Greatest Movie Runs at MLB Incredibility

Perhaps our column title slightly overstates our case. Almost all baseball movies, whether they deserve the viewing time we give them or not, usually reach for and achieve the incredible on some level. And why not? Baseball is the sport which invites its fans and media to anticipate the improbable great joy, but to also find something magical about it.

For example: Once Upon a Time, the greatest legendary slugger, a fellow named Babe Ruth, not only blasted a home run to center field at Wrigley Field to deaden the spirits of the Chicago Cubs in the 1932 World Series, he apparently also “called his shot” on the way to leading the New York Yankees to another victory in Game Three of a Four Game sweep of the World Series. ~ And there’s never been any argument that he didn’t forecast his actions either. …. Right?

These just happen to be nine of the many baseball movies that effected me deeply as a kid, but most-to-all of them required me to make a little credibility stretch that was vital to me loving them too.

My favorite baseball movies aren’t even on today’s list. In no particular order, my favorites include: The Natural ~ Field of Dreams ~ Bull Durham ~ League of Their Own ~ Eight Men Out and Major League. There were others, but this is more than enough for today.

Let us hear from you if you’ve ever been put off by bad acting, bad script, or the absence of baseball ability by an actor in a key role. I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

 

9. Gary Cooper
as Lou Gehrig
Pride of the Yankees (1942)

 

Gary Cooper had the physical resemblance and personality for his role as Lou Gehrig and he did a masterful job of acting in both his delivery of Lou’s famous “happiest man” speech at Yankee Stadium and his portrayal of how this horrible disease that killed him takes over the body in the early stages.

Credibility Stretch: Cooper was not a ballplayer. We’ve all read the stories of how they reversed the jersey and allowed him to swing right-handed and run to third from home for film that would later make it appear that he had been hitting left-handed. He was just more at home riding horseback than he was hitting a horsehide ball.

 

 

 

8. Robert Young
as “Larry Evans”
Death on the Diamond (1934)

 

Well named. Ballplayers are dying faster than the guys pulling hamstrings, but this one ends well when the club’s star player, Larry Evans, both helps the club solve the crimes as he also leads his team to the championship in one of those typical fast-moving and fast-talking film adventures of the early tinny sound years of movie history.

Credibility Stretch: It’s a little hard to believe that ballpark security was that poor at the big league level, even if it is “only a movie” and the year was way back in the depression culture 1934. They could have renamed this one as “The Gashouse Gang Gets Gassed”.

 

 

 

7. Dan Dailey
as Dizzy Dean
Pride of St. Louis (1952)

 

I’ve always loved the fact that this movie features Dailey as Dean playing at a stadium that is supposed to be Buff Stadium in Houston (but is not) and that it features Dailey as Dean wearing what appears to be a ’51 Buffs uniform (about 20 years past the 1931 time of Dizzy’s big year in our town.)

Credibility Stretch: Dan Dailey was no Dizzy Dean. Speaking in “twang” is not enough to make an actor credible as this unique and funny personality. And Dailey’s movements on the mound are not enough to convince me that he could have thrown the ball for 60 feet, six inches on every pitch at any speed. The script also sucked.

 

 

6. James Stewart
as Monty Stratton
The Stratton Story (1949)

 

Jimmy Stewart does a good job as the small town Texas boy who sees his MLB pitching career ended by a hunting gunshot injury that costs him the loss of a leg. The movie is the story of the man’s rise from depression and despair to pitch again on a limited basis with the help of a prosthetic leg and a whole lot of heart and help from family and friends. And he does it at kind of semi-pro All Star Game, again, at another venue that is posing as Buff Stadium.

Credibility Stretch: On one leg or two, the Jimmy Stewart version of Monty Stratton just shows up again as proof that great actors are, more often not, pitchers who would not last more than a game or two at the Grade D ball level. Stewart, at least, has the power to convince his audiences to forget their “lying eyes” and to buy into what he’s trying to sell as the powers of the character he’s playing.

 

5. Edward G Robinson
as Hans Lobert
Big Leaguer (1953)

 

As former big leaguer Hans Lobert, “Edward G” conducts a spring training camp for young prospects of the NY Giants, managing to get into all kinds of mentoring ship problems the young 18-22 year olds may be having finding the key to their futures. Lobert weaves his way into becoming the Darth Vader of either their success or vexation paths as serious baseball players. Edward G’s character is cool, calm and deliberate. Very convincing in a soap opera kind of way. They could have titled this one “Days of Our Diamond.”

