I love baseball. I love the movies. So the combination of the two is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: the best of both world.
So I was really looking forward to the first episode of MSG’s The Lineup: Best Sports Movies, an eight-part series which debuted with a discussion of baseball features.
I was sorely disappointed.
The panel, moderated by former MLB player and Mets broadcaster Fran Healy, included Robert Wuhl, who appeared in Bull Durham and Cobb (as sportswriter and Cobb columnist Al Stump); producer/director Spike Lee; actor Chazz Palminteri; and movie critic and uberfan Jeffrey Lyons. They nattered on about such films as The Natural (with Wuhl pointing out that Robert Redford/Roy Hobbs hit a walk-off home run in the top of the inning(?)); Bull Durham (conflict of interest there, Wuhl?); Field of Dreams; Major League; and A League of Their Own, the last two for just a couple minutes (and sorry, for me Geena Davis was the lead character, not Tom Hanks). Lyons and Wuhl dominated the chatter. Wuhl was the apologist for the prejudices, complaining that James Earl Jones’ character in FOD, should not have talked about baseball being “all that’s good in America,” considering the racial discrimination (Wuhl also pointed to a scene in ALOTO, in which an African-American woman threw a perfect peg from outfield foul territory all the way home, hammering home the idea that blacks were talented yet excluded. Where was Spike Lee in all this?)
Each film was introduced by a woman in an evening gown as if she was narrating at an Academy Award presentation. The cutting was so quick — to the point of distraction — that one would think the director/editor had ADD. There was also an odd “applause track” that seemed to come in at inappropriate moments.
Athletes and other celebrities were also inserted with quick comments. On this episode, we heard comments from the likes of Derek Jeter, Ray Knight, Mookie Wilson, David Cone, Keith Olberman, Charley Steiner, Billy (!) Baldwin, and Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos. Did you ever see the MTV series I love the 80s (or some similar offshoot)? That’s what this reminded me off: a bunch of C- and D-listers (with all due respect) opining on stuff I don’t care to hear their opinions on (sorry for the poor syntax there).
Maybe if the show considered a single film it might have been a bit more coherent. As it was, they tried to stuff too much into 30 minutes.
There were no clips from any of the movies, I guess because of licensing reasons. So while you get seasick from all the camera motion, the show pops in a few stills from each picture, perhaps tossing in the further pointless distraction of having an unidentified actor miming baseball movements.
Wuhl and Lyons competed to see who could point out the most flaws in each film. My favorite — and I’ve heard this before — is depicting Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams as a right-handed batter, despite the fact that he was actually a lefty. Unsaid here is that Ray Liotta, the actor who played the role, didn’t event attempt a regional accent for the South Carolinian Jackson. When confronted with the handedness issue, the film’s producer shunted off the criticism, saying that Jackson was also brought back from the dead in the film, that this was just a story. And? What does one thing have to do with the other? Yes, it’s fiction, but the fiction his based on a real-life person.Would you make Babe Ruth an asexual tea-totaler or Lou Gehrig a serial killer?
At the end of The Lineup, the panelists voted: two for The Natural, two for Bull Durham, one for Field of Dreams. So how did The Natural get to be the winner, as announced by evening gown-wearing narrator lady?
Perhaps this was just “opening night jitters.” Perhaps the show will improve. But as much as I love baseball films in particular and sports movies in general, I will not be watching The Lineup any more.