Getting it right vs. nitpicking

June 25, 2013

It’s a fine line.

I am in the early stages of watching Knuckleball!, the 2012 documentary about the “trick pitch” and its practitioners by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg. So far I’m really enjoying every aspect of it: the cinematography, the special effects, the music. But what has taken the total bloom off the rose for me is a brief talking-head appearance by Ben McGrath of New Yorker magazine, who comments on the dearth of knuckleballers in the games long history. Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood were basically it in the 1950s, he says in this clip at the 1:04 mark. Problem is, Wood didn’t make his debut until 1961 as a 19-year-old with the Boston Red Sox (Wilhelm started in the Majors in 1953).

That’s Wood as a member of the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of the clip, pitching against the NY Yankees’ Roy White at Shea Stadium while the Bronx ballpark was undergoing renovations.

I guess what bugs me about this is that it’s a movie; it’s not live TV where someone makes a mistake but you can’t do anything about it. In a movie, you can edit, you can do research, you can vet and make sure what the speaker is saying is actually true. I haven’t gotten much past this point yet, but I know I’ll be watching and listening more carefully now that I know this flub made it in to the final cut.

On a similar note — and staying with the theme — we have this article by Allen Barra in The Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of Bull Durham, which he offers as “The Best Baseball Movie Ever?”

Barra writes:

The first feature film about life in baseball’s minor leagues, it put numerous phrases, including “The Show” (minor-league slang for the big leagues), “The Church of Baseball,” and “candlesticks” into the national lexicon. The latter was the punch line to the famous conversation on the mound among Tim Robbins’s dim-witted fireballing pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, Kevin Costner’s jaded journeyman catcher Crash Davis, the team’s infield, and their befuddled pitching coach, Larry, played by Robert Wuhl. The biggest problem confronting the players, who are getting clobbered in the game, is what to get a teammate for a wedding present. “Candlesticks always make a nice gift,” says Wuhl as he walks away.

Again, this might seem like a nit-pick in an otherwise excellent essay, but Wuhl does not make his famed candlestick remark while walking away; he says it firmly on the mound (followed by a suggestion to find out where the bride is registered) and concludes with an importuning of “Let’s get to it!” (or is it “Let’s get two”?) — let’s get back to business — before returning to the dugout.

Nor, in my opinion, is Crash Davis “an ordinary man with modest talent, as Barra avers.” A) he is a professional baseball player who had a cup of coffee in the Majors, which, relative to the rest of the male population, is extraordinary. And b), if I recall correctly, the movie wraps up with Davis setting the all-time minor league record for home runs by a catcher.

(And sorry, but Barra gets points off for invoking the cliched Jacques Barzun line about baseball.)


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