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September 21, 2012

Pebble Hunting

The Worst Baseball on Film

by Sam Miller

Movies about baseball don’t do a very good job showing what baseball players look like. With some exceptions, the pitchers usually have slow windups and lollipop fastballs, the batters swing like they’re chopping wood, and the defenders are filmed in short segments that disguise their lack of agility. But those guys are all Royce-Clayton-in-Moneyball good compared to the baseball players in movies and TV shows that aren’t about baseball.

This came up recently when a reader named Tom sent me a YouTube clip from the movie Hook, in which Bob Hoskins throws a pitch and the kid who played the nerd in Can’t Hardly Wait swings and misses. “I stumbled upon it tonight, and was floored that Spielberg would allow that,” Tom told me. But of course Spielberg would allow it, because Hook is not a baseball movie. There are no baseball consultants hired. Everybody just phones it in.

Hoskins’ performance deserves a closer look. And, in fact, everybody famous who has tried to look like a baseball player deserves a closer look. Here are three closer looks.

1. Bob Hoskins playing baseball, in Hook.
Acting bona fides: “Hoskins is one of the very best new British actors, and this is a great performance - it won him the best-actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival,” wrote Roger Ebert about Hoskins’ performance in Mona Lisa.
But also: Played “Geri Halliwell’s disguise” in Spice World.
Full video:

To the GIFs:

Hoskins’ mechanics: Very little hip-shoulder separation. Short arm action. Inefficient motion, with lots of wasted effort. Will struggle to repeat arm slot. Velocity unlikely to top 40. Telegraphs his off-speed pitches. Batter gets a good look at his release. Takes running start. Is four-foot-tall Pirate in his late 40s. Likely has scurvy. Jumps in the air.

Comp: Brian Fuentes

Small details they got wrong:

  • Catcher wearing a mask, not on his face.
  • Large crowd at a Pirates game.

Meta problem: Film can't decide whether to make Hoskins and his teammates competent (he gets Jack to swing and miss, for instance) or bumbling baffoons (wacky windup, callous murder of baserunner attempting to steal a base). As a result, the narrative of the scene is muddled.

Bonus points: For the dead-eyed look of disappointment Robin Williams gives after his own wacky pirate impression..

Balk? Yes.

2. Fergie, of Black Eyed Peas, age 10 or so, playing baseball on Kids Incorporated.
Acting bona fides: Boston Herald: "Though 'Nine' boasts a cast of Oscar winners—Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard—it’s Black Eyed Peas vocalist Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson who steals the movie musical. As the prostitute Saraghina, Fergie’s solo 'Be Italian' is a showstopper."
But also: Peed herself.
Full video, which you absolutely don't want to watch; skip ahead almost five minutes for the baseball.

To the GIFs:

Fergie’s Mechanics: Swings the bat backward sometimes. Bars her arms. Poor bat speed. Unstable back foot. No control of the strike zone. Is awful. Jumps in the air.

Comp: Marvin Benard

Details they got wrong:

  • Announcer says Fergie’s character, Mary, is “the first woman to play in the World Series and on top of that she'll be on the way to Rookie of the Year if she can rap this one out of here.” Announcer shows little familiarity with voting schedule for end-of-season awards.
  • Announcer also describes Mary’s “towering swing,” which is not a baseball phrase, though it is, in this case, accurate.
  • Mary plays for the Giants and wears jersey no. 3, which, of course, is retired in honor of Bill Terry. I mean c’mon.

Meta problem: It is impossible to be happy for a person who swings at this pitch. This is a show that is supposed to teach children lessons about self-esteem, etc., yet we can't ignore what this scene tells us from the pitcher's perspective: "Your story is already written, and in the end stupid Fergie gets to succeed at your expense. Even if you throw a perfect pitch and stupid Fergie takes a stupid swing at it. You should have been born prettier."

Bonus: Mr. T blowing a bubble

like it's the alien bursting out of J.E. Freeman's chest in "Alien: Resurrection"

Bonus Bonus:

Balk? No balks.

3. Lucas Grabeel (famous person), playing baseball in High School Musical 2.
Acting bona fides: “Lucas Grabeel does accent like Shakespear actor.”
But also: Who cares.

Full video:

To the GIFs:

Grabeel's mechanics: No fluidity. Starts his motion with a jerk, then slows down and decelerates as he drives toward the mound. Stiff lower body. Weak leg kick. Comes straight over the top, and his fastball is too straight. Sings while he's pitching. A bit too emotional on the mound. Does not own cleats, or baseball cap. Is French paperboy from 1950s. Jumps in the air.

