Posts Tagged ‘Field of Dreams’

The Night That Ted Turner Managed the Braves

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Some things aren’t meant to last.

Prime time television’s roster has a handful of shows that didn’t endure more than episode, e.g., Co-Ed FeverPublic MoralsSouth of Sunset.

Major League Baseball’s annals boast tales of players who only played in one game.  Perhaps the best known in this category is Moonlight Graham, portrayed in the 1989 film Field of Dreams.

On May 11, 1977, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner added another story when he ventured from the owner’s suite to the dugout to manage the Braves.  His helming lasted only one night; Major League Baseball’s powers that be reminded Turner that a rule prevented managers from partial or full ownership of a team.  The Braves lost the May 11th game to the Pirates 2-1; it was Atlanta’s 17th consecutive loss.  Phil Niekro pitched a complete game, a noble outing in a 16-20 season yielding a National League-leading 262 strikeouts for the Braves knuckleballer.

Though Turner expressed a Veeckian ardor for baseball and its fans, the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Tommy Lasorda had nothing to fear from the man dubbed “Mouth of the South” for his brashness flavored with ambition, dedication, and southern charm.  Managerial aspirations may have been fleeting, but they were, nonetheless, on display in the Braves dugout.

Commitment to success did not constrain Turner to his accountants and bookkeepers.  A communications magnate who created the Superstation template by offering his Atlanta station WTBS on cable systems across the country and revamped the news industry with Cable News Network (CNN), Turner has a passion for his portfolio beyond dollars and sense—an approach that continues today, long after these assets are no longer under his aegis.  His is a passion for excellence, enjoyment, and engagement.  In a 2001 profile of Turner for The New Yorker, Ken Auletta wrote, “To insure continuous baseball coverage that could not be taken off his Superstation, Turner, in 1976, bought the Atlanta Braves; although he paid a bargain price of ten million dollars, he went into debt to do it.  He attended most of the Braves home games: he ran out onto the field to lead the fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”; sitting behind the Braves dugout, he’d spit Red Man tobacco juice into a cup and swill beer, in hot weather peeling off his shirt; when a Brave hit a home run, he’d jump over the railing and rush to the plate to greet him; he played cards with his players and insisted that they call him Ted.”

Putting the Braves on WTBS meant piping games into areas lacking major league teams—and, in some cases, minor league teams.  Thereby, Turner branded the squad “America’s Team.”  As inventive as P.T. Barnum, Turner employed a strategy to set the Braves games and other WTBS programming apart from network and local fare—by starting programs at five minutes after the hour or the half hour, WTBS stood out in the program listings in TV Guide.

Turner owned the Braves till the mid-1990s, when he sold the club to Time Warner.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 11, 2017.

People Will Come

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Yankee Stadium owns the patent on ballpark magnificence, Ebbets Field maintains an aura of magic decades after its destruction, and Wrigley Field possesses a charm honed throughout decades of unrealized hope between 1908 and 2016.

An Iowa farm ranks among those and other vaunted cathedrals of the National Pastime.  Field of Dreams—based on W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe—premiered in 1989, the same year that Harry met Sally, Bill and Ted had an excellent adventure, and Ariel found love with Prince Eric.

When farmer Ray Kinsella hears voices, a bolt of inspiration strikes him with the force of a Babe Ruth home run.  Ray, despite imminent bankruptcy, turns his farm into a baseball field, captures a literary icon of the 1960s, and hosts ghosts of baseball past on his land—Shoeless Joe Jackson and his peers cannot venture beyond the friendly confines of the diamond, however.  Ray’s wife and daughter support the endeavor.

Though factually incorrect, Field of Dreams also highlights the career of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who played one inning in the major leagues.

A year removed from his performance in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner plays Ray, a character infused with passion to follow a journey mapped by his instinct.  In Shoeless Joe, J. D. Salinger is the writer accompanying Ray on his quest, so chosen by W. P. Kinsella because of a connection to the reclusive Salinger—characters named Richard Kinsella and Ray Kinsella appear in the novel The Catcher in the Rye and the short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All, respectively.

Field of Dreams replaces Salinger with a fictional character because of “moxie and cowardice,” according to Kinsella.  In a 2014 article for MLB. com celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film, Kinsella explained, “The cowardice involved was that studio executives were afraid Salinger would launch a nuisance lawsuit just as the movie was being released, and it would cost them time and a lot of publicity money to get rid of it.  The moxie appeared  when the executive pointed out that on a good opening weekend, the movie would be seen by 10 times the number of people who had read the book.  The change would be noticed by only the literate few, people who are not valued by movie executives.”

Played by James Earl Jones, Terence Mann offers a monologue nudging Ray towards keeping the field, an action defying the financial oblivion against his family:  “People will come, Ray.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  Oh, people will come, Ray.  People will definitely come.”

Field of Dreams ends with a scene that ignites vesuvius nostalgia.  After a game, Shoeless Joe points Ray to his father.  As a rebellious teenager inspired by a Terence Mann book, Ray had refused to have a catch with the senior Kinsella.  Now, the circle closes with an exchange between father and son.

“Hey, dad?”  You wanna have a catch?”

“I’d like that.”

A panning shot of Ray and his father playing catch at dusk reveals cars packing the road to the field.

