Baseball movie truths

Editor’s note: Joe Guzzardi is on vacation until July 8.


I was struck to see recently that Charlie Sheen acknowledged using steroids in his preparations to portray power pitcher Rick Vaughn in the 1989 film, Major League. “Let’s just say that I was enhancing my performance a little bit,” Sheen told Sports Illustrated for a July 4 retrospective on the movie. “It was the only time I ever did steroids. I did them for like six or eight weeks. You can print this, I don’t give a f—. My fastball went from 79 to like 85.”

Major League was and remains one of my favorite baseball films. I’ve seen it 15 or 20 times dating back to elementary school, and I doubt Sheen’s revelation will effect my desire to dig out my worn, VHS copy again at the start of next baseball season. Frankly, I may watch the film closer now. That being said, I’m reminded of the sometimes less-than-glamorous realities of my favorite baseball movies. The following are a few that come to mind. Feel free to add to the list:

Shoeless Joe hit from the wrong side of the plate in Field of Dreams: I love this movie, another one I’ve seen at least a dozen times, and I’ve liked Ray Liotta in his other work from Goodfellas to Narc to Observe & Report. Still, I do not understand why the makers of Field of Dreams could not find a decent, left-handed hitting actor instead. Shoeless Joe had a swing famous enough to be copied by Babe Ruth. It deserved better onscreen tribute.

Crash Davis doesn’t really set the minor league home run record in Bull Durham: He was about 200 home runs off.

Roy Hobbs’ character in the book for The Natural is bad news: I interviewed Joe Posnanski last September, and he told me in a bit I didn’t use for my post that The Natural is his favorite baseball movie. Sure, there’s some magic in the film as Robert Redford’s character Roy Hobbs returns from a long hiatus from baseball and heroically leads his team to dramatic triumph via thrilling home run. Bernard Malamud’s book is vastly different, though: dark, satirical, and about Hobbs’ corruption, ending with him embroiled in a Shoeless Joe-esque gambling scandal. I prefer it to the film.

The aforementioned Major League featured the Cleveland Indians but was filmed in Milwaukee: No great “Aha!” moment here, just something to note.

Ruth was frustrated he couldn’t get William Bendix to swing convincingly in The Babe Ruth Story: I’ve never seen this movie, which made an appearance in a book I used to have on the worst films of all-time, though I know Ruth didn’t care much for it, walking out on a screening of it near the end of his life. On a side note, Cubs pitcher Charlie Root also refused to recreate for the film the supposed called shot Ruth had in the 1932 World Series. Why? It never happened.

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