Posts Tagged ‘1988’

The Trade That Shocked the Hockey World

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

1975 was a year of shocks in popular culture.  M*A*S*H killed off Henry Blake, the lovable, goofy, and semi-competent lieutenant colonel in charge of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital 4077; Jaws injected fear into filmgoers thinking about going to the beach for summer recreation, lest they be shark attack victims like the ones portrayed on screen; and the Boston Bruins traded Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers.

Esposito going to New York was not, to be certain, a global event.  Or even a national one.  For Bostonians whose devotion to sports knows no boundaries of faith, though, it was an upset of the natural order of things.  Sure, Esposito started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he flourished in Boston—milestones include two Stanley Cup wins, a perennial NHL All-Star selection, and two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, which honors the player most valuable to his team.  Not since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after the 1919 season had betrayal pervaded the city, from Beacon Street to Boston Harbor.

“I’m crushed.  I thought I had found a home in Boston,” lamented Esposito, quoted by Tom Fitzgerald in the Boston Globe.

Esposito emerged as a New York City icon, much like his fellow Boston transplant.

Boston sent defenseman Carol Vadnais to the Rangers with Esposito, who played center.  In return, New York let go defenseman Brad Park, center Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanuss—a defenseman for the Providence Reds, the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Boston Globe sports columnist Leigh Montville ascribed the term “garbageman” to Esposito because he scored goals that were neither flashy nor dramatic, thereby igniting a touch of scorn.  But when Esposito journeyed down I-95 toward his new home, scorn gave way to unease.  “One difference already has surfaced here,” wrote Montville.  “The people—the same people who were cold toward Esposito and his records—now seem worried.  They see a big hole in the scoring totals.  They see a lot of goals that aren’t going to be scored.  They see a lot of things that might not be done.

“That is the way it is with a garbageman.  You never miss him until he’s not around.”

Esposito led the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup—the marauders of Madison Square Garden lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

Still, decades later, the trade causes angst for Esposito.  Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons chronicled Esposito’s viewpoint in 2013:  “I didn’t choose to leave Chicago.  I didn’t choose to leave Boston.  I signed a contract in Boston for less money than I could have gotten from going to the WHA.  I could have made millions doing that.  And you know how they repaid me?  Three weeks later, they traded me (to the New York Rangers).”

Retiring after the 1980-81 season, Esposito transitioned to being an assistant coach for the Rangers—his post-retirement duties also included general manager, head coach, and analyst for televised games on MSG Network.

Esposito spearheaded the founding of the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with his brother, Tony, a fellow NHL standout; in 1992, the Lightning débuted in a 7-3 victory against the Blackhawks.  Phil Esposito and Tony Esposito are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, inducted in 1984 and 1988, respectively.  Notably, the former’s biography page on the Hall of Fame web site depicts him in a Boston Bruins uniform.  And so it is in the memories, imagination, and Bruins lore for fans of a certain age.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2017.

Crash, Nuke, Annie, and the Bulls of Durham

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.”  So begins Bull Durham, a 1988 cinematic voyage exploring the charm of the minor leagues.

Written and directed by former minor league ballplayer Ron Shelton, Bull Durham expresses a journeyman’s wisdom and weariness honed by 12 years of striving to get to the majors.  Crash Davis played in “the show” for 21 days, but his career has mostly consisted of toiling around the minors as a catcher.  His odyssey to small towns and small ballparks brings him to the Durham Bulls of the Class A Carolina League for an assignment—tutor rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh on the finer points of pitching and life.

Played by Kevin Costner, Crash tosses condescension towards the hurler at every opportunity, but his frustration rises to volcanic proportions when LaLoosh defines success as a Porsche with a state-of-the-art stere0:  “Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt!  What you need is a curveball!  In the show, everyone can hit heat.”

LaLoosh taunts with sarcasm by questioning whether Crash has ever played in the major leagues.  Crash responds in the affirmative and to the wonder of his fellow Bulls:  “Yeah, I was in the show.  I was in the show for 21 days once, the 21 greatest days of my life.  You know, you never handle your luggage in the show.  Somebody else carries your bags.  It was great.  You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.”

Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson wrote, “On paper, Crash is the jock that women dream about, the sensitive, quirky, knowledgeable man’s man who will debate you the merits of Susan Sontag at the drop of a batting average and who knows his way around a garter belt as surely as he knows his way from first base to home.”

An early scene uses Costner’s narration to describe the inner workings of a batter’s mind during an at bat.  When Crash steps out of the batter’s box, the dialogue between him and the Bulls’ batboy shows that Bull Durham is not a conventional Hollywood movie; the batboy says, “Get a hit, Crash” and the veteran catcher responds, “Shut up.”

Annie Savoy complicates Crash’s mission to educate LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.  Possessing a keen eye for the intricacies of baseball, Annie’s summer ritual is to “hook up with one guy a season.”  Initially, she narrows the pool to Crash and LaLoosh, who receives the nickname “Nuke” from the older, wiser, and sensual Bulls fan.  Crash abandons Annie’s romantic paradigm, arguing that his veteran status absolves him of trying out.

