I like baseball.
I like movies.
I like movies about baseball.
Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.
In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.
In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.
With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.
Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.
The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.
If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.
The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.
Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.
While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.
Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.
Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”
The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.
While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.
The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.
Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.
In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.
On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.
I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.
I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.
Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson