Friday, October 06, 2006

Movie Review: "Pride of the Yankees"

The Critical Fan
by Matt Sandler

Note: Columnist Matt Sandler is off this week and thus we are republishing one of his best columns to date...a review of the 1942 classic, "Pride of the Yankees". He'll return with an all-new book or movie review in two weeks.

As a die-hard Mets fan, I am constitutionally obligated to hate the Yankees, and I take this duty seriously. However, there are three times in my life that I have rooted for the Bronx Bombers. The most recent two were very begrudgingly. In 2003, I attended the game at Yankee Stadium where Roger Clemens notched his 300th career win and 4000th career strikeout. As much as it pained me to cheer for Mariano to get the save in the ninth, I wanted to see history, and I got my wish. Then, last year, I was at a game where Derek Jeter was up with the bases loaded, trying to end his record of the most at-bats by an active player without a grand slam. I cheered half-heartedly again, and got my wish again. But the first time I ever cheered for the Yankees, it was for a fictional character...well, a semi-fictional character. It was the first time I saw Gary Cooper star as Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and I was able to root for him completely, without any Mets-induced guilt.

Upon another recent viewing, I was able to recapture some of what I had remembered about the movie, while overlooking some of its flaws. The movie is very old-fashioned. You can check some of the cliches off of a list that you would expect to find in sports movies. Lou as a boy breaking a window with his unexpected power the first time he hits a ball. Babe Ruth and Lou promising to hit home runs for Billy, a sick boy in the hospital (why a little boy in a hospital in St. Louis is rooting for the Yankees is never quite explained). The chummy sportswriter who seems to be there for every moment in Lou's life, be it professional or personal. Despite these predictable moments, the movie retains a power due to its simple, well-told story of a good and modest man who got a very "bad break."

Lou is born the son of immigrants in upper Manhattan; his father is a janitor, his mother a cook at Columbia. His mother insists that he earn an education and become an engineer like his uncle Otto. He is clearly a mama's boy, and consistently refers to his mother as his "best girl." The only reason he signs with the Yankees out of Columbia is to be able to pay his mother's doctor bills. This leads to a tortured scene where he tells his mother that he is going to Hartford (for a Yankees farm team) and she thinks he is going to engineering school at Harvard. Even after becoming established with the Yankees (thank you, Wally Pipp), he still lives at home with his parents. He is so shy around women that he needs always-around sportswriter Sam Blake (Walter Brennan) to serve as a matchmaker to hot-dog heiress Eleanor Twitchell (Teresa Wright).

The best parts of the film are when it turns away from the slower domestic scenes and concentrates on baseball. We are introduced, if somewhat briefly, to some of the great names in baseball history: Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, and Babe Ruth, who plays himself, and in his first scene, is eating, of course. We witness some of the camaraderie of old-time baseball, when players played card games on trains and had "dames" in every opponent's city. Also evident is a strong note of patriotism, as Lou's mother says, "In this country, you can be anything you want to be." And there is heavy-handed foreshadowing when Lou is reluctant to come out of a game after being injured, and his manager says, "What do we have to do, kill you to get you out of the lineup?"

One of the baseball details is jarringly wrong. It occurs in the same World Series that we see Ruth and Gehrig visit Billy in the hospital. In front of a press contingent, Babe promises to hit a homer, and then the room clears, and Billy goads the modest Lou into promising to hit two homers. Then the action shifts to Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. Sam passes notes to a radio announcer to tell him about the home run promises. But here's the problem: the crowd, in St. Louis, is clearly rooting for Lou to hit the home runs! First of all, there is no evidence that the radio announcer is also serving as the public address announcer, which I know happens in some minor league stadiums. But even if he was, I have to believe that even in more civilized 1926, there is no way in hell that St. Louis fans would pull for Gehrig to hit these home runs. The rest of the baseball action in the movie is convincing enough, however.

Putting this quibble aside, the movie is still worth seeing. There are some nice old-fashioned scenes of Lou receiving a police escort to the game when he is running late in the middle of his streak; his wife compiling a scrapbook of his career highlights; and pages flying off the calendar as Huggins dies, Ruth retires, and Gehrig becomes the captain.