Shelton’s Crash-Annie-Nuke love triangle prompted Chicago Tribune film critic Dave Kehr to write, “With Crash functioning as Calvin’s surrogate father on the field and Annie as his domineering mother-goddess off it, Shelton creates a startlingly new variation on the traditional romantic triangle.  The predestined couple starts off with a child; they have to raise him and send him off before they can begin their own love story.”

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praised Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Annie.  “I don’t know who else they could have hired to play Annie Savoy, the Sarandon character who pledges her heart and her body to one player a season, but I doubt if the character would have worked without Sarandon’s wonderful performance,” wrote Ebert.  “Annie could have been portrayed as a lot of things—as a tramp, maybe, or a pathetic case study—but Sarandon portrays her as a woman who, quite simply, loves baseball and baseball players and wants to do her thing for the home team.”

Meeting on set triggered a romance between Sarandon and Robbins—though never married, their partnership ended in 2009.

One of the signature scenes of Bull Durham is the gathering of Crash, Nuke, and other players on the pitching mound during a game.  When Bulls coach Larry Hockett, played by Robert Wuhl, heads to the mound, he finds out the amalgam of problems causing the distraction.  Crash explains, “Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man is here.  We need a live rooster, is it a live rooster?  We need a live rooster to take the curse off José’s glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  Is that about right?  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”

Larry answers, “Well, uh, candlesticks always make a nice gift.  Maybe you can find out where she’s registered, maybe a place setting or a silverware pattern.  Okay, let’s get two!”

Wuhl ad-libbed the line, based on a recent experience—he and his wife tried to find a wedding gift for a friend.  The studio wanted to cut the scene because it did not move the plot, but focus groups before the movie’s premiere highlighted the scene as one of their favorites.

Besides film immortality, Wuhl received another benefit.  In a 2013 interview on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy, Wuhl explained, “Plus, for me, I never have to worry about any time I’m invited to a wedding, what I’m gonna get somebody for a present.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2016.

The Black Sox: Fact vs. Fiction

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book Eight Men Out provided the source material for the eponymous 1988 movie written and directed by John Sayles, who also played sportswriter Ring Lardner.  Starring Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Bill Irwin, Gordon Clapp, Clifton James, Christopher Lloyd, Kevin Tighe, David Strathairn, and John Mahoney, Eight Men Out revived the debate about the involvement of eight White Sox players in fixing the 1919 World Series as part of a conspiracy engineered by gangsters.  Scandalized, the players suffer eternal banishment from Major League Baseball, thanks to a 1920 ruling by the newly installed baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Jim Murray, sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, clarified the undercurrent of Eight Men Out.  “They say baseball pictures don’t make it at the box office,” wrote Murray.  “Well, this isn’t about baseball.  It’s about greed and ignorance and betrayal.  The Lou Gehrig story, it ain’t.  The actors are wearing baseball uniforms, but they could be wearing Roman togas.  Their story is universal, timeless.  It’s as old as Adam and Eve.  It’s an immorality play.  Man loses to temptation—again.”

Praising the aura in Eight Men OutChicago Tribune sportswriter Ed Sherman wrote, “With the exception of a few lapses into Hollywood sappiness, director/writer John Sayles does a nice job of sticking to the facts as recorded in Asinof’s book,”  He added, “Sayles captures the tension and ambivalence of the eight players as the conspiracy grew and was revealed.”

Sherman also commended ex-White Sox outfielder Ken Berry, the film’s technical adviser, for accuracy in the game scenes.  Citing Sayles’s need for “perfection,” Berry recalled a scene for Sherman involving Charlie Sheen, who played centerfielder Happy Felsch, one of the infamous eight players.  “We had a play where Charlie had to make a throw to the plate, and the runner was out, but the umpire called him safe,” Berry said.  “It was a bang-bang play.  We did 10 takes, and Charlie’s arm was about to fall off.  But on the 10th take, Charlie made the perfect throw.  That’s the way John wanted it.  He went out of his way to portray the game as it was.”

D.B. Sweeney strove for authenticity in his portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and, perhaps, the most vilified of the “Black Sox” of 1919.  Training with the Minnesota Twins’ farm team in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sweeney greatly improved his baseball skills.  In a 1988 feature article about Sweeney in the New York Times, George Vecsey detailed the actor’s journey in playing Jackson.  Quoting Sweeney, Vecsey wrote, “The first week, I couldn’t do anything in the batting cage.  But I got a batting tee and set it up on the hotel, and after a week I started to make contact.  Don Leppert and Dwight Bernard were coaching there, and they helped me a lot.  Cal Ermer would come through and give me pointers.  By the time I left there, I had more power from the left side than the right.”

As with any movie concerning historical events, facts are sacrificed for artistic license, continuity, and time.  In the 1950 movie Jolson Sings Again, a sequel to 1949’s The Jolson Story, Larry Parks plays legendary performer Al Jolson.  Told about the interest in a movie about his life, Jolson dismisses the importance of factual accuracy in favor of his story’s emotional impact.

