“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones
Believe it or not, baseball movies have been around longer than the World Series. That’s right, in 1898, Thomas Edison produced the first movie that dealt with baseball; it was called The Ball Game, and it came out five years before the inaugural World Series in 1903 that was played between The Boston Americans (now Red Sox) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Americans won that series 5 games to 3 in what was, at that time, a best of nine series.
Baseball has been showcased in a variety of different film genres. If you’re looking for a laugh, comedic fare such as Angels in the Outfield (1994), Bull Durham (1988), and Major League (1989), should be able to provide you with what you seek. America’s pastime has been dissected with scholarly mastery in films, chief among them is documentary film maker Ken Burns’ Baseball, which originally was released in 1994, but has since been updated to include the years 1992-2009. Baseball films can sometimes tug at your heartstrings with movies like Bang the Drum Slowly (1974), and Chasing October (2007). In addition, biographical portrayals like Cobb (1994), and 42 (2013), are also available for fans to learn about certain individual players who have made their indelible mark on the game. Several of this blogger’s favorite baseball-themed movies, from several different genres, and ones I recommend, are: Eight Men Out (1988); The Natural (1984); The Rookie (2002); 61 (2001); and the film that this post deals with, a little gem called Long Gone (1987).
Directed by Martin Davidson (Eddie and the Cruisers), Long Gone’s story is set in the 1950’s in the Florida minor leagues. I first watched the movie on HBO back in the late nineties, and with the exception of a release on VHS, apparently that’s as far as it went. Back then, I didn’t pay attention to films the way I do now. I still watched a plethora of them while growing up, but I didn’t concern myself with box office trends, release dates, or bottom lines; but if I had, I would’ve been hard-pressed to give a plausible explanation as to why Long Gone didn’t warrant a box office run, especially when I compare it to some of the sub-par baseball movies that have been deemed worthy enough by Hollywood to be given a theatrical release.
For starters, it not only features a good cast: William Petersen (CSI); Virginia Madsen (Sideways); Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding); Larry Riley (Knot’s Landing); and veteran film and television actor Henry Gibson (Boston Legal); but the scenes that deal with playing baseball are among the most realistic I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Trivia buffs take note that the film also features Teller of Penn & Teller in a rare speaking role; he plays the character Hale Buchman, Jr., who is half owner of both a department store and the local baseball team.
Before I write anything further, I will admit that the film does feature its share of well used baseball movie clichs: there is the aging veteran who if just given an opportunity in the ‘show’ (a term for major league baseball) could’ve rivaled the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willy Mays, and, of course, the girl who holds the key to his heart; next, the inexperienced rookie who is looking for his big break; the inevitable losing streak that seems to permeate even the best of baseball movies; and lastly, the film’s big game. Whether you like the ending or not, which is the antithesis of cliche, (no walk off home run in the ninth inning with two on and two out with the count 3 balls and two strikes) the ending is one that you will not see coming, and I give kudos to writers Paul Hemphill and Michael Norell for not taking the easy way out, and instead coming up with a creative way to end the film.
The movie follows the exploits of the fictitious minor league baseball team the Tampico Stogies, and centers itself on Player-Manager Studs Cantrell, portrayed by William Petersen. He’s a guy who doesn’t engage in pretense, just 100% honesty, regardless of the consequences that might result from what he says. Petersen’s character is particularly interesting to watch as he mentors Dermot Mulroney, who portrays the rookie second baseman Joe Don Weeks. Ultimately, Cantrell is trying to put himself in a position to get a job in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, but when Virginia Madsen enters the picture as the sultry, blonde haired, Dixie Lee Boxx, he puts his own aspirations on hold. The film deals with more than just dream jobs and attractive blondes…it speaks to real issues of the time period, such as premarital sex and racism, but one of the aspects of the film that I applaud is that it never gets too ‘in your face’ preachy. I also think it deals with the fact that the game of baseball is able to create a certain humility that brings individuals together despite differences in both racial and religious backgrounds, but again, it does so in a more subtle than overt way.
It’s easy to tell that the writers who penned both the story and the teleplay crafted it with a deep love and reverence for baseball. I feel to write anything more about the actual film would be doing those of you who have not yet seen it a disservice. Long Gone has yet to be given a DVD and Blu-ray release. It can be picked up on VHS for purchase on auction sites such as ebay, where the starting bids and ‘buy it now’ prices vary from fair to ridiculously high. If you’re still in possession of the ancient dinosaur known as the VHS player, and you’re a baseball fan, then do yourself a favor and pick up a copy – you will not be disappointed. If you didn’t hold onto one of your VCRs, I am sure this title will be released on DVD, it seems that these days everything eventually is.