Posts Tagged ‘James Earl Jones’

The Men Who Portrayed Babe Ruth

Friday, February 17th, 2017

To say that Babe Ruth was a dominant force is like saying that Mount Vesuvius spewed a little lava.

Firmly stands the Babe in popular culture, in part because of portrayals in films.  “The pattern of the drama, with its Horatio Alger stamp—rags to riches and romance—is obviously contrived, and the personal characterizations are all of them second-grade stock,” wrote the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther of the 1948 movie The Babe Ruth Story.   “Mr. [William] Bendix is straight from the smoke-house and Claire Trevor pulls all the heart-throb stops as a little showgirl who marries the great man and sticks by through thick and thin.”

Bendig was a character actor famed for “playing all manner of lugs, both loveable and dangerous,” according to his biography on the Turner Classic Movies web site.  Credits include the Alfred Hitchcock movie Lifeboat, the Abbott & Costello movie Who Done It?, and the 1964 thriller Seven Days in May.  Perhaps Bendix’s best-known role was the title character in the 1950s television series The Life of Riley.

Babe Ruth, a 1991 NBC tv-movie, starred Stephen Lang as the Babe, Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert, and Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins.  Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times lauded, “Lang has some of the size to play Ruth and, with tutoring from Rod Carew, the right-handed actor has developed a fairly convincing left-handed stroke and, with makeup, a prominent nose to match.”  Richard Huff of Variety also praised Lang—“he does his job convincingly.”

Art LaFleur played Babe Ruth in a dream sequence in the 1994 film The Sandlot.  Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, the best player on his sandlot baseball team, has a dream in which he talks with the Yankee slugger, who offers him advice on confronting “The Beast,” a dog guarding the house belonging to the baseball field’s neighbor; balls are gone forever when the kids hit them over the fence.  One particular ball poses a major problem for Scotty Smalls, a newcomer who’s unfamiliar with baseball—he brings a ball owned by his stepfather to the sandlot; it’s signed by Babe Ruth.  When Benny hits it over the fence, it’s gone forever.  Presumably.

Ruth’s ghost counsels Benny, “Everybody gets one chance to do something great.  Most people never take the chance, either ’cause they’re too scared or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.  This is your big chance, and you shouldn’t let it go by.  Remember when you busted the guts out of the ball the other day?  Someone’s telling you something, kid.  If I was you, I’d listen.”

As Ruth disappears, he offers final words of inspiration:  “Remember, kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends.  Heroes get remembered.  But legends never die.  Follow your heart, kid.  And you’ll never go wrong.”

Eventually, “The Beast” is discovered to be a friendly, humongous dog named Hercules.  His owner is a former Negro League ballplayer, portrayed by James Earl Jones.

In the 1992 film The Babe, John Goodman embodied the Sultan of Swat.  Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that Goodman was “ideally cast.”  In an interview with Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune, Goodman offered insight to Ruth’s boisterous, almost childlike nature.  “I don’t think the Babe had an underlying meanness,” said Goodman.  “It was maybe an emptiness in the middle.  I read an interesting quote that I tried to use as much as I could.  Somebody who knew him quite well was asked about him, and he said, ‘You know, I don’t think Babe ever loved anybody in his life.’  I based most everything on Robert Creamer’s outstanding … biography.  For example, I watched a lot of old film, but I could never figure out how to do Ruth’s home-run trot until I read a simple description of it in the book, and I was in.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 6, 2016.

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.

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.

 

The Glory Years of Baseball

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

RemingtonToday marks the anniversary of a turning point in baseball.  On May 9, 1883, Brooklyn hosted its first home game in professional baseball, playing to a 7-1 victory against Harrisburg in the Interstate Baseball Association.

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