- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 4/2/21
Good morning! Baseball season is here. In honor of this annual passage, perhaps one of the few areas where left and right and people from all walks of life can still be transfixed with excitement, wonder and hope, some baseball-based content: THE BASEBALL MOVIE LIST
Major League. “Just a bit outside…” Classic Bob Uecker. A movie that combines baseball, humor, camaraderie and the chase of the elusive victory.
The Natural. Bernard Malamud, Robert Redford and Glenn Close—together! Okay, so maybe not the original ending from the book but wow. The lady in white and the lady in black. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0lof7tFKtE. And here’s Redford pitching to “the Whacker” (presumably a barnstorming Babe Ruth), with Robert Duvall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdtCFKVtSls. This movie is an allegory about the attraction of darkness and the vindication brought by light, temptation and choices. It also is about baseball.
Field of Dreams. Great (but not as great as The Natural). People will come…here is the James Earl Jones speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBwhjAhNmKA. The one constant along the years is baseball… Not a bad speech for these days. And then there’s Midnight Graham (aka Burt Lancaster) stepping from the stands. He does a mean impersonation of Bill Sonnenberg with the doctor’s black bag and the calm, confident demeanor of a country doctor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6bD23vEigE
Bull Durham. Susan Sarandon, a baseball groupie, and her relationships with long-time minor leaguer, Kevin Costner (“Crash Davis”), whose career is on the way down, set out to help Tim Robbins, a wild pitcher on his way up.
Moneyball. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and the “science” of baseball. While a baseball movie, can be read instead as the triumph of data over tradition, planning over instinct, thinking boldly and taking risks.
A League of Their Own. Geena Davis and Madonna playing for manager Tom Hanks. Based on the true story of the women’s leagues in WWII. Come on. There’s no crying in baseball! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M8szlSa-8o
42. The story of Jackie Robinson. Stream it. Really. Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey (the Dodger executive who brought him up to the majors). The scene of Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Jackie before a game in Cincinnati will choke you up.
Million Dollar Arm. It’s wonderfully corny and nearly unbelievable. Indian cricket players coming to pitch in the U.S., via the scouting of Jon Hamm.
Angels in the Outfield. Yes, it’s the Angels. Yes, it’s Disney. Yes, it’s the awful periwinkle blue uniforms with depictions of wings. But it has Danny Glover—making it watchable.
Knuckleball. Really a documentary. Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield and others were practitioners of this greatest of deceptions. If you’re a knuckleballer, you can pitch forever. Hoyt Wilhelm and Niekro pitched into their late 40s. Worth the watch… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHs8VCn_3b8
BASEBALL IN BOOKS
Men at Work, by George Will. This could be the most analytical of unabashed love letters to the game. George Will, noted political pundit, shows us the rich detail and strategy of the game through four basic contributors to the game—managing, hitting, pitching and fielding. He uses as his exemplars Tony LaRussa, Orel Hershiser, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin, Jr.
Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. This is the first of several books of late that explains the emergence of metrics and the intrusion of data and statistics into the rooms populated by scouts. It explains how the lowly Oakland Athletics, with a paltry budget, could field a pennant winning team. It also challenges data that has been sacrosanct for a century but may not tell a meaningful part of the story (e.g., pitcher’s won-lost record or a batter’s RBI), when things as simple as making contact and getting to first base with walks can make the difference. The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill is entertaining, inspiring and humorous. Both the book and the movie are worth the investment of your time.
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, by Jane Leavy. Learn about arguably the greatest lefty (sorry Kershaw and Carlton fans), the hero who missed the first game of the World Series in honor of Yom Kippur, the reclusive Dodger legend, who boasts the greatest legacy over one of the shortest careers. Just reading about the beating his arm took starting every fourth day, with 137 complete games in his career, and the rehab of his discolored, swelled arm after every game is eye-opening. The book does a great job of painting a picture of the era of his career, in the late 50s and early 60s. Leavy’s prose is brilliant. If you like this, then also try The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, another period-focused story of an enigmatic, larger than life player.
The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. A loving tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who until 1955 were the perennial National League victors and also-rans to the Yankees. The Ebbets Field days saw characters like Roy Campanella, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson. Love exudes from each page.
October 1964, by David Halberstam. A picture of an era, with the last “big season” of a Yankee dynasty that stretched back to the 1920s with only intermittent droughts. The series was against the Lou Brock and Bob Gibson Cardinals. Halberstam brings his usual excellent narrative style and attention to detail.
Game Six, by Mark Frost. The story of the 1975 World Series, designated #2 of all time by ESPN. I remember that series like it was yesterday. Who wasn’t thrilled by Carlton Fisk’s game winner (but one can’t forget the Bernie Carbo set-up to get to extra innings). The 1975 Reds, arguably was one of the best teams ever fielded, with four future Hall of Famers (should be five when Pete Rose finally makes it). What a game and series.
THINKING OF MY FATHER As the baseball season looms, my thoughts go to my father. Baseball had it all for him—being with family, lots of peanuts, hot dogs (which my father considered one of the basic food groups), the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the companionship. A baseball game was one of his happiest places—made even happier when with family. Mine too. Looking forward to getting to a stadium this season. Play ball! Glenn