And then there is the great sadness of the final passages, as Lou starts to feel pain in his shoulder (presented in the movie, perhaps coincidentally, as occurring on the night of his 2000th consecutive game). He asks the doctor if his diagnosis is "3 strikes," and the doctor nods. Lou says, "All the arguing in the world can't change the decision of the umpire." He tries to withhold the bad news from his wife, but she can see right through his brave front. Then, in the most famous scene in the movie, he is honored with a day at Yankee Stadium. This scene feels oddly rushed at first, as we hear a radio announcer rapidly recount the speeches of various politicians and bigwigs in attendance. But director Sam Wood knows where the real crux of this scene is, in Gehrig's magnificent speech, which Cooper appropriately delivers with more heart than he has shown in the rest of the movie.

Baseball needs more players like Lou Gehrig, or at least the fictionalized version presented in this movie (although, by all accounts, he really was this modest and decent). Hardly anyone in baseball history has possessed the combination of talent and nobility that marked Lou Gehrig. In the movie, as he struggles through his final spring training when something is clearly wrong, a teammate says to him, "Maybe you're trying too hard." Lou replies: "You can't try too hard." Is all we are left with steroid-addled showboats and mercenaries who would probably rip into the press at their farewell speeches? Say it ain't true, Lou.

NOTE: I unknowingly rented the colorized version of this black-and-white classic. As a film buff, this is akin to blasphemy. If you rent it, make sure to rent the B&W DVD rather than the colorized VHS.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan," appears alternate Fridays

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More fearless NLDS and World Series Picks!

by Alan Eliot et al.

Yesterday, we began by predicting the outcomes of the two ALDS and one NLDS series that began on Tuesday. Today, we continue by unveiling our pick for the final series, Dodgers/Mets, which begins today. All picks were made by Monday night. You can see yesterday's column, and our picks for the other three series, here.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets- series start time (estimated) 4:00 PM

Doug: Dodgers in 4. "Because I'm a pessmistic Mets fan and nervous about jinxing them."
Alan: Mets in 5. "This one will be close. The Mets are the better offensive team, but they have so many questions with their starting pitching. If they score early and often, we'll see them in the NLCS."
Scott: Dodgers in 4. "This was the worst possible matchup for the Mets, who would have held a huge offensive advantage over every team in the NL with the exception of the Dodgers."
Matt: "I pick the Mets. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I do think the Mets have the stronger lineup and bullpen."
Michael: Mets in 4 - "This was the hardest one for me to say. Just leave that actually. That's perfect. Actually I'll go so far as to say this. Even without Pedro, the Mets are clearly the class of the National League. That's honesty right there."
Jeremy: Mets in 3. "The Mets are the real deal this year. The Dodgers will play them tight every game but the Mets will win all three by one run in the late innings."
Sam: Dodgers in 4. "Sorry guys. Dodgers have better starting pitching now that Pedro is done. This is the obvious upset, but no one wants to admit it."
Rob: Mets in four.

Fearless World Series Predictions:

The columnists were asked this question: "Tell me your pick for World Series winner, but specifically differentiate between who you want to win and who you think will win... ie 1. Who you want to win the World Series 2. Who you'd pick to win the World Series if you had a million dollars riding on the outcome". Here are their responses, all of them received by Monday night:

Doug: "Who I WANT to win: Mets. Who I THINK will win: Yankees."

Alan: "Who I want to win: Mets, Who I think will win: Twins."

Scott: "Want: Yanks. Think: Tigers"

Matt: "Of course, I want the Mets to win, but I fear that the Yankees will."

Michael: "Yanks all the way"

Jeremy: "Who I want to win: Cards. Who I think will win: Twins. But, if I had a million dollars, I'd go with the Yankees because usually the ones I hate the most win."

Sam: Who I want to win the World Series: San Diego Padres. Clearly I've supported this stellar team all along, and it would be wonderful for all my astute predictions to come true, culminating in a World Series victory for the Padres.
Who I think will win the World Series: New York Yankees. Since anyone else in their right mind will predict the Yankees too, I refer you to what they said."

