The Ted Williams-Robert Ryan Movie They Missed

Ted Williams Sworn In To Military Service in World War II, plus insert of Ted as a ballplayer, lower left, and two profile inserts of actor Robert Ryan.

Could actor Robert Ryan have played the role of Ted Williams in a bioflick they never made? You betcha! And he would have brought a ton acting skill and athletic ability to the job as well. I don’t really know of Ryan’s athletic background, but that’s my take anyway, based upon what I’ve seen of his movements in westerns and action roles. The guy never looked clumsy as he moved.

I only wish I could have found some younger shots of Ryan that were right usable for this piece. He may look a little old here for the younger Williams, but he could have handled the role just fine in his earlier career.

Unfortunately, and this is really a wholly larger topic, Hollywood doesn’t always pay much attention to physical similarity and athleticism in their casting of baseball title roles. Here’s my short list of the worst baseball star castings in memory, with my least favorite listed at number one:

1. Anthony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall in “Fear Strikes Out.” (1957).

2. Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams.” (1989).

3. Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander in “The Winning Team.” (1952).

4. William Bendix as Babe Ruth in “The Babe Ruth Story.” (1948).

5. Frank Lovejoy as Rogers Hornsby in “The Winning Team.” (1952).

6. John Goodman as Babe Ruth in “The Babe.” (1992).

7. Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees.” (1942).

8. Ray Milland as fictional pitcher Mike Kelly in “It Happens Every Spring.” (1949). I would have penalized Milland all the way to number one had he been playing a real character. His athletic ability was worse than Perkins’s schlepping, if possible, but this was a wonderful baseball comedy and Milland pulled it off pretty well in spite of himself.

My favorite actin/athletic combos were:

(1) Robert Redford as fictional character Roy Hobbs in “The Natural. (1983).

(2) Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb in “Cobb.” (1994).

(3) Kevin Costner as the fictional Crash Davis in “Bull Durham.” (1988).

(4) Charlie Sheen as the fictional Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in “Major Leagues.” (1989).

(5) Paul Douglas as the fictional Guffy McGovern in “Angels in The Outfield.” (1951).

(6) Robert DiNero as the fictional Bruce Pearson in “Bang The Drum Slowly.” (1973).

(7) Dennis Quaid as Jimmy Morris in “The Rookie.” (2002).

Maybe my off-the-cuff opinions here are fairly typical of baseball fans on one level. I think it’s easier for us to enjoy movie performances by actors in fictional roles. We have some very strong impressions of actual players and we may tend to expect actors to capture them dead on and, at least, look as though they’ve thrown a ball or swung a bat before.

The problem with “Field of Dreams” provides us with our most extreme Hollywood misstep, but thy still didn’t get it. New York actor Ray Liotta was cast in the role of the left-handed batting Shoeless Joe from South Carolina. Liotta is right-handed and can’t even fake a left-handed swing for the movie, so, Director Phil Robinson just allows him to hit right and talk like he’s from Brooklyn.

When he gets the uproar of objection from deep blue baseball fans who see the early release of the movie, how does director Robinson respond? He tells us that we need to remember that the movie is a work of fiction – and that these things happen when we producers make a film. By his silent shrug, he was implicitly saying that we should just accept little misses like this as we suspend our anchorage to reality for the sake of buying into the movie.

Hollywood people just sometimes fail to realize how literal we baseball people can be when it comes to the imagery of our biggest ancient stars.  We sort of like reality. I mean, I went to that movie prepared to accept the premise that dead Hall of Famers and deceased scorned superstars were capable of walking out of a corn field to play the game again. – I just expected them to be real when they got to the playing field.

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4 Responses to “The Ted Williams-Robert Ryan Movie They Missed”

  1. David Munger Says:

    When Gary Cooper played Lou Gehrig they transposed the
    batting scenes because Gary Cooper was right handed. Oh Hollywood. GEAUX TIGERS and GEAUX CARDINALS……..

  2. Peter Denman Says:

    Add one to your worst casting list—at least one—the guy they got to play Eddie Cicotte in “Eight Men Out”. In the old days we would’ve said he throws like a girl, but since there are some good girl ballplayers around now—or rather since we’ve become aware of them, as in “A League of Their Own”—I’ll just say that the Cicotte character was just horrible. So was the Joe Jackson character, but not necessarily because of not being athletic; they just made him look like an imbecile. Speaking of “A League of Their Own”, add the two girls in the lead roles at least to your good casting list; they were great in a very good baseball movie.

  3. Cliff Blau Says:

    What about Michael Moriarty in Bang the Drum Slowly? Nothing against his acting, but he threw right handed, and he was playing the title character from the book The Southpaw!

    David Strathairn was the actor who played Cicotte.

  4. Anthony Cavender Says:

    Both Williams and Ryan served in the Marine Corps in World War II.

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