Bill Murray Sings 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game'
With the advent of the 2021 baseball season, I’ve decided to take a plunge as an enthusiast, but a relative non-expert.
Many may agree that this might be the hardest season in several decades to predict. There is only so much we can predict or plan for during this pandemic. We think there will be 162 games. We think there will be no changes to the playoffs. But no one really knows (yet).
The Yankees are the favorites to win the AL East, but it’s too early to count out the Rays with their recent successes. The Blue Jays have made some big moves in the off-season, which at least puts them into the conversation; however, they are relatively young, so it might be a bit early to start thinking of their ’91 and ’92 season wins quite yet. In the Central division, things are likely to be pretty tight again this year. Last year saw the Twins, Indians and White Sox finish the shortened season within a game each. Who knows what could have been … under normal circumstances.
In the AL West, it is not looking good for the A’s, reigning division champions, who have lost a few key players. Seeing them in the Playoffs might be stretch, but I’m never one to count out a team that has some winning momentum. My money, though, is still on the Astros.
Moving over to the National League, the designated hitter position is said to be coming but traditionalist will certainly make their feelings against this known. In the East, the clear favorite is the Mets after some big off-season trades. It could be an all NYC Mets and Yankees World Series, wouldn’t that be fun? A subway series sounds the most COVID-safe of all possible options. In the NL Central, Brewers or Cubs? Cubs fans are certainly hoping they won’t have to wait another 71 years. Finally, in the NL West, the reigning champs are the most likely contenders to win the Division, but they will have to keep a close eye on the Padres, who have also added some big names to their roster.
As always, only time will tell who comes out the winners; but, if I had to guess, I see a Dodgers Repeat. Since I’m always one to cheer for the underdog, after several rough decades I’d love to see the Blue Jays, Mets or White Sox take the 2021 World Series.
On a more personal note, I have a wonderful friend, Norm Simon, who has the best possible season tickets and takes me to a game, seated right behind the umpire, at least once a year. He also buys me a hotdog and a beer. And he tells me what’s happening on and off-field, so I can appreciate every moment of the game. During the in between moments when the field is being raked or the team mascot is fraternizing with fans, we catch up on life. It’s a ritual that I always look forward to.
Baseball is a fabric of American life that has stood the test of time. In 1942, just a month after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt penned what has been called “The Green Light Letter”, in which he encouraged the continuation of baseball as an affordable sport that could lift moral spirits during difficult times. Following a postponement of the MLB season due to 911, on October 30, 2001, President George Bush threw a perfect strike from the pitch at Yankee Stadium to kick off Game 3 of the World Series, as a sign of America’s renewed strength.
"I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball." (Bull Durham)
I am not a baseball freak, but I have a strong penchant for baseball movies. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is the character development, the desire to see the underdog win, the moments that could derail everything. Whatever it is, it draws me in and makes for a satisfying evening on the sofa.
Today, just a few days before the 2021 MLB season opener, we’re going to cover baseball movies. Do you have a favorite one? There are so many, let me tell you about 3 that stand out in my mind.
Released in 1984, “The Natural” is a dramatization of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel about baseball and the lure of immortality.
It is the story of an Iowa farm boy, Roy Hobbs, who has devoted his youth to becoming a pitcher. He gets his big chance for a tryout in Chicago. On his way there, he meets a mysterious woman who has been going around killing elite athletes; she shoots him – he survives, but misses the tryout and his baseball days as a big league pitcher have come to an end.
Hobbs spends the next 15 years doing odd jobs, eventually coming back to the game in a Triple A capacity. Despite being 34 years old, he is spotted by a scout and drafted into the N.Y. Knights, but this time as a hitter. His high school sweetheart appears when he’s playing a game in Chicago, and he discovers that he has a son.
Taking inspiration from the 1919 Black Sox game-fixing scandal, this movie develops a similar tension; but, in the end, Dobbs refuses to play along - in true Hollywood fashion, Hobbs crushes the ball and brings in the winning run, in his final time at bat.
Roy Hobbs strikes out The Whammer in “The Natural”
Roy Hobbs’ final home run scene in “The Natural”
A League of Their Own
Directed by Penny Marshall, starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell, this movie is inspired by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which came into its own when most American men were off fighting WWII.
Two sisters, Dottie and Kit, are drafted into the League, which is the brainchild of a chocolate-bar magnate (Mr. Harvey). Initially this all-female team is considered to be nothing more than a publicity stunt. Mr. Harvey hires a washed-up, injured, alcoholic (played by Tom Hanks) with no interest in coaching a girls team.
Dottie is arguably the best player in the League, but she is very concerned about her husband who is off fighting the war in Europe. Eventually the coach realizes how good Dottie is, she tries to get him off the booze and the two start to work together. Much to everyone’s surprise, the team gets better and the League is taken seriously.
"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great." (A League of Their Own)
When Dottie’s husband returns from the war with an injury, she leaves the team just before the playoffs, putting everything in peril. She has a change of heart, and returns to play in the last game. Meanwhile, her sister has defected to a rival team, so now the sisters are playing against each other. In the end, Kit finally gets a one up on her sister, Dottie, and wins the game for the opposing team. Afterwards, Dottie decides to return home to the farm with her husband, manager of the dairy, and leaves baseball behind. Kit stays on, and finds an off-season job so she can continue playing, despite the fact that interest in all-female baseball is dwindling as men return home from WWII.
At the end of the movie, all of the characters meet together at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where a wing has been opened to celebrate the achievements of the AAGPBL. Dottie, who was reluctant to attend the event, sees a lot of faces from her former baseball life, and the movie wraps.
“There’s no crying in baseball” scene in “A League of Their Own”
Dottie puts on a Time magazine cover worthy show in “A League of Their Own”
Like “A League of Their Own”, this film was released in 1992, but is totally different.
Tom Selleck plays Jack Elliott, an aging N.Y. Yankee who has not been playing good ball. He is living on the fringes, drinking, womanizing and his knee is out of commission. The team decides to get rid of him, but no one wants to pick up his contract. The only franchise that will take him is a Japanese team called the Dragons.
When he arrives in Japan, Jack has trouble dealing with the Japanese culture. The baseball rules are the same, but the baseball etiquette is not. For example, if the pitcher hits the batter with a ball, the benches clear in the U.S. and a fight likely ensues; in Japan, the pitcher simply tips his hat in an apology. Needless so say, Elliott doesn’t follow Japanese ways and is eventually suspended by the team.
"We're not athletes, we're baseball players!" (Mr. Baseball)
Meanwhile, Jack has a Japanese love interest, who works for the agency that is managing his contract. He discovers that this woman is the daughter of the team manager who reveals that he can speak English, but has been pretending that he only speaks Japanese to garner respect from his players. The coach is in trouble because Jack is not performing as he should. They make a pact to turn things around – Jack starts training harder, he apologizes to the team for his poor behavior; but he also gives the manager his advice about how to better coach the players American-style.
By the last game of the season, the team has become more Americanized and comes to appreciate Selleck. In the end, a U.S. scout in Japan signs a different American teammate, and Selleck stays to play in Japan for another season.
Tom Selleck mends his ways with his Japanese baseball colleagues
Here are some other baseball movies worth checking out, in no particular order:
Million Dollar Arm
Bang the Drum Slowly
Bad News Bears
Eight Men Out
Rookie of the Year
Trouble with the Curve
Field of Dreams
For the Love of the Game
The Pride of the Yankees