 2,130 consecutive games. He and Babe Ruth were the greatest 1-2 combination in the history of the game. Gehrig won two MVP awards, a Triple Crown, and set records which still stand, but his accomplishments weren’t half the story. The way he played, the way he lived, were exemplary. Yet more than anything else, the grace he displayed when his career—and life—were cut tragically short by illness is why he is such a beloved figure, a hero to generations of fans, an immortal of the game.
The Pride of the Yankees came out a year after Gehrig died. The filmmakers had one great story and knew enough not to mess it up. Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright offer a charming and tender portrayal of the private life of Lou and his wife, Eleanor. Babe Ruth co-stars in a part he was born to play, the bigger-than-life role of Babe Ruth himself. The movie is, in my opinion, the best of the baseball biopics. It may be a bit sentimental, but the story is what it is, and it’s hard to imagine it any other way.