Friday, February 26, 2016

Top Ten Lines in Baseball Movie History

Although the weather has started to warm up some places and baseball teams have gathered in camps across Florida and Arizona, we are still awaiting the start of baseball games for 2016. While we wait, baseball movies provide a reasonable alternative. With that in mind, I decided to offer my list of best lines from baseball movies.

I should apologize in advance to some excellent movies, like Rookie of the Year, Eight Men Out, Moneyball and  It Happens Every Spring that didn't have any signature lines that stuck out in my mind enough to make my list. And if some movies seem over-represented here, it's just because they were that good.

Honorable Mention:

Bad News Bears (1976):

Ne'er do well Coach Buttermaker gives scrawny benchwarmer Lupus a classic bit of warm-and-fuzzy Little League coaching advice:

"Listen, Lupus, you didn't come into this life just to sit around on a dugout bench, did ya? Now get your ass out there and do the best you can."

*  *  *

The Natural (1984)

Good-natured manager Pops wants nothing more from life than to win a pennant before his time is finished. Roy Hobb (Robert Redford)  shows up after his illness and tells Pops he's ready to take the field for the big game with the pennant on the line.

Pops: "You know, my mama wanted me to be a farmer."
Roy Hobbs: "My dad wanted me to be a baseball player."
Pops: "Well, you're better than any player I ever had. And you're the best goddamn hitter I ever saw. Suit up."

*  *  *

Bull Durham (1988)

Minor League lifer Crash Davis has his hands full trying to teach talented young pitching phenom Nuke Laloosh how to both play and repect the game.

"Lesson number one: don't think; it can only hurt the ball club."
*  *  *
After Laloosh shakes off his signs and insists on throwing a fastball, Crash tells the batter what's coming, resulting in a monster home run.

Nuke: "That sucker teed off on that like he knew I was gonna throw a fastball."
Crash: "He did know."
Nuke: "How?"
Crash: "I told him."

In a later game, when Laloosh shakes off his signs, insisting on throwing a curve, Crash (to batter) "This SOB is throwing a two-hit shutout. He's shaking me off. You believe that shit? Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well."

Crash, to Laloosh on the mound after the home run: "Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it."

*  *  *

"Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strike outs are boring. Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls, it's more democratic."

*  *  *

 Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

For guys afraid to show their sensitive side, it's time to make a run for the kitchen when the New York Mammoth's left-handed twenty-game winner and author Henry Wiggen offers this eulogy for his recently departed teammate Bruce Pearson (played by a young Robert DeNiro):

"He wasn't a bad fella, no worse than most and probably better than some. And not a bad ballplayer neither, when they gave him a chance, when they laid off him long enough. From here on in, I rag on nobody."

*  *  *

 Major League (1989):

Everything Bob Uecker as announcer Harry Doyle says is a classic. It's hard to choose one.

"Juuust a bit outside. . . . . [after 12 straight balls]  How can those guys lay off pitches that close?"

"Haywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair. When this guy sneezes he looks like a party favor."

"Rickie Vaughn gets the starting call today. We're told he matured a lot over the winter. Apparently he's bathing now."

"Obviously Taylor's thiniking . . .  I don't know WHAT the hell he's thinking."

"One hit? That's all we got, one goddamn hit? . . . .  Don't worry, nobody's listening anyway."

*  *  *

 Bad News Bears (1976)

The irrepressible Tanner, who earlier fought the entire seventh grade after a loss, speaks for anyone who was ever sickened by hypocritical arrogant winning Little League teams when he tells them "Hey Yankees. You can take your apology and your trophy and shove 'em straight up your ass."

*  *  *

 Field of Dreams (1989)

As Moonlight Graham, now a doctor for all time, walks off the baseball field, Shoeless Joe shouts, "Hey rookie, you were good."

                                                                          *  *  *

 Pride of the Yankees (1942):

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig: "Today (ay, ay) I consider myself (elf, elf), the luckiest man on the face of the earth." What more needs to be said.

*  *  *

10) A League of Their Own (1992)

All the way Mae (played, appropriately, by Madonna) discussing ways to increase attendance at their games, offers:  "What if at a key moment in the game, my uniform burst open and, uh, oops, my bosoms come flying out?"

To which Rosie O'Donnell's character replies: "You think there are men in this country who ain't seen your bosoms?"

*  *  *

9) The Sandlot (1993):

Appearing in a dream, Babe Ruth gives Bennie the Jet Rodriguez this timeless advice, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."

*  *  *

8) Field of Dreams (1989):

As he prepares to pitch to Shoeless Joe, Kevin Costner asks, "Do we need a catcher?"
Joe replies, "Not if you get it near the plate we don't."

