Monday, March 31, 2008


Photo by Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times

It’s 3:40 p.m., and I’m finally able to take a break from work long enough to check the score. Here it is, Opening Day 2008, and I’m at work—first time in over 10 years, by my guesstimate. And that’s okay, because the Dodgers are apparently having another party out there at Chavez Ravine—they’re bringing it to the lowly Giants to the tune of 5-0 in the seventh inning. And yesterday they shut-out the team whose fans love to harp on that whole “World Champions” thing by a nice and tidy 8-0. That puts the Dodgers over the Red Sox four out of five clashes during spring training—the only one they lost, of course, was the one where I was present, and being able to say I was there for it has definitely taken the sting out of losing a meaningless game. Yep, my friend Doug procured tickets for the two of us and his wife and daughter for Saturday’s big game at the Coliseum commemorating the Dodger’s 50th year since moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. It was a thrill to be there, but I can’t imagine surviving having to play there, or schlepping out there as a fan for four years until Dodger Stadium was being built. After a while, I'd want a closer view of the game. But given that only nine games a year were televised 50 years ago (those Dodgers/Giants clashes), if you had the opportunity to see live major league baseball, you went.

If you draw a line at a 45-degree angle from the top of that fella’s cap in the foreground of the picture, you’ll see where our seats were—way the hell out there, to be sure, to the left of the Coliseum peristyle. But it was such a grand spectacle, who could complain? Certainly not me, even though at times it seemed like we were perched in the Coliseum's version of being out in the left field pavilion, where there was no shortage of Dodger and Red Sox fans, pre-lubed with three or four hours of Tecate and Bud Light before taking their seats, and ready to punch out or drench the first poor slob they fixated upon… over an exhibition game.

Even the much-debated shuttle service from Dodger Stadium got a thumbs-up from me, but that had more to do with the fact that I parked my car out there at about 2:00 p.m., when things were still relatively quiet. There were reports of some fans missing two, three innings due to incredibly long, slow-moving lines to hop shuttles originating at the stadium—these fans probably arrived a couple of hours later than I did, at least. By 3:00 I was sitting in the Rose Garden at USC reading a paperback (Scott Smith’s The Ruins, which is living up to its “scariest book of all time” press so far). I did that for nearly three hours—my idea of a pretty perfect day, a scenario that doesn’t get played out much for me these days—until I met Doug and his family around 6:00. It was only leaving the game that I got a taste of what most fans were up in arms about. I got in line to catch a shuttle right outside the Coliseum at about 10:45 p.m. I boarded the shuttle at 12:45 a.m. Whew. At least I was standing behind some pretty amusing close-to-retirees who were talking movies (Man #1: “Who played Jesus in King of Kings?” Man #2: “Uh, I don’t know. Gimme a hint.” Man #1: “He once appeared on Star Trek.” Man #2: “That guy!”). They also passionately discussed why a movie like No Country for Old Men was so good up to a point, and then dumped you with an ending that “couldn’t possibly be understood.” (Don’t worry. I held my tongue.) Anyway, I made it back to Dodger Stadium around 1:00 a.m. and was cozy and snoozing by 2:00. That’s a lot of work to see a baseball game where the field is wedged in like an incorrect answer to a geometry problem.

But it was a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’m glad I could be a part of, and I must thank Doug and Linda and little Reagan for that. I just wish the DVD I had set to record the whole thing would have turned out—all I ended up with was snow. I really wanted to hear Scully reminisce about the Coliseum days and occasionally call the game. But all’s well there too, I suppose—Scully’s on-field remarks before the game had me in tears before the first pitch was thrown. If I were to see the broadcast, I’d probably be too teary to follow the action, especially if I were forced to pay attention to the score.

Update: Saito has the potential third out at the plate with the score remaining 5-0. Looks like a pretty good Opening Day for the Dodgers.

Any idea how I might be voting in this week's poll?

Okay, so it’s not just opening week here in Los Angeles. Baseball fans across the land are writing down the scores in permanent ink now as the 162-game season finally gets underway. And to celebrate, this week’s poll (unlike last week’s) is a good one: What is the best baseball movie of all time? I have loaded the poll with six titles that are likely to provide some heavy competition, and this time if you vote “Other,” please use the comments column below to mention the title you like, talk about it a bit, complain or crow about how your team is doing so far, or otherwise just commiserate.

