Angels in the Outfield

The 1951 Original Happened in Pittsburgh

Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas) was a mean, disagreeable, cantankerous, foul-mouthed, insensitive, press-baiting manager  for a mid-twentith century Pittsburgh club that languished in last place in the National League and just seemed to get worse from there. They never called them the “Pirates” in this 1951 original version of “Angels in the Outfield,” but we all knew who they were.

One day, McGovern starts hearing voices. The voices tell him that they are angels, and that they have been sent to Pittsburgh to help him turn the team around. (Wow! The plot makes you wonder how many Pittsburgh managers have lived that same wish in reality, even up to the 2011 season!)

McGovern doesn’t believe until the angels do a little “tell and show” demonstration of their powers at the ballpark (someplace they generically call “Pittsburgh Stadium’) and McGovern is forced to concede mild faith, as long as he doesn’t have to share the news with anyone else. McGovern doesn’t want anybody to think he’s nuts.

The secret loop of what’s happening doesn’t sty secret for long. As the Pirates start winning, a couple of females get into Guffy’s hair about the Pittsburgh turnaround. One is Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh), a female reporter from back in the day this kind of work was too masculine for women. – The other is a little orphan girl named Bridgit White (Donna Corcoran), who has been coming to the games with the nuns who take care of her as a really big fan who actually prays for the team.  Bridgit claims to actually see angels in the outfield that are making plays for Pittsburgh.

That's little Bridgit, next to the nun.

If you’ve seen the movie, then, most probably,  you already have figured out that these angels in the outfield were an even greater performance enhancing agent then steroids would become just a few decades down the road. Nobody could stop Pittsburgh, not even “St. Louis” playing at home in “St. Louis Stadium.”

The plot spins around the axis of faith. Will the grumpy Guffy trust the female reporter with the truth about his own experiences? Will the little girl be able to soften the Pittsburgh manager’s heart to her own level of childlike belief in the power of miracles? Will McGovern become the kind of man who is capable of having a good relationship with a woman and even grow up enough himself to become an emotional father to a little girl in need of a daddy?

Yeah, I know. There was a lot of soap opera sewn into this old baseball movie, but it worked pretty well. One other character serves as the villain of this little morality play. Keenan Wynn plays Fred Bayles, the worst radio play-by-play man you will ever hear. Bayles is out to get McGovern fired from Day One. He spends the movie scoffing at the possibility of Angel-Help and, even though he seems to be an employee of the Pittsburgh club, he always reports their successes on the field with gloom and doom. Even when the Pirates win the pennant on the last day of the season, all broadcaster Bayles can say in flat monotone speech is: “That’s it. Final out. Pittsburgh wins. See you next year.”

At that point, we see Guffy embracing and hugging his players, Janet Leigh, and the little girl. Up in the broadcasting booth, an invisible force then pushes Keenan Wynn’s hat down over his eyes. When he raises it up again in startled amazement, it’s just in time to see angel feathers drifting down around his broadcasting mike.

The End.

And all of us kids from 1951 got to then leave the movie house and go home to our own theaters of the mind on the sandlot.

The 1994 re-make of “Angels” with Danny Glover was pretty good too, but it wasn’t around in 1951, when the real cultivation of hope was taking place for me through my life as a kid in the Houston East End. Check it out on Turner Classic Movies, if you get the chance. Among the old knee-deep-in-sentiment baseball movies, the Paul Douglas version of “Angels in the Outfield” was one of the best.

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