Life imitates art—Field of Dreams Movie Site stands as a tourist destination for baseball fans fulfilling the destiny predicted by Terence Mann.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 17, 2016.

Shoeless Joe Jackson’s Hometown

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

When the Greenville Drive ball club of the South Atlantic League takes the field, they continue a baseball legacy kindled, in part, by Greenville’s most famous resident.  Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Sitting in South Carolina’s northwestern region, Greenville cares not that Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players from Major League Baseball for allegedly conspiring to purposely lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in return for a payoff from gamblers—this, despite an acquittal of the players in court.  A legendary, though apocryphal, story about the World Series fix depicts a boy encountering Jackson with tears in his eyes as he pleads, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Greenville honors its favorite baseball son with Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park, described by Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism as a parcel boasting a strong baseball lineage: “This historic park is located on Greenville’s Westside in the Brandon Mill Community.  Once part of a thriving textile mill complex, the original park/ball field was home to mill workers who played baseball and competed against other mill leagues across Greenville County.”

Located at 356 Field Street, the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library faces the Greenville Drive’s ballpark, Fluor Field.  With an address number representing Jackson’s lifetime batting average, the museum—formerly Jackson’s home—educates visitors about the career of a baseball legend, misunderstood, perhaps, through portrayals in baseball scholarship.  Originally located on East Wilburn Street, the house was removed in 2006 for its new life on Field Street.  The museum débuted in 2008.

Jackson’s banishment from Major League Baseball is a sure-fire debate started for baseball history enthusiasts.  In the 1919 World Series, Jackson batted .375.  It’s hardly a number indicative of a player throwing a game.  Disputes abound regarding Jackson’s involvement, knowledge, and alleged payoff in the “Black Sox” controversy.  A former federal judge who broke the oil trust governed by John D. Rockefeller, Landis banned the eight White Sox players because he set a standard higher than the law.  After the scandal broke, the team owners selected Landis to remove the tarnish created by the gambling scandal.  Certainly, the owners thought, Landis could revive baseball’s image.

Landis declared, “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

W.P. Kinsella introduced Shoeless Joe Jackson to a new generation of baseball fans in the 1982 novel Shoeless Joethe inspiration for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.  In Kinsella’s story, Shoeless Joe emerges from the hereafter along with other Black Sox players on an Iowa farm transformed into a baseball field by the farm’s owner.  Kinsella incorporated J.D. Salinger into the storyline, portraying the reclusive author as a baseball fan captivated by the sight of dead ballplayers resurrected to play baseball for sheer joy.  Field of Dreams, because of legal action threatened, or at least suggested by Salinger’s attorneys, showcased the character with a name change—Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones.

Kinsella named the farm’s owner Ray Kinsella in Shoeless Joe, though he denied a parallel to his name as the source of inspiration.  In ESPN.com’s 2014 article “Where it began: ‘Shoeless Joe,'” Kinsella explained, “Why Ray Kinsella?  The choice of name for my protagonist had little to do with me personally, and everything to do with Salinger.  While researching the novel, I found that Salinger had used two characters named Kinsella in his fiction: Richard Kinsella, an annoying classmate in The Catcher in the Rye, and Ray Kinsella, in the short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All, originally published in Mademoiselle magazine.  I decided to name my character Ray Kinsella so he could turn up on Salinger’s doorstep and say, ‘I’m one of your fictional creations come to life, here to take you to a baseball game.”

In a review for the New York Times, Daniel Okrent praised Shoeless Joe: “Mr. Kinsella is drunk on complementary elixirs, literature and baseball, and the cocktail he mixes of the two is a lyrical, seductive and altogether winning concoction.  It’s a love story, really the love his characters have for the game becoming manifest in the trips they make through time and space and ether.”

Jackson died in 1951, but his imprint on baseball carries on.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on September 27, 2014.

Tactical Strikes: Baseball and the American President

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

When President George Walker Bush threw out the first pitch at that most hallowed of baseball cathedrals—Yankee Stadium—on October 30, 2001, the eyes of the world focused on him.  The setting was Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, just a few weeks after the blindsiding 9/11 attacks and just a few miles from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan.  It was a surreal moment that demanded an elevation beyond ceremony.

President Bush threw a perfect strike.  And a tactical one, as well.

It was a symbolic act showing the world that America would neither be intimidated nor dissuaded.  Not by terrorists.  Not by wartime.  And the baseball setting was appropriate as a step toward healing.

In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones captured the essence of baseball’s connection to the country:  “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

A former owner of the Texas Rangers, President Bush had a tangible connection to the National Pastime.  Other presidents also enjoyed a genuine nexus to baseball.

President George Herbert Walker Bush—George W. Bush’s father—played on the Yale baseball team.  As president, he went to an Orioles game with Queen Elizabeth in a gesture of social diplomacy.

President Taft unknowingly invented the 7th inning stretch when he rose from his seat during a game.

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon threw out first balls from their box seats for the hometown Washington Senators.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt perpetuated baseball during World War II.  With the country absorbed in the daily actions of American forces in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific during World War II, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote a letter dated January 14, 1942 to President Roosevelt inquiring about continuing the leagues’ operations during the crisis.

FDR responded the next day.  He gave Landis a green light to continue baseball for morale:  “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.  And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”

Baseball suffered a drain of its players, however.  Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial reported for duty along with more than 500 other players.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 30, 2013.