And That Happened: Wednesday's Scores and Highlights

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Rays 4, Yankees 3: Dan Johnson hit two homers off Phil Hughes. But really, the fun story here was Derek Jeter acting his way onto first base with a phantom HBP in the seventh. He grimaced and called the trainer out and everything, even though replays clearly showed that the ball hit the end of his bat (which Jeter admitted after the game). Joe Maddon got ejected arguing the HBP call, even though he was right. I wonder if Jeter will send him flowers or something?  Anyway, I’ll have more on this later this morning, because (a) it was kind of a fun play when you think about it; and (b) it has me thinking about some larger issues about the media and Jeter and stuff.

Phillies 10, Marlins 5: Look! A contending NL East team winning the games it’s supposed to win. How novel. Halladay gets his 19th win. The point will get muddled because in this case the NL wins leader also happens to be the best overall pitcher, but he’s not doing anything to hurt his Cy Young chances. He probably has three more starts left, two against Atlanta — whom he owns — and one against the Mets. Dude could have 22 wins by the time it’s over.

Nationals 4, Braves 2. Blah. Didn’t you hear me? I said Blah!

Rockies 9, Padres 6: Troy Tulowitzki (2 HR, 7 RBI) cannot be bargained with. He cannot be reasoned with. He cannot feel remorse, or pity or fear. And he will not stop until you are dead. But if Tulowitzki is the Arnold version of the Terminator, let’s be sure to note that Adrian Gonzalez was the liquid metal version from T2 (i.e. almost as good, but not victorious): 2 HR and 5 RBI for him. Shame that they both got lowered into that molten lava at the end of the game.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: The Giants have allowed four runs in their past five games. Sure, two of those games were losses because they themselves were shut out, but that’s life in the NL West. Bruce Bochy: “It’s good for these guys because you can’t lose your concentration or focus out there when you’re in games like this.” Yeah, winning one 7-2 or something wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Cubs 7, Cardinals 3: The Cubs sweep the Cards in St. Louis for the first time 22 years.

Reds 7, Diamondbacks 5: The Reds’ magic number is now 10. A great catch by Jay Bruce won this one. My guess is that he won’t get the gold glove because it’s a reputation thing and it takes a couple of years for a guy’s defense to capture the zeitgeist of the voters, but people I know who watch the Reds everyday think Bruce is deserving of the honor (as did Thom Brennaman announcing the Bruce highlight, but hey, Thom Brennaman).

Twins 9, White Sox 3: Another day, another 9-3 loss for the White Sox. Theirs is one of only six games tonight. If it’s a Sox loss, look for the ugliness and finger pointing to begin in Chicago first thing tomorrow morning.

Mets 8, Pirates 7: Pittsburgh jumped out to a 5-0 lead but lost it damn quickly, as the Mets put up a seven spot in the fourth thanks in large part to the Pirates crappy defense. If the Pirates were a computer game, I would have set the computer to “auto manage” about a month ago, set the schedule in motion and gone off to get a sandwich. When I got back, it would all be over and I could start over.

Rangers 11, Tigers 7: The Rangers are the first team to get their magic number under 10.

Angels 7, Indians 0: Jered Weaver one-hits the Tribe over seven innings with 7Ks and no walks.

Brewers 8, Astros 6: The Brewers blew a 5-0 lead, but tied it up in the ninth and then took the game on a Mat Gamel ground rule double in the tenth and tacked on an insurance run for good measure. “I just feel good that the guys played all the way to the end,” Ken Macha said after the game. That’s what I’d say too if I was pretty certain that a meeting was going to take place soon in which my termination would be discussed. Every manager in Macha’s position — flawed but talented team that didn’t overcome any of its weaknesses — has to hang his hat on the “we never quit” card.

Orioles 3, Blue Jays 1: Orioles get the sweep. Jose Bautista hits his 47th, tying George Bell for the franchise record. To truly match Bell’s 1987 feat, however, Bautista will have to somehow manage to steal the MVP from someone more deserving. Ahem.

Red Sox 5, Mariners 1: The Sox sweep the M’s and are now six games back of the Yankees in the wild card race. I know it’s close to impossible — the Yankees could play .500 ball and the Sox would have to go 14-2 just to tie — but catching New York and snagging the wild card would be a bigger coup than the 2004 ALCS, wouldn’t it?

Royals 6, Athletics 3: Bruce Chen won his 10th and Wilson Betemit hit a grand slam to add to his fantastic season at the plate. “What are, ‘things Braves fans figured would happen circa 2002?'”  Correct! Pick again! “OK, I’ll take ‘Potent Potables for $500, Alex.”

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.