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September 21, 2011

The Lineup Card

9 Baseball Movies That Should Be Made

by Baseball Prospectus

1) The Greatest Game Ever
Game 7 of the 1960 World Series had just about everything you could hope for in a movie script, which is why my film about it would be called "The Greatest Game Ever." The Pirates were heavy underdogs coming into the series, making their first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1927, while the Yankees had just won their 11th American League pennant in 14 years. The first six games of the series had also been quite odd as the Yankees won three of them by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 yet were forced to a Game 7 by the pesky Pirates. Game 7 was a classic. The Pirates took a 4-0 lead after two innings, but the Yankees rallied and led 7-4 by the middle of the eighth inning. A grounder off the bat of Bill Virdon, however, took a bad hop off Forbes Field's hard infield in the bottom of the eighth, striking the Yankees' Tony Kubek in the throat and forcing the young shortstop from the game. That led to a five-run inning, capped by Hal Smith's three-run home run that put the Pirates ahead 9-7 and sent the crowd of 36,683 into delirium.

Alas, the Yankees silenced the crowd by scoring twice in the top of the ninth to tie the score at 9-9. Then Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth by belting a home run over the left-field wall and into Schenley Park off Ralph Terry to give the Pirates their first world championship since beating the great Walter Johnson in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series. Mazeroski's blast remains the only walk-off home run in a Game 7 of the World Series. If all that weren't enough, consider that there no strikeouts in the game that lasted just 2:39 despite the 19 runs scored. Capping it all off was the first recorded instance of trash talking in pro sports when Pirates outfielder Gino Cimoli looked into the NBC camera during the television post-game show and said, "The Yankees broke all the records and we won the most games." Great theatre, indeed. —John Perrotto

2) Dr. K and His Royal Curve
A movie about the life of Dwight Gooden just feels like something Hollywood would pursue. The film would likely have to take creative liberties with the timeline of Gooden’s career by mashing everything together, but the idea of a phenom rising to the stars only to descend due to very real and very human flaws is a common premise and one that works. There are traces of a comeback story within Gooden’s tale too, and frankly, his return to the major leagues serves as a happier ending than his post-retirement life. —R.J. Anderson

3) Veeck as in Wreck
Years ago, I read Neal Karlen's vastly entertaining Slouching Towards Fargo, an account of the mid-90s indieball St. Paul Saints, featuring Darryl Strawberry, Jack Morris et al. The Saints were (and still are) owned by a group that included both Bill Murray and Mike Veeck. Somewhere in the book it was mentioned that the actor had acquired the screen rights to Veeck as in Wreck, the autobiography of one of the game's great iconoclasts, and that plans were underway with Murray in the title role and Sigourney Weaver as wife Mary Frances; at that point, the money men had given the green light, but a screenplay hadn't been approved. Alas, a decade and a half later, the project is still unrealized. As a fan of both Veeck and Murray, who has put forth some of the best work of his career amid the ensuing delay (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers), I'd love to see it happen. Murray wanted to play the part as "a fan who made it all the way to the Hall of Fame," and it's easy to see that as the narrative through-line, taking Veeck from planting the ivy at Wrigley Field to pushing for integration and bringing Larry Doby and Satchel Paige to the majors (and a title to Cleveland) to owning a down-and-out sideshow that sent Eddie Gaedel to the plate to the weird wonders of his two stints owning the White Sox to Cooperstown, all the while brawling with the powers that be, could be a whole lot of fun. —Jay Jaffe

4) Neugebauer and Neighborgall
A film I would like to see made features baseball as the common bond between two former flame-throwing top pitching prospects. It draws on themes the whole family will enjoy: redemption, bromance, and the pursuit of one's dreams.

Jason Neighborgall and Nick Neugebauer meet in front of the milk bottle game at the North Carolina state fair. Neighborgall is exasperatingly hurling baseballs toward the pyramid of bottles in an attempt to win a stuffed hippopotamus for his significant other, but each throw drifts further away from the target than its predecessor. Neugebauer approaches, calmly places his hand on Neighborgall's shoulder, and offers some mechanical tips. Neighborgall and Neugebauer form a tight friendship and the elder Neugebauer offers steadfast encouragement and support as Neighborgall initiates a comeback and attempts to pitch in the major leagues.

The film concludes with Neighborgall reaching the majors as a September call-up with the Atlanta Braves. He strikes out the first two batters he faces in his debut but suffers a career-ending shoulder injury when reaching back to put away the third batter on a 3-2 count. The Braves go on to win the World Series and Neighborgall is invited to Atlanta's home opener the following April where he receives his championship ring and finally finds peace with his baseball career being finished. —Bradley Ankrom

5) Big Stick
We fade in on a young Japanese pilot at the controls of a Kate torpedo bomber, barking nervous commands to his bombardier. The plane descends,  and the camera pans forward to show the approach to Pearl Harbor, then zooms in on the massive American warships anchored there, pausing on a few uniformed sailors strolling the decks. The camera pulls back into the cockpit, and we see the pilot has spotted the warships, staring at them intently, as if stirred by memory. He glances to his right, where we see an old photograph attached to the instrument panel. It shows a young man in a dirty baseball uniform, smiling broadly: the pilot’s grandfather, Moriyami.

The camera zooms to the photograph, which dissolves into a live shot of Moriyami in 1891, striding past the Yokohama docks in his baseball uniform. A student at the Ichiko prep school, Moriyami looks wistfully at the American warships anchored in the harbor, since the American team at the Yokohama Country Athletic Club has refused to play the upstart Ichiko team—in fact, no Japanese were even allowed on the YCAC grounds. Instead, Moriyami and his Ichiko teammates are on their way to play a team sponsored by a Christian missionary school, Meiji Gakuin. We see the Ichiko squad beaten badly by the missionary school team, whose American coach insults and inflames the Ichiko players—an allegory, one might say, of Japan’s relationship with the West.

In response to this humiliating defeat, we watch dumbfounded as the Ichiko team undertakes an unbelievably rigorous training regime, during which players are not allowed to express pain in any way other than to occasionally say “kayui”: it itches. Time passes, Ichiko’s brutal baseball boot camp continues, and eventually YCAC agrees to a game. In a montage of wonderfully retributive moments, Ichiko crushes the overconfident Americans, then wins a quick rematch. A climactic third game occurs after YCAC recruits more talented players from the American warships in the harbor; in front of thousands of cheering fans, Ichiko wins again. Moriyami and his teammates become legends, conquering warriors who have demonstrated that Japan can be the equal of any Western nation, and a living validation of the Empire’s military ethos.

Cut back to the Japanese pilot in his Kate. He smiles, and the camera follows his eyes to a torpedo churning through the water towards an American warship. Fade to black.

Like that pitch, Mr. Mill? —Ken Funck

6) Pizza Pizza! The Rise of Caesar: The Mike Ilitch Story
We’ve all heard the stories about ballplayers whose careers were interrupted by “The War”; been there, done that. The story we haven’t heard yet is that of “a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit”. The story of Michael Ilievski, better known to everyone as Mike Ilitch Sr., the billionaire owner of the Detroit Red Wings, Little Caesars Pizza, and of course, the Detroit Tigers. This story is that of a boy who lived the dream, who got the chance to be a United States Marine, who got to come home and be signed by his childhood dream team, and who one day got the chance to own that childhood dream team. It may sound cliché or too good to be true, but the simple fact is that Mike Ilitch is the “American Dream”. He is the boy from South Detroit who pulled himself up by his boot straps and made a life for his family for generations to come by never surrendering his dreams.

Ilitch left Detroit to fight for his country; he joined the United States Marine Corps, and in doing so left his aspirations of professional baseball behind. Were this the end of the story, his family would’ve been proud… but it wasn’t. He would come home to a $5,000 offer from the Detroit Tigers, for whom he would play three years in the minor leagues before injury would halt this dream once and for all. Once again, if the story ended here, it would have been good enough, but Ilitch wasn’t done.

In 1959 with the help and support of his wife, Ilitch would open the first Little Caesars store; this moment on May 8 of that year would be the first step in amassing a fortune that is estimated to exceed $1.7 billion dollars.  It would be this pizza business, started in 1959, that would, in 1992, allow Ilitch to purchase his beloved Tigers. Success would not be overnight for Ilitch’s Tigers, though, as they would not reach the playoffs until 2006 and now again in 2011. There was, however, never a question that Ilitch was a Tiger and that the spacious Comerica Park was his house, built with his money, for his team. This small town boy lived the dream and continues to pursue his dream of wearing a World Series ring. The end of this story has not been written, but there is no better ending to this American story than to have the Detroit Tigers win the World Series and have commissioner Bud Selig hand the Championship Trophy to Michael Ilievski. —Adam W. Tower

7) The Mouth of the South
Ted Turner has lived a life of such wide and varied experiences that he might be the subject of two or three movies. Expelled from college for—depending on the story you believe—his part in a drunken fracas or having a woman in his Brown University dorm room, he later married into Hollywood royalty. At age 24, he inherited a thriving billboard company after his father’s suicide, then expanded into radio and a UHF television station. Within two decades, Turner was a visionary cable television mogul and a baseball owner, an America’s Cup winner and a world-class philanthropist, a loudmouth and a conservationist, a billionaire, and a buffalo cattle rancher.

