If you’re anything like me you’re sad that baseball season is delayed indefinitely. You’re also not the kind of person who is particularly interested in watching a sporting event for which the outcome has been determined. And you probably don’t care overly much for sports video games, even if you love both sports and video games and it seems like it should be a no-brainer combination. So what’s left to fill the void in your life? Baseball movies!
Earlier this off-season I spent some time trying to pitch you all (no pun intended) on my favorite baseball anime, Ace of the Diamond. But I imagine most of you weren’t interested in that. Based on the reaction to the round table earlier this week where we all talked about some of our favorite baseball movies you all might be more interested in this. And it turns out there are actually a large number of baseball movies I’ve never seen.
One movie I have seen, but not in nearly 30 years, is the classic film Mr. Baseball which Max helpfully reminded us of in that aforementioned round table discussion. But even then, the only things I remembered about it were that Tom Selleck had some Kobe Beef steaks in Japan, that he had a translator who was constantly covering for his gaffes, and the climax of the movie - but not why that climax was so important.
So, what I wanted to know was: Does the movie hold up? The short answer is yes; the longer is below.
Tom Selleck is gold
There is something about Tom Selleck. It doesn’t matter what the role is, you root for the guy. I’m pretty sure he could play a villain and I’d still hope for him to achieve his nefarious goals. He’s also well-cast in this role. At 6’4” and with broad shoulders, he slides right into his spot as an aging veteran. He was 47 when the movie was filmed, but makeup and what-not makes him easily play as a late-30s former star. A lesser actor might have tried to ham things up a bit too much but Selleck keeps his antics understated in the way you might expect from a professional who is used to having things go his way but also doesn’t want to get in any serious trouble.
And if you’re into that sort of thing, he spends a pretty fair amount of time in this movie without any clothes on.
It’s a movie about relationships, and the relationships are very good
Baseball is the canvas of this movie, not the medium. Maybe that turns you off of it, but I think baseball has been a canvas more than a medium for most of us for most of our lives. I mean, the Royals weren’t competitive for the better part of three decades. That’s easier to take if you’re listening to games with one ear while you’re focused on other hobbies or chores. So, yeah, the movie centers on a baseball player, a team manager, and an advertising executive who works for the team, is daughter to the manager, and love interest to the player. But it’s about those relationships. You could set those relationships a lot of other places and I think it would still do well, but the character quirks and foibles are well-suited to the setting that was chosen.
As I noted earlier, Tom Selleck’s Jack Elliot is entirely believable; a flawed-but-not-hateful human being. Ken Takakura’s manager Uchiyama Ken is stern and inflexible but not unfair. And Aya Takanashi’s Uchiyama Hiroko is a woman with her own desires that confuses her father. The best part of the movie is that you can understand where both sides are coming from when any two of the three are arguing - even if one or both of them are wrong, it’s a reasonable kind of wrong. So often in these kinds of movies, the conflicts ring hollow because they’re blown way out of proportion or because one side is obviously in the wrong that you can’t even truly sympathize with them. The disagreements and emotions in this movie feel organic and authentic and that makes the resolutions that follow feel earned and reasonable. And that makes all the characters feel likable and as if they are someone you can root for.
Representation in this movie is ahead of its time
Almost all of us love Major League. It was by far the most mentioned movie in the round table earlier this week. But I think most of us can admit it has some pretty major flaws in it, too. This movie came out three years later and does much better in how it treats both women and people who aren’t white. The depictions of Japanese culture are both authentic and respectful; they’re played for laughs because of how Elliot doesn’t understand them or refuses to participate, not because of any inherent ridiculousness on their part.
It’s even honest about how the Japanese view foreign players. The climax of the movie involves whether Jack will break his manager’s record for home runs in consecutive games. Japanese baseball, as a whole, does not really care to see a foreigner break the records of their heroes. This shows up in a game that will determine the pennant winner when the opposing team repeatedly intentionally walks Elliot rather than give him a chance to break his manager’s record. When Elliot comes to bat late in the game with the bases loaded everyone anticipates that Uchiyama will give him the bunt signal - it would protect his record and is defensible as actually being a Japanese baseball tactic where bunts are still far more prominent than they are in the modern MLB game.
The movie would fail the Bechdel test, unfortunately. It only has one named female character and she only shares two lines of dialogue with another woman, and both are about a man. That said, the situation is better than it could be. Hiroko is a woman with a career of her own with desires and goals that go beyond the man she’s attracted to. When he asks her to drop everything and move to the US with him she declines and sticks to her guns. At the end of the movie, we find Elliot coaching for the Tigers and she has followed him to the states - but that was always a goal of hers and it’s made clear that she didn’t follow him just to cheer for him from the stands, she’s also got her own career aspirations that she’s still fulfilling. The movie isn’t clear either way so I choose to believe that Jack stuck around in the Japanese leagues for a few more years before they mutually agreed to move to the US to further pursue their careers.
Mr. Baseball didn’t win any awards and it probably didn’t deserve to. It’s not a particularly noteworthy film. But a thing doesn’t have to be among the best ever made to still be worthwhile, and Mr. Baseball is that. If you are itching for some baseball and just want to watch a pleasant flick that maybe won’t inspire or cause tension but won’t be a waste of your time, either, this is the film for you. None of the streaming services I investigated include this offering, but many of those that offer rentals have this available for a few bucks.
Until baseball returns and/or I’m allowed outside, again, I’ll probably be watching a lot more baseball movies. This means you’ll probably find me writing about a lot more baseball movies in this space. So how about you vote for the next one I watch? What follows is a list of four baseball movies I have either not seen or at least have no recollection of seeing. Since you’re all stuck inside and have nothing better to do than read my musings, you may as well help out by picking the next movie I watch. You can vote below and also double-dip by voting on my Twitter account (@Hokius) until Wednesday afternoon.
What baseball movie that I’ve never seen should I watch for next week?
This poll is closed