Credibility Stretch: Remember. This is Edward G. Robinson in the lead role. Whenever one of the rookies reacts by word or action in opposition to leader Lobert, you keep waiting for him to light up a cigar and hit back with that famous, “Oh, a wise guy, huh?” It simply never happens. But neither does the story line. You can’t fix all their aches and pains by helping them find a girl.

 

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

 

We’ve been over this road in mind and print here more often than I care to remember, but this first animated version of my 10-year old lives still contains points that make me cry in sadness, appreciation and longing for Babe Ruth. That closing scene in which Ruth is in the hospital, the kids are singing the baseball anthem outside his window, and they are now wheeling the Bambino out of his room and down the hall for experimental drug treatment ~ and the whole thing ends on scenes from a kids’ sandlot game while an angelic chorus concludes “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” As the film ends, even now, it’s still hard for me to type and also think about that moment too much at the same time.

Credibility Stretch: What stretch? Everything in the movie looked absolutely real to me. And that includes the time a teenage Babe left a round hole in a St. Mary’s School window glass with an errantly thrown baseball and, a few minutes later, throws it back outside through the same hole from 60 feet away inside ~ without shedding even one extra sliver of glass.

 

3. Ronald Reagan as
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1952)

 

One thing can be said for Ronald Reagan for sure. He may not have been able to act like Lawrence Olivier, or worse, even come close to pitching with all the ability of the real Grover Cleveland Alexander, but. like him or not, he was keen enough as a major politician to have gotten himself elected President of the United States and the worldwide leader of the real “Winning Team” ~ The United States of America.

Credibility Stretch: It’s the same one that came with every film we may have watched featuring Ronald Reagan. ~ As a viewer, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you never really get over the fact that you are watching Ronald Reagan in any movie he makes ~ and not the character he is supposed to be playing. By looks, behavior, or skill, Reagan was no Alexander.

 

2. Ray Milland
as Mike “King” Kelly
It Happens Every Spring (1949)

 

A baseball fan/university research chemist accidentally invents a wood-repellant liquid. He cuts a quarter size hole in the pocket of a baseball glove and loads it up with the “stuff” in a sponge placed strategically behind the glove-pocket-hole and then rushes off to the big leagues with a few bottles of his magic to try to win a World Series for “St. Louis” under an assumed name. Although the movie never clarifies if Mike Kelly’s team is NL or AL, assume it to be the Cardinals. This kind of luck never fell into the hungering laps of the old Browns club.

Credibility Stretch: Not once do the befuddled batters ask for or simply receive any help from the umpires on a requested inspection of Kelly’s glove and that doozy of a pocket hole. For that matter, the St. Louis management or other players ever seem to notice or raise any question about Kelly’s possible use of a foreign substance.

 

9. Anthony Perkins
as Jimmy Piersall
Fear Strikes Out (1957)

 

Jimmy Piersall: “Pop, I hit .346 at Birmingham this year. (1951)

Piersall’s Father: “Well, that’s not Boston, is it, Son?”

That paraphrased exchange between Piersall and his dad was pretty much the dynamo of “Fear Strikes Out.” Piersall keeps trying to please his dad, but never quite makes it. Then finally explodes from his mortal fear of failure and has a full-blown psychotic mental breakdown ~ one that includes running the bases backwards on the heels of a home run and then climbing the screen behind home and yelling all the anger that had been building. Perkins’ ability to act far out runs his inability to play baseball with even a smidgeon of credibility.

Credibility Stretch: Anytime actor Perkins was shown throwing a baseball.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “Greatest Movie Runs at MLB Incredibility”

  1. Tom White Says:

    Bill,

    What turned me against “Eight Men Out” was that the producers portrayed Dickie Kerr as a right-hander. What kind of research did they do?

    This scene was early in the film and unfavorably colored the rest of it.

    Tom White

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Tom, I didn’t like that act of poor research or abject disregard for L/R accuracy as a meaningless detail either, Tom. ~ Others did the same poor work on Joe Jackson in “Field of Dream” ~ even worse, casting him as a right-handed batter with a New York accent. I worked to get past the Dickie Kerr error because, if I have a greatest obsession in baseball, it’s the whole Black Sox episode.

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