Thanks to daily cable TV exposure from Turner Broadcasting, his Braves became a national brand. Turner’s tenure as owner of the club featured a one-game stint as the team’s field manager, poker games with his players, hunting trips with Fidel Castro, and clashes with commissioners, league presidents, and most of his fellow owners.

“If I only had a little humility,” Turner observed aloud when asked to describe himself, “I’d be perfect.” But it was not until he entrusted Bobby Cox and then John Schuerholz with the job of running his club that the team flourished. Actor Aaron Eckhart gets the role of “Captain Outrageous” with Bridget Fonda playing her aunt Jane, Turner’s third wife. —Jeff Euston

8) 1998: An Enhanced Summer
If the Moneyball movie has license to cover an entire season, then why not produce a movie that covers one of the greatest seasons in MLB history? First of all, it was the first season for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. One of which would win the World Series in their fourth year of existence, the other inspired a really good book by Jonah Keri. Of course, one cannot discuss the 1998 season without the great home run chase between Ken Griffey Jr, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire. As Sosa and McGwire pull away, the story can focus on their growing friendship and how they bonded over the record they would each eventually surpass (with the steroids conversation being touched on at some point, despite one’s feelings on their effect on the increase in homers). McGwire ended up winning the chase and setting the record, but Sosa led the Cubs past the Giants in a one game playoff to reach October for the first time since 1989.

Storylines abounded aside from the home run chase. Kerry Wood’s dominating rookie season was punctuated by a 20 K performance. Roger Clemens won the pitching triple crown en route to a Cy Young in Toronto. Alex Rodriguez joined the 40-40 club. Roy Halladay nearly threw a no-hitter in his major league debut. These were mere footnotes compared to the other events in 1998, but each player would continue to be big stories for years to come.

On a larger scale, the Braves dominated the NL East once again but were upended by Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, and Sterling Hitchcock’s Padres in an exciting NLCS. The Yankees set the regular season win record with 114, and when it came to the playoffs, it was Cuban import Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez who evened the ALCS at 2 games apiece with a shutout performance. David Wells, who threw a perfect game earlier in the season, would be named ALCS MVP, and it was the juggernaut Yankees taking on the Padres for the title. Of course, it ended up in a Yankees sweep to cap a 125-win season, but the series was not without drama. Tino Martinez’s grand slam capped a 7 run rally in Game 1, and in Game 3 the unhittable Trevor Hoffman was beaten by unlikely hero and eventual World Series MVP Scott Brosius (played, of course, by Brad Pitt). The ’98 home run chase might not seem as pure now as it did then, and the Yankees’ championship was only the first of a trilogy, but the year stands out as one of the more memorable ones in recent memory and would certainly be a hit at the box office. Feel free to add suggestions for actor/player combinations in the comments. (Credit for the title goes to fellow BP Intern Adam Tower) —Sam Tydings

9) Wild Kicks: The Dontrelle Willis Tale
As a Marlins fan, there is no more interesting a tale than the rise and fall of Dontrelle Willis. He was a beaming young man when he first arrived in 2003 at the age of 21. His patented high leg kick was an immediate hit with the Marlins faithful, and his early success made him an even bigger name. Somewhere in the madness that was the 2003 postseason, he was lost in the shuffle. The following year, it seemed that hitters began figuring him out. He went through the trials and tribulations of a mechanics change and came out triumphant—this would be the resolution of his first movie conflict. 

But just as soon as Willis had achieved success, the foundations began to crumble. His control over his pitches and his world began to slip. The change was innocuous the following year, but in 2007 it could not be avoided. He was part of what would later become an ignominious trade, but he became the biggest disaster of the move. He had lost all control and was sent to the dregs of the minor leagues. 

The best part about this story is that we may not have seen the end of it, despite how clear the end seemed just a season ago. If Willis continues to be just a mediocre, back-end starter for the rest of his career, he will have overcome seemingly unbeatable odds and personal demons to return to being a productive player in the big leagues; what more can a movie ask for in a happy ending? —Michael Jong

16 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Collateral Damage: A P... (09/21)
<< Previous Column
The Lineup Card: Commi... (09/14)
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The Lineup Card: 14 Sc... (09/29)
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