Eight Men Out replaces fact with fiction at several points in the story.

During a trial scene, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey testifies that he “informed [American League] Commissioner Ban Johnson” about the “possibility of a conspiracy.”  Comiskey explains that his suspicions occurred “shortly after the series began.”  However, he found “hearsay” after hiring private detectives.

Actually, the American League and the National League do not have commissioners; Ban Johnson was the American League’s president.  Further, James Crusinberry of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Comiskey “was not on speaking terms” with Johnson, so he approached National League President John A. Heydler after the first game because he believed his players fixed the series.

On September 26, 1920, Comiskey testified to this action.  Heydler confirmed it upon arriving in Chicago to testify.  “Commy was all broken up and felt something was wrong with his team in that first game,” quoted Crusinberry of Heydler.  “To me such a thing as crookedness in that game didn’t seem possible.  I told Comiskey I thought the White Sox were rather taken by surprised, that perhaps they had underestimated the strength of the Cincinnati team.

“The matter was dropped for the time.  That day the Reds won again and we moved to Chicago for the third game.  Comiskey called me on the telephone early that morning, and with John Bruce, secretary of the national commission, I went to his office at the ball park.  Once more he stated he felt sure something was wrong.”

Crusinberry added, “Comiskey also called Heydler into conference after the second game, more thoroughly convinced that certain White Sox players were trying to throw the games to Cincinnati.”

However, accuracy abounds in the scene regarding Comiskey’s initial belief that rumors of a fix did not amount to fact.  On December 15, 1919, I.E. Sanborn of the Chicago Daily Tribune quoted Comiskey:  “I am now very happy to state that we have discovered nothing to indicate any member of my team double crossed me or the public last fall.  We have been investigating  all these rumors and I have ha men working sometimes twenty-four hours a day running down clews [sic] that promised to produce facts.  Nothing has come of them.”

Another example of fictionalization involves White Sox player Dickie Kerr telling manager Kid Gleason that he saw Gleason pitch a no-hitter against Cy Young—Gleason never pitched a no-hitter.

Of course, the apocryphal quote “Say it ain’t so, Joe” is, perhaps, the best example of fiction replacing fact.  Eight Men Out would not be complete without depicting a kid expressing disappointment in Shoeless Joe Jackson and the White Sox.  The authenticity of this iconic quote is dubious, at best, because of the lack of evidence.  Nonetheless, it is part of baseball lore.

As a companion to Asinof’s book and the movie, Bill Lamb’s book Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil Litigation analyzes the legal angles of the 1919 World Series fix.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 13, 2015.

Magnum Goes Home

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

RemingtonThomas Magnum, Hawaii’s private investigator extraordinaire, reconnected family ties in the Magnum, p.i. episode “Going Home,” a story with the rarity of taking place outside the 50th state.

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The Life and Times of Murphy Brown

Friday, June 12th, 2015

RemingtonPremiering in 1988, Murphy Brown used the setting of a television news program to propel comedy.  Candice Bergen starred in the title role of a famous network newswoman who loves Motown music, hates Barry Manilow, and struggles with a string of incompetent secretaries.  Murphy Brown aired on CBS for 10 seasons.

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Letterman, Leno, and Late Night

Monday, May 25th, 2015

RemingtonTonight, the first full week without David Letterman in late night television begins.

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The Peacock Becomes a Phoenix

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

RemingtonIn the 1980s, NBC’s peacock rose like a phoenix after startling programming disasters, including Pink Lady and JeffSupertrain, and the departure of the original Not Ready for Prime Time cast of Saturday Night Live.  Under programming guru Brandon Tartikoff and his lieutenants, Warren Littlefield and Jeff Sagansky, NBC achieved prominence, success, and distinction.

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Maxwell Smart, Spy Extraordinaire

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

RemingtonGet Smart parodied the popular spy genre in the 1960s, countering serious offerings, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, Get Smart gave American television audiences a humorous view of espionage during the Cold War.  Don Adams mastered the role of Maxwell Smart, a well-meaning, befuddled, and gadget-dependent spy for C.O.N.T.R.O.L., a United States spy agency.

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When Gilligan Got Rescued

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

RemingtonGilligan’s Island aired on CBS from 1964 to 1967, giving television viewers a weekly escape to an oasis where silliness reigned.  About 1o years after leaving prime time, Gilligan’s Island resurfaced, thanks to creator Sherwood Schwartz pondering the fates of the castaways from the S.S. Minnow.

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Late Night Gets Crowded

Friday, March 20th, 2015

RemingtonWhen Johnny Carson was in his golden years as the host of The Tonight Show, when Yo! MTV Raps introduced Hip-hop music to Generation X, when George Herbert Walker Bush started a potential presidential dynasty in his clan, comedian Arsenio Hall took on the challenge of bringing a younger, hipper, and politically aware audience to late night television. (more…)