Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It Must Be Spring

I know the calendar still says February, but I just completed my annual viewing of Major League, which I always fire up once real pitchers and catchers show up for the first time. I know Warren's not the biggest fan, but I honestly think you could make an argument that Major League is the best baseball movie ever made. I wouldn't make that case myself (Field Of Dreams and Bull Durham are both better), but it's definitely the funniest sports movie of all time, and it's underrated in terms of realism.

Both the Spring Training montages and the final one-game playoff against the Yankees are excellently done. Spring training is a lot different now with veterans guaranteed roster spots by their contracts and spring invites not decreed directly by ownership, but can you honestly tell me that the Indians taking the field to a rousing standing ovation at the end doesn't sum up every reason you ever wanted to be a major leaguer as a kid? Can you really be a sports fan without at some point experiencing the helpless feeling of the feathered season-ticket holders in the center field bleachers? And who doesn't get chills when Uecker screams "and the Indians win it! The Indians win it! OH MY GOD, the Indians win it!!!" (other than Yankee fans)?

More than anything, I think Major League hit the nail on the head as far as pegging the different types of people in professional baseball. You've got the cocky rookie (Willie Mays Hays), the washed-up catcher clinging to his career (Jake Taylor), the overpaid prima donna (Roger Dorn), the flame-throwing head-case (Ricky Vaughn), the strikeout-prone power hitter (David Palmer, er, Pedro Cerrano), the crafty veteran pitcher (Eddie Harris), the crusty manager (Lou Brown), the self-important owner (Rachel Phelps), the homer announcer (Harry Doyle), and the evil, tobacco-spitting slugger that you love to hate (Clue Haywood). You can count the number of baseball movies since 1989 that haven't included at least a few of these characters on one hand. It was trend-setting.

And it was, and still is, immensely quotable. How many times has a friend popped one up in softball or whiffleball, only to be derided by a chorus of taunts like "aw, no way, too high," and "wow, you really knocked the crap out of that one."? Harry Doyle's "juuuuuuuust a bit outside" works in countless everyday situations. Jobu jokes never go out of style. And Lou Brown has the most fun-to-imitate voice this side of Harry Carey (just try to say "shut up, Dorn..." without cracking a smile - I dare you).

This movie was ahead of its time. It popularized the celebrity owner. It invented closer entrance music. The Yankees lost at the end. It gave fans of the Clippers, the Bengals, and the real life Indians hope. And it always, always, gets me fired up for baseball season.

I'll leave with this: a few years ago, I was at a Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium with Ross. The Sox led 3-2 heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, having taken the lead off of Rivera in the top of the inning. Derek Lowe came in for the save, and promptly gave up game-tying and game-winning home runs to Paul O'Neill and Dave Justice. As the bleachers went bonkers on all sides of me, "New York, New York" started playing over the PA system. Miserable, I turned to Ross and said, succinctly, "I think Rachel Phelps said it best when she said 'I hate this fuckin' song.'" That cracked Ross up, and, even in defeat, it cheered me up. I can't imagine saying that about The Natural.


Warren said...

I think my disappointment from Major League may have simply been unreasonable expectations. This was one of those movies that my parents wouldn't let me watch, so when I finally got around to seeing it, it was many years in the waiting.

But the new problem is, as you tangentially mention, President Palmer. I don't know if I want to see my President reduced to voodoo.

Sully said...

Yes, it is very strange once you realize that Dennis Haysbert played both characters. He was so over-the-top as Cerrano, but he was so convincing as President that I think I'd actually vote for him. He's managed to be typecast twice, which is pretty amazing.

I'm also pretty sure that I'd buy insurance from him if it were available in this state.