Thanks to many of you who read my last column about the passing of my amazing wife and took the time to write and express your feelings and good wishes. I was surprised to hear from people all over the map, including Texas, Canada, and Israel. Nice to know that The Jewish Press reaches many bases.
As I mentioned in the last column, I’m busy cleaning out our apartment in Oak Park, Michigan, as the lease runs through November. I’m downsizing, giving away furniture, books, dishes, etc., and even tossing out some old magazines and baseball-related articles. One thing I’m keeping, though, is my collection of old baseball movies on DVDs. More than 40 baseball movies were made and I have about half of them. Many, such as the 1942 film Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, pop up a lot on the old movie channels.
Another good old black-and-white film (1951) is Angels in the Outfield. Filmed in Pittsburgh with great shots of the Pirates’ ballpark, Forbes Field, the movie lets our imagination take over as the lousy Pittsburgh team and their gruff manager are helped by angels during games, and the only reason we know that is some feathers flutter down (computer-enhanced images were just a dream in those great days).
Also released in 1950 in black and white was The Jackie Robinson Story. It wasn’t great but it was good, as it starred Jackie Robinson playing himself. I didn’t like that they filmed most baseball scenes in the minor league ballpark of Los Angeles to substitute for Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. Prior to that the city had two minor league teams and each had their own ballpark. Gilmore Field was the home of the Hollywood Stars, located in the Jewish Fairfax neighborhood, while Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs’ minor league team, was closer to downtown. To me what made the movie good besides the real Jackie Robinson was actor Minor Watson, who played the cigar-chomping general manager and team owner Branch Rickey, who engineered the signing of the first black ballplayer to break baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
The Robinson story was redone by Hollywood in 2013 under the title 42, Robinson’s retired uniform number. Chadwick Boseman did a good job of portraying Jackie, and Harrison Ford gave a great performance as Branch Rickey. What I really liked about the movie were the computer-generated National League ballparks of 1947 (Robinson’s rookie year) as backgrounds for games played on the road. It gave the movie a lot of realism.
A movie that was panned by critics was The Kid From Cleveland. The black-and-white film was released in 1949 and it told the story of the great year in Cleveland baseball history and the city’s win in the 1948 World Series. The kid was played by Russ Tamblyn, and George Brent was the play-by-play man who befriends him. Real members of the Indians team played themselves and many had speaking roles. Larry Doby, the Indians outfielder, was the first black player in the American League, and did a good job of portraying his feelings playing in his first full major-league season.
Hank Greenberg, who retired as a player after the 1947 season, joined Cleveland as a front office executive; he looked every bit as handsome as any actor in Hollywood at the time and had a speaking part along with old-timer Tris Speaker, one of baseball’s greatest players over a hundred years ago. Johnny Beradino, an infielder with the Indians in 1948, made his acting debut playing a bad guy. Beradino, who was a real good guy, went on to a long career as an actor in numerous television programs and had a starring role as a doctor in a long-running soap opera.
As I was cleaning out, a Yankees game was on national television in the background. I heard the announcers claiming that the umpire had called a strike on Aaron Judge on a ball that was clearly outside the strike zone. Each replay showed the umpire was wrong and that the call shouldn’t have been a third strike on Judge, who timidly walked back to the dugout as players are not allowed to argue balls and strikes with the umpire. The incident proved that baseball needs a computerized strike zone. The computer would relay ball or strike to the umpire and the ump would call ball or strike as he does now. Umpires would also continue to call safe or out as they do now when runners attempt to score.
It was an off year for the Yankees, and the season proved that the team needs an infusion of more pitching and hitters who can get on base more often. The Yanks can easily be back in the playoffs next season if the young talent – which there is – can prove they’re ready for the majors. It should be an interesting off-season for followers of the Yanks, which we all are. Whether you root for them or against them, we must admit that we follow what’s happening with the pinstripers!