*  *  *

7) Bull Durham

The manager sends the coach out to break up a gathering on the mound that involves the entire infield. When the dutiful coach arrives, he finds out there's a long list of problems being discussed. The result is the greatest pitching mound conference in history:

"Well, Nuke's scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man's here. We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. We're dealing with a lot of shit."

The coach nods thoughtfully and then suggests, "Well, uh, candlesticks always make a nice gift, and, uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or a nice silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two. Go get 'em."

*  *  *

6) Field of Dreams (1989)

 Young Moonlight Graham, annoyed after being brushed back by two straight pitches, turns and asks, "Hey ump, how about a warning?"

The umpire answers, "Sure kid, watch out you don't get killed."

*  *  *

5) Bull Durham (1988)

The manager, after being told by Crash to try to scare the kids on the team, delivers this harangue:

 "You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!"

Assistant coach, Larry: "Lollygaggers!"

*  *  *

4) Major League (1989)

The uber-confident Willie Mays Hayes introduced himself as "I run like Hayes and hit like Mays."

After watching him flail helplessly in the batting cage, manager Lou Brown croaks, "You might run like Hayes, but you hit like shit."

*  *  *

3) The Sandlot (1993)

Ham, exasperated by Smalls' continually nerdish ways, utters the immortal line:

"You're killing me Smalls."

*  *  *

2) Little Boy Boo (1954)

In the less-than-politically-correct 1950s, before soccer moms were even a glint in Bill Clinton's eye, a real man's man like Foghorn Leghorn could plainly state what every male at the time knew deep in his heart:

"There's something, I say, there's something kind of eeeeyeeee about a kid that's never played baseball."

*  *  *

1)   A League of Their Own (1992)

Tom Hanks is less than sympathetic when one of his players starts crying during a game.

"There's no crying in baseball. . . Rogers Hornsby was my manager and he called me a talking pile of pigshit. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry? No. And you know why? Because there's no crying in baseball."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Bobby Tolan Basketball Injury Revisited: Literary Foreshadowing and Managers Know Best

Two innocent articles appeared on the pages of the Sporting News in November of 1970 which would be related to events that would have a profound effect on the Cincinnati Reds franchise. The articles appeared November 21 and November 28 and were both written by the Cincinnati Post's Earl Lawson, who also moonlighted as the Sporting News' columnist for the Reds. The first article was entitled "Sparky Turns Off Ignition On Big Red Cage Machine." The next weeks' headline was "Basketball Touchy Subject to N.L. Champ Reds," and is accompanied by a picture of Pete Rose in a warmup suit toweling himself off, presumably after playing basketball. At first glance, they appear to be the usual postseason space-filler--something to eat up copy between the World Series and the hot-stove league. A reader who knows the rest of the story, however, is struck by a sense of irony and foreshadowing, as well as--if the reader is a Reds fan--foreboding.

In the old days--before year-round select travel programs for kids in every sport starting at 6 years old--the best athletes played every sport. So it should not be surprising how many great baseball players were also stand-out basketball stars.

Johnny Bench was an All-State high school basketball player in Oklahoma and led his team to the state semifinals in 1965. Brooks Robinson made All-State and was mentioned in a national publication for his efforts for Little Rock Central High School in 1954 and 1955. Frank Robinson, in Oakland, led his team to the state championship, although he had a bit of help from a talented teammate named Bill Russell. Future Red Sox teammates Carl Yastrzemski (in Long Island) and Rico Petrocelli (in Brooklyn) regularly dropped 30 or more points a game on opponents.

Carlton Fisk led his high school team to an undefeated New Hampshire state championship in 1963 as a sophomore and, in his final high school game, in the semifinals in 1965 he set a still-standing state record for most field goals (18) in a state tournament game while scoring 40 points and pulling down 36 rebounds. Jim Palmer led the state of Arizona in scoring as a senior in the early 1960s and was recruited by UCLA's John Wooden. Had he not pursued baseball, he could have won three NCAA championships.

Although no high school star himself, Pete Rose regularly played basketball throughout the off-season in his early years with the Reds. Being a hometown Cincinnati guy, he stayed in the area in the winter and used his contacts to get on a bunch of teams. Some years he was on as many as four different amateur teams, regularly playing in AAU leagues and tournaments throughout the Cincinnati area.

Rose, of course, was the point guard who told everyone what to do; good at driving and dishing. He was also not above a little elbow-throwing or butt-pinching under the basket if needed. Soon after Johnny Bench joined the Reds at the end of the 1967 season, Rose recruited him for several of his teams. Bench, who had been able to palm a basketball with his massive paws since junior high and could dunk in high school, still had a deft jump shot. And if the wide-shouldered, cat-quick Bench wanted a rebound, no one else had a chance.

