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May We Suggest These Additional Entertainments:

Don Marquis

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Catbird in the Nosebleed Seats

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This Week: Films


THE GOOD: "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg"

"As Hitler invaded Europe, a young Jewish baseball player challenged Babe Ruth's home run record." So begins Aviva Kempner's fascinating 1999 documentary of the legendary Detroit Tiger. "Life and Times" is so full of charm and chutzpah that even my baseball-hating wife even enjoyed it. Not content to focus simply on baseball, Kempner examines Greenberg's effect on Jews throughout the United States, at a time when both the U.S. and Europe were full of anti-Semitic fervor (Detroit's Father Coughlin and Henry Ford were our own standard bearers). Hammerin' Hank is one of my personal heroes, and he emerges not only a great baseball player, but a kind and thoughtful man, whose experience in World War II left him somewhat distant from his religion. Fast-paced and hugely entertaining, it includes interviews with such baseball luminaries as Ernie Harwell, Bob Feller and Charlie Gehringer, as well as Walter Matthau, who joined a tennis club just to meet the man.


THE BAD: Ken Burns' "Baseball"

The book is better, but not by much. "Baseball" reminds us of the American History we're taught in Midwestern grade schools: everything in bright colors, full of confidence and wholesomeness, acknowledging the mistakes the sport has made—such as the disgusting segregation that haunts it to this day—then discarded as if they were mere abstractions whose lessons were learned and rectified. Everything presented in sepia tones and a warm nostalgia that makes a fan feel good all over. This flick is a marbleized statue from Dullsville, with horrid commentary by the sleepyvoiced Garrison Keillor, bland George Will and perhaps the only African-American ballplayer without a hint of anger (where's Bob Gibson?). With its tintype nostalgia for the glorious baseball past that never existed, it leaves a sticky residue over the mind of the honest fan. Filled with more gooey references to "The Church of Baseball", and baseball as religion, "Baseball" is more torture than fun.


THE UGLY: the Kevin Costner baseball trilogy

Here's something to consider: if "Bull Durham" weren't about baseball, no one would be watching it today. And the speechifying betwixt Susan Sarandon and Costner? If we hear it one more time, we'll puke. This doesn't take away from the fact that, as a whole, the director, Ron Shelton, did get the baseball side of it right, and elicited performances from all his players—especially the sorely missed Trey Wilson as the coach—makes it the best of the three. As for "Field of Dreams"—you can file that crap in the wastebasket with most baseball films—Costner and Co. prancing around the cornfields is the epitome of what is wrong with most baseball films: all nostalgia and no meat. "Field" says nothing about the real game of baseball, and everything about the New Age tripe that muddles the sport today. And as for "For Love of the Game", well, that one skirts the middle. If only it stayed closer to the ballgame, and left old Kevin alone and crying in his hotel room—as opposed to the happy, sappy ending—this would rank up there with "Bull Durham". Hard to believe its from the man who brought us "The Evil Dead"


My Turn at Bat
By Ted Williams
John Underwood

© 2002 Loafer's Magazine. All Rights Reserved.