Rob: "Want to win: obviously the Mets. Who I think will: unfortunately the Yanks."

Finally, in the beginning of the season, we made predictions for who would win each respective division, along with MVP, Cy Young, NLCS, ALCS, and World Series winners. You can see the full column along with tables here. Without boring you with the details, which we will review upon the completion of the postseason- in that predictions column, we guessed how many HR Bonds would hit in 2006. Amazingly, we got pretty close. Columnists Jeremy Bird and Rob Hyman were closest with 25 and 27, respectively. Bonds hit 26- not counting the injury plagued 2005, his lowest total since 1991.

Doug: 35, Alan: 30, Scott: 33, Matt: 35, Michael: 31, Jeremy: 25, Rob: 27, Fanatic's Wife: 29

Come back to Baseball For Thought this postseason for your daily column fix, along with predictions for every upcoming series- NLCS, ALCS and World Series.

"Wild Card Wednesdays" appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

BFT's Fearless ALDS and NLDS Picks!

by Alan Eliot et al.

You've made it. Phew. A hearty congratulations to you, rabid baseball fan. Having to wade through a day without a single baseball game to preoccupy your time (the first time that's happened since the all-star break), you were left, perplexed. Now what?

We hope you used the time wisely to remove yourself from your TV/computer, and to get some sun. You look a little pale. We hope you caught up with friends, family. They miss you.

Because today, the official first day of the postseason, you're staying in. Three back-to-back-to-back contests between baseball's best teams. You've been waiting all year for this. And we have too.

So we, the columnists of BFT, got together (read: group email), and through diligent research and thoughtful analysis (read: wild hunches; dice-rolling; rock-paper-scissors), made our picks for the winners of those series starting today. Here they are, in writing. No turning back now.

1. Oakland A's at Minnesota Twins - series start time (estimated) 1:00 PM EST

Douglas Silversten ("The Big Picture", alternate Mondays):
Oakland in 5. "Best overall matchup. Why am I picking the A's? Flipped a coin, came up heads for A's."
Alan Eliot ("The Stories We Tell", alternate Tuesdays):
Minnesota in 5. "While Oakland had a fine year, they will be no match for Minnesota's stellar pitching. Indeed, they have proven allergic to first rounds in the past. Home field advantage plus Santana = ALCS for Twins."
Scott Silversten ("Age of Reason", every Thursday):
Minnesota in 5. "History has shown that the Twins win postseason series in which they hold home-field advantage."
Matt Sandler ("The Critical Fan", alternate Fridays):
"I pick Minnesota, I think Santana will finally be enough to get them through a first round, along with their great young hitters."
Michael Carlucci ("Yankee Diary", alternate Mondays):
Minnesota in 5. "Too much Santana and too much Metrodome."
Jeremy Bird ("Bird's Eye View", alternate Tuesdays):
Minnesota in 4. "Minnesota is the hottest team in baseball with the best pitcher in the
game right now. If they had Liriano healthy, they would win the World
Series for sure."
Sam Sowl ("Sowl's Surmisings", alternate Wednesdays):
Minnesota in 5. "If Santana pitches twice, this series is over. The only hope for Oakland is if Frank Thomas explodes, making up for lost time in last year's playoffs."
Rob Hyman ("The Weekend Warrior", alternate Fridays):
Minnesota in 4.

2. St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres - series start time (estimated) 4:00 PM EST

Doug: Cardinals in 4. "Should be a good series."
Alan: Padres in 3. "Neither of these teams is impressive. Can you imagine how the playoff picture would look had the Astros (and their starting staff) made it instead of the Cards? People's picks would be very, very different."
Scott: Cardinals in 4. "The fact that the Cardinals struggled through the last two weeks of the season will have no bearing on this series. Why? That's baseball."
Matt: "I pick San Diego. St. Louis is a very flawed team. I pick SD for their better overall pitching, especially in the bullpen."
Michael: Padres in 4. "I'll just say that basically the only playoff team less impressive than the Tigers is the Cardinals."
Jeremy: Cardinals in 5. "The Cardinals are lucky. They should not even be playing in October
(four teams in the AL who did NOT make the playoffs had better records). They have the worst record of any playoff team, and yet somehow they will beat the Padres. Carpenter can win two games and Pujols will win the third."
Sam: Cardinals in 4. "Pujols has the ability to win games on his own, as we saw last year. The Padres have no business in the NLCS, and Tony LaRussa will make sure of that."
Rob: Cardinals in 5.

3. Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees - series start time (estimated) 8:00 PM EST

Doug: Yankees in 3. "Opposite of A's/Twins...biggest mismatch on paper. Anything can happen in a short series, but an upset here would for me be the biggest surprise in the first round. Yankee lineup is incredible. Tiger's pitching is not."
Alan: Yankees in 3. "Playoff experience and a lineup that can put up double-digit runs every game (which they made need). Yankee-haters, pray for a miracle."
Scott: Tigers in 4. "They won't be the walk-over most suspect. if the Tigers can steal game one with their no. 4 starter on the mound, the Yankees could be in serious trouble."
Matt: "I pick the Yankees. this historic lineup is just too talented to contain."
Michael: Yankees in 4. "The Yankees' overwhelming offense will prove too much for the free-falling Tigers."
Jeremy: Yankees in 4. "The Yankees' pitching is suspect at best but the Tigers have lost
their gas. Detroit will put up a fight but the Yanks just have too much bought talent and the bloated payroll will overwhlem Detroit."
Sam: Yankees in 3. "Why is Detroit even in the playoffs? Only Chicago's offense could have attempted to match the Yankees' unstoppable lineup."
Rob: Yankees in 3.

Come back Wednesday before the games to check our Mets/Dodgers fearless predictions, along with World Series picks, and more!

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, October 02, 2006

Attention all NY Mets Fans: This Column is For You.

by Doug Silversten

Wednesday night it all begins. After completely dominating the National League this year during the regular season, Wednesday night begins our road to the NL pennant. A lot has been written about what would it mean if the Mets struggle in the playoffs and don’t reach the World Series, or even the NLCS. Does it diminish what we did during the regular season? Does it mean our season wasn’t a success?

Answers: No and No.

The playoffs are a crapshoot. I don’t really believe you can "build a team for the playoffs." If your team is built strong enough to win 97 games in the regular season, to me it is built to win 11 games in the playoffs. Sure, it helps to have dominant starters, but you can also have dominant starters and get swept in a short series. So losing Pedro hurts, but we can certainly win without him. In 2000, we didn't have Pedro (although we did have Mike "No good schools in New York" Hampton) and our offensive wasn't nearly what it is this year, but we were still just a few breaks away (damn you Timo Perez) from possibly winning it all.

So be optimistic Met fans, and enjoy the ride. Unlike the Yankees who buy their way into the postseason each year, the Mets seem to buy their way in only once every several years, and there is no guarantee when we will be here again. There is nothing in sports quite like postseason baseball. And there is no postseason baseball quite like postseason baseball in New York. Despite only making the postseason six previous times, the Mets have had their share of dramatic postseason games, and I expect that trend to continue over the next few weeks.

Unless you're a bandwagon fan or incredibly young, you have certainly suffered as a Met fan over the past several years, and during most of the 1990s. Who can forget the days when it seemed like Dave Magadan was our best hitter. When our teams seemed to be filled with role players...Steve Bieser? Daryl Boston? Butch Huskey? Brian McRae? Gosh, those were our stars! I was thrilled if Mackey Sasser was up in a clutch situation...that is how pathetic we were.

No more. Delgado. Beltran. Reyes. Wright. Now that's an offense.

No more worrying that Benitez is the one to close our games out. We have Wagner at the end of a deep pen.

I have faith in Glavine. And El Duque. And...well, not Trachsel. But that's not the point. Although I certainly will miss Pedro, we have the starters who can take us far into the playoffs.

I'm pumped. No matter what happens, I'm going to savor every moment. Every pitch.

So, what's there left to say? Just three magic little words...


Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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