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Hollywood and Baseball Project: Eight Men Out

Baseball is our game.  It's our sport.  We stick with a team like the Tribe because we love the sport.  It's beautiful, artful, poetic...it's the perfect game.  We all wanted to be ML players so that we could play this game until we were old men.  When anything sullies the game, we get angry.  

During the scenes in Eight Men Out when the Sox are shown blowing WS games, I got misty-eyed.  How could they do it?  For money?  For revenge?  Say it ain't so, Joe.  

This is another "must see" film for all baseball fans.  Based on the book by the same name (the author plays one of the baseball owners in the movie) the movie is a fictional, albeit (from what I can gather)fairly accurate account of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.  (I always thought they were called the Black Sox because of the scandal but some additional research on my part indicates that some attribute it to the dirty uniforms the players wore because Charles Comiskey was too freaking cheap to launder them. Now stop and think about that...an owner that is so devoid of pride that he wouldn't even send his team out in clean uniforms.  And he's in the HOF?)  The movie is well acted by folks like David Straithern as Eddie Ciccotte, DB Sweeney (who had a large role in Lonesome Dove, which came out the next year)as Joe Jackson, John Cusak as 3B Buck Williams, who was tossed out of baseball along with the others even though he took no money and whose play isn't questioned, and Charlie Sheen as the CF.  It's wonderfully directed and screenwritten by John Sayles, who plays writer Ring Lardner (Sayles also directed and, I believe, screenwrote one of my favorite all-time non-baseball movies, Matewan.  It's hard to find but another movie well worth viewing.)

The movie does an excellent job of showing the pain and confusion on the parts of players who took no part in the conspiracy.  Straithern and Sweeney show the doubt and shame on the part of some of those who did.  One even begins to feel sympathetic for Charlie Comiskey (but just for a moment) as he watches his team lose a Series that the world thought it was a shoe-in to win.  While the movie doesn't look overly sympathetically on the reluctant participants in the crime, our anger is mostly strongly focused on the players that were most enthusiastically involved in the crime and the gamblers that lured them in, then double-crossed them.  (But if you hang out with scorpions, you can't complain when you get stung.)

Most of the actors look as if they have played baseball before, so the movies game scenes have a realistic look.  (I know...doubles were no doubt used, especially when players are shown sliding into a base or crashing into an outfield wall, but Cusak, Sweeny and Sheen, in particular, look like athletes as do several of the lesser know actors.  Straithern is the only one that looks like he might have needed a double.) The game sequences are riveting.  (My only complaint is one that I have with all baseball movies...when they show a pitcher looking good, he's ALWAYS throwing K's.  Not groundouts. Not pop flies. Not even DP's.  It's ALWAYS K's.  Same for hitters...always hitting the long ball.  Never a dying quail over the 1B head with man on third. ALWAYS big swings and big hits.  All that said, this movie is no worse than others along that line.)  The post-series trial isn't nearly as riveting but Sayles, wisely, gets us through that more quickly, focusing on some of the more interesting testimony.  He recognizes that the real story is the players...and the games.  The scenes showing the lead-up to the conspiracy are a bit tough to follow (there were a number of gamblers involved...it was tough to keep track of the criminal without a scorecard) but handled in a way that keeps us interested.  The games are it, though.  Like watching a horrible, tragic trainwreck in slow motion.

There are any number of fine scenes in the movie but the one that intrigues me shows Cicotte going to Comiskey to ask for his bonus.  Comiskey, bad owner and business manager that he is, refuses.  Cicotte was to have gotten a $10,000 bonus for winning...30 games!  Cicotte won....29 games!  That's 29 games! Can you imagine?

Here's the kicker...Cicotte didn't get his 30 wins because, at Comiskey's order, Gleason, the manager, sat him out for several weeks.  Now let's think about this...Comiskey risks a pennant, by holding his ace on the bench simply so he won't have to pay him a bonus. Isn't this just as serious an insult to the game (knowingly not putting your best team on the field so as to pocket an extra ten grand) as gambling is?  What's the difference between throwing a fastball when the catcher gives the deuce (Cicotte in the movie) and holding your best pitcher on the bench when it's his turn in the rotation?  And Comisky in the HOF?  But Joe Jackson isn't.

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