So the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez was last night’s World Series hero, knocking a ninth-inning double for the go-ahead run and a 3-1 series lead against the Phillies. In tonight’s Game 5, A. J. Burnett looks to mirror his one-run gem from last week as he takes the mound at Citizens Bank Park. With the Yanks possibly locking up the Fall Classic in a matter of hours, either of these guys could end up nabbing the series’ MVP award. Or the Phils could stage a comeback powered by Game 1 gods, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee.
Whatever happens, though, I know one thing: I detest both these teams because I am a heart-broken Mets fan (is there any other kind?). That’s why when I think about ballplayers these days, I tend to think about movies. Cinema has given us some of the best and silliest sluggers and hurlers imaginable, and it is these athletes I choose to honor in October, rather than anyone on the Yanks or the Phils.
Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) in “Major League”: The question about “Major League” isn’t if it spawned some of the greatest ballplayers in movie history, but who among these oddballs and castoffs is the greatest Cleveland Indian of all? Voodoo-practicing, curveball-cursing Pedro Cerrano? Grey-haired snotballer Eddie Harris? Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, he of the geometric ’do and adrenaline-pumping entrance music? To my mind the true scene-stealer is epic base-snatcher Hayes, well known for running like his Hall of Fame namesake but hitting like dog poo. Snipes’ portrayal of an athlete whose skills don’t quite equal his high opinion of himself provides a spot-on – and hilarious – case study of so many of today’s douchy athletes.
Mae Mordabito (Madonna) in “A League of Their Own”: Madonna’s Mae was never in danger of succumbing to a dreaded case of crying-in-baseball-itis. A cigarette smoking tough girl keen on a face first slide, she never lets her ball cap muss her dual-pronged pompadour and even employs it to catch a pop fly or two. And as a player on the Rockford Peaches – one of the real teams in a women’s pro league formed during World War II – Mae always has her eye on the imperatives of sports marketing. As she asks at one point about an in-game wardrobe malfunction, “What if my uniform bursts open and – oops! – my bosoms come flying out?”
Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) in “Rookie of the Year”: Rowengartner has some competition when it comes to the silliest pro athlete – remember that chimp that was Matt LeBlanc’s teammate/roommate in “Ed”? – but how can you argue against this 12-year-old who breaks his arm, can suddenly throw a heat-seeking fastball and ends up a Chicago Cub? Poor Thomas Ian Nicholas was in the midst of some painfully awkward child actor puberty at the time, and he squeaks and squawks his way through a movie that is truly terrible but which, at about the same age, gave me a serious “Why can’t that be me?” tantrum.
Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in “Bull Durham”: Crash is a poet-athlete, a man who loves the game, has never been quite good enough to survive at the highest level, and consequently carries around a wise man’s litany of truisms and grievances. The most character-driven of sports movies, “Bull Durham” is only about baseball on the outside. Inside it’s about the difficulty of fulfilling expectations, the disappointments of growing older and who can sleep with Susan Sarandon the most.
John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) in “Field of Dreams”: He’s the reason Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella builds his baseball diamond in the middle of an almost-foreclosed cornfield, the reason he goes in search of James Earl Jones, the reason that Shoeless Joe Jackson and the ghosts of pros past get a shot to play the game again. He’s the engine driving this dreamy, cheesy, amazing baseball movie. I defy you not to choke up when son Ray asks dad John to throw a ball around. Is there anything simpler, anything more true to the game than a father and son playing catch in the backyard?