Comp: Jose Valverde

Small details they got wrong:

  • Pitcher believed to actually be cricket bowler
  • Catcher tags baserunner at home despite force being on
  • YouTube description identifies sport incorrectly:

Meta problem: Because baseball is a sport that is mostly static, with players spending a large portion of the time standing still, and with almost zero physical interaction with each other, it does not lend itself to dance routines the way that, say, basketball or even football would.

Balk? Yes, balk.

The lesson? It is very difficult to show competent baseball on film. Just ask the producers of the Houston Astros. Hey-oh!

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Hook,  High School Musical 2,  Fergie

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

delatopia

Those comps are priceless.

Sep 21, 2012 10:10 AM
rating: 9
 
alangreene

Even thought I knew they were coming by the second one, and it's the same joke, still hysterical.

Sep 21, 2012 13:02 PM
rating: 1
 
jumbos07

Was hoping to see David Arquette from Never Been Kissed or Tony Danza from Angels in the Outfield...

Sep 21, 2012 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Why does the runner on second have his shirt completely unbuttoned in High School Musical? Oh, I guess the batter does too...

#sexy

Sep 21, 2012 10:22 AM
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

There is a very, very uncomfortable racial vibe going on in HSM2's baseball game, incidentally

Sep 21, 2012 10:30 AM
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

I've never detected a racial vibe in my, uh, many times watching this scene over the years. I do, however, detect the only pickle in baseball history to end with a headstand on third.

Sep 21, 2012 11:58 AM
 
gweedoh565

If you make this a multi-part series, I will forgive you for wasting your BP Daily Podcast Reds' topic on Bronson Arroyo.

Sep 21, 2012 10:58 AM
rating: 2
 
jj0501

Tell me it really wasn't Bronson Arroyo as Steve Nebraska in THE SCOUT. Have Brendan Fraser and Arroyo ever been seen in the same room ?

Sep 21, 2012 17:10 PM
rating: 0
 
BrettR

He also appeared to balk in the 3rd clip at 2:33 by throwing to first with his foot still on the rubber...

Sep 21, 2012 11:56 AM
rating: 0
 
zeeekz

Fun stuff. On the flip-side, a personal favorite blast from the past is Leo Durocher appearing on "The Munsters" scouting Herman.

Sep 21, 2012 12:54 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Bob Hoskins' pitching was my favorite part of Hook.

Sep 21, 2012 13:37 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

This article was one of the funniest things I have ever multi-media'd. Sam is an absolute genius of the medium. Thank you.

Sep 21, 2012 21:31 PM
rating: 0
 
dshban

This was worth my subscription by itself, while being free. A baffling situation indeed.

Sep 21, 2012 22:21 PM
rating: 2
 
dshban

If someone writes a full article about the strategy of the High School Musical scene, by the way, I will resubscribe forever.

Sep 21, 2012 22:25 PM
rating: 1
 
somerford

I don't know about some of those comments... I mean I will never get those 2 minutes of my life back that I spent watching the HSM2 clip. That was the worst scene in a movie I have ever partically watched.

Sep 22, 2012 07:38 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

To be fair, you could say that about a lot of movies like The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, etc. Or if you want shoehorned baseball plots, Amazing Grace and Chuck or Frequency.

Sep 22, 2012 16:19 PM
rating: 0
 
OonBoon

The German subtitles make that H2m2 scene.

Sep 23, 2012 07:56 AM
rating: 1
 
PeterThomas

Fantastic, Sam. The comps were the best part.

Every time I watch Valverde pitch now, I'll have that horrible song in my head.

Sep 24, 2012 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
yadenr

"Los, Schlagmann, mit Schwung!"

Can either of these now be nicknames? Los Schlagmann or Mit Schwung would work swell.

Sep 24, 2012 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

Where the hell are they in the HSM2 scene? Why are they playing "baseball" in an limestone quarry?

Were the umps really necessary? Was there some Associate Producer who was like 'woo woo woo, stop filming! This is gonna look ridiculous. For this to work, it's gotta be believable, get some fat extras in here to be umps...Palme D'Or, please!"

Sep 24, 2012 09:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Two umps! That's what really got me. I can sort of buy that there is an ump. But you don't have two umps working a game where a guy in a pageboy hat can just stroll up and declare himself the pitcher.

Sep 24, 2012 09:49 AM
 
randolph3030

There were an inordinate number of pickoff attempts, so thank god they did have an ump on the bases. And it wasn't Balkin' Bob Davidson.

How strange that the choreographers pinpointed pick off plays as the most aesthetically pleasing of pitcher movements. Theatre people are weird...

Now, let's all get really pissed off about me thinking that Cabrera should be the MVP.

Sep 24, 2012 11:02 AM
rating: 0
 
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