After the 1968 baseball season the Reds front office decided it would be safer for them to sponsor a basketball team and play exhibitions rather than have some of their best stars risk injury in rough and tumble amateur games. General manager Bob Howsam not only gave his approval for the official Reds basketball team, but paid for snazzy new uniforms and warmups. They played local teams for charity all around the area, as well as in Kentucky and Indiana; playing collections of teachers, firemen, policemen, local celebrities and the like. Sometimes the gate was split, allowing the players to pick up some extra cash--not an unimportant enticement in those reserve clause days.

But often these were no laid-back affairs. Once on the floor, with the natural competitive juices flowing, the games sometimes became hard fought, with neither team conceding anything. It would obviously be a great feather in the cap of any team to be able to later brag that they had once defeated the mighty Big Red Machine--even if it wasn't in their natural game of baseball.

 After the 1969 season, the Reds basketball team played a schedule of more than 30 games. In addition to Bench and Rose, Lee May, Jim Maloney and infielder Jimmy Stewart were regulars, along with a couple of Rose's local friends for fillers. Jim McGlothlin and Bobby Tolan were picked up for 1970. Although his numbers were overshadowed by the teams' slugging stars, everyone in baseball recognized that centerfielder Tolan was obviously a budding star. He was coming off two terrific seasons. In 1970 he had hit .316 with 16 home runs, 80 RBIs and swiped 57 bases. At 25, he figured to only get better. More importantly, along with the slower Rose and the shortstop de jour, Tolan provided the only semblance of speed in the Reds lineup.

Manager Sparky Anderson had seen the basketball team play only once in the previous winter. "Unfortuntely, it was the roughest game we played all season," Rose told Lawson. "I even got into a brawl. We played a small school and the guys on the other team got mad."

In November of 1970, fresh off a great season in which the Reds dominated the National League but came up short in the World Series, Sparky Anderson, fearing injury to a key player, wanted to rule out the formation of a "Reds" basketball team. He had no trouble convincing his boss Bob Howsam to back the decision.

Rose was quoted as saying, "Some guys can keep in shape by exercising and running around a gym track. I have to do something that's competitive. You do that and you're always thinking about winning. And that's a spirit a guy should develop."

"We realize players must keep active during the off-season to remain in shape," Howsam's assistant Sheldon Bender countered. "But basketball presents too much of a risk." As an alternative to basketball, the Reds purchased a new universal weight machine for their clubhouse and set up an organized conditioning program for the first time. Perhaps indicative of the prevailing opinions of weight training for baseball at the time, when backup shortstop Darrell Chaney asked one of the coaches if lifting weights would improve his batting average, the coach replied, "No, but you'll look better sitting on the bench."

While the players reluctantly agreed to Anderson's edict, they did convince him to allow them to play four or five games which had already been set up with numerous advanced tickets purchased. And in general, a good time was had by all, such as the game in Connorsville, Indiana November 14, 1970 when a crowd of 3,500, paying $1.50 each, crammed into the high school gym to watch. The players signed autographs during half time and tossed 72 autographed baseballs into the crowd. Rose termed it "Great public relations for the Reds."

Another game that had been heavily pre-sold was in Frankfort, Kentucky in January. During that game, Bobby Tolan stopped suddenly to retrieve a loose ball. Although no one was within five feet of him, he collapsed and couldn't get up. The back of his foot felt as though he had been kicked by a steel-toed boot. He had completely torn his Achilles tendon. He would miss the entire 1971 season.

It was the first, and possibly most important, in a series of unfortunate events that would completely derail the early version of the Big Red Machine, leading to a disappointing 79-83 record and a fourth place finish for the young team predicted to be a dynasty.

Although Tolan made a fine comeback for the 1972 pennant-winning Reds, hitting .283 and he played in the majors through 1979, he was never again the same version of the near-dominant player of 1969 and 1970. And after the accident, Bob Howsam put his foot down--there would be no more Cincinnati Red basketball after 1971.

And so, looking at the two seemingly innocent articles from 46 years ago, one can only wonder what would have happened to the Big Red Machine, and Bobby Tolan, if the players had heeded Sparky's warning in November of 1970 to stop playing basketball. Would a healthy Bobby Tolan have been enough to offset the injuries to the pitching staff and slumps of Bench, Carbo and Perez? If not enough to win a pennant, would it have been enough to have the decent finish, say second place, that would have prevented Howsam from feeling that he needed to overhaul the team with The Deal that brought Morgan, Billingham, Geronimo et al and led to future greatness?

Questions such as these keep fans and ex-managers awake on long winter nights.