One other thing: I was walking through Vons the other day, and here’s this big display of DVDs set out to catch some of the heat of the Opening Week. Among the titles made available were Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, The Jackie Robinson Story, Field of Dreams, The Natural, with a copy of Hoosiers and Like Mike functioning as token nods to the basketballers who are still either clamoring over March Madness or hoping that the Lakers don’t tank like the Mets did last year. But it made me think: For all the mindless blather on sports talk radio about how boring baseball is and how nobody likes it anymore, especially compared to the NFL or the NBA, why don’t we see display cases pop up in September loaded with copies of Any Given Sunday and The Replacements (or that old chestnut North Dallas Forty, for crying out loud)? This tacit commercial acknowledgement that baseball is still the game most people get passionate about is something, I suppose. And the ratio of good baseball movies to good movies about any other sport seems pretty lopsided in favor of, yes, America’s Favorite Pastime too. (Do I sound like I’m trying to start a fight?) Anyway, that little display just kinda sparked me in a funny way, which I’m sure was not its intent—MGM probably does have quite a few backlogged copies of Eight Men Out that they like to put out there this time of year, just to see if any suckers will bite. Whatever. I just like to be reminded that baseball is back, and I’ll take that news in any shape or form.

P.S. Congratulations to Jon Weisman, the big cheese at Dodger Thoughts, on the arrival of his newborn son, and many thanks for directing his readers to my essay about escorting Sergio Leone to his first baseball game. Kevin Roderick at the esteemed and very well read L.A. Observed was kind enough to do the same. Thanks so much, gentlemen. Your links are even better than those bacon-wrapped street dogs they were selling at the Coliseum Saturday night, and those were damn good!

Final score: Dodgers 5, Giants 0. How could the season start off any better than that?


The Siren said...

I don't know why, but I love sports movies. In fact I love sports movies more than I love sports. And let's not diss North Dallas Forty, 'kay? The Siren loves that one.

I am requesting clarification on the criteria, however. Am I to vote for whichever one of these works best for me as a movie, or whichever one best conveys baseball?

I do wish Cobb were on the ballot, though I guess it doesn't have many fans outside of me and Charles Taylor.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Campaspe, my cranky comment re North Dallas Forty was meant to be ironic. I love that movie and to this day think that it's the best football movie ever.

I debated putting Cobb on the ballot, because I think it's brilliant, but figured that would be tipping my hand too much. However there are two movies on that poll that I think are awful, so maybe I will go back at put Cobb on there before it's too late. You and Charles Taylor are definitely not alone.

As for the movie, I think I'd say vote for the movie that best explores or represents baseball. That's the way the question seems to best work for me.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Cobb has been added. Though I'm not sure it's the movie that best conveys or evokes baseball, I'm glad you prompted me into putting it on there, because I think it's brilliant on the subject of heroism, especially as filtered through our sports figures, a topic that couldn't be more timely as this season gets underway.

Tucker said...

Dennis, I love going to sporting events for all the reasons that make actually being there so fun. But I have to say (and that image of the coliseum reminds me) that there's nothing like watching MLB in hi-def with one's feet up on the coffee table and a microbrew at hand. It's not necessarily better than being there, but it has its qualities.

I voted Eight Men Out, because that is one of my "small film" favorites. But now I think I should have voted for Bad News Bears because I just love that film, and I've been thinking lately of showing it to my daughter. And, in a way, isn't little league the true essence of baseball?

Greg said...

Dennis - You're a baseball fan? I never picked up on that.

Now that the Dodgers are expected to be League competitors this year won't it be much more meaningful to have Forrest or Dances on your sidebar because of the Dodgers instead of the Rockies? I think so too. Although I'm sure we can come up with an even better bet this year.

Re: North Dallas Forty - For decades now I've done the G.D. Spradlin line, "You think it's FUNNY!?" during moments of nervous laughter. That man should've been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for playing Tom Landry's doppelganger so well. And the Mac Attack was pretty damn good too.

*P.S. - Congrats to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at standing atop the mighty American League Eastern Division. Someone take a picture of the standings because you're never going to see that again. One game into the season's your only chance.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I voted for Bingo Long and the Traveling All Stars in other. A story that should be better known, with a great cast of Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and especially Richard Pryor as the player who keeps on scheming his way into the majors.

For your consideration: MacArthur's Children by Masahiro Shinoda, about the introduction of baseball in a small Japanese village after World War II.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Tucker, as the hour rounded up to 10:00 on Saturday night, I found myself thinking about just being at home, wrapped in a blanket, perhaps finishing off a Tecate that in the real world cost only about $1.50 (as opposed to the $10 suds cups available at the Coliseum), and being able to listen to Vin Scully reminisce, wax poetic and occasionally call balls and strikes. For me, Saturday night was, as it was for just about everybody who was there, all about being there for this once-in-a-lifetime event. I'll get out to the stadium maybe 10 times this year in person, and those times will be great too. But I'm with you-- in this day and age, there is more than a little something to be said for the big-screen baseball experience, especially when you get Scully in the same package.

Jonathan: You keep on rockin' those Gump/Dances sidebar dreams, bub. I'm counting on my horses being a lot stronger this year!

As for G.D. Spradlin, just about everything he touches in that movie turns to gold, but the expression on his face when North Dallas loses that game on the bad field goal is unforgettable. It's like the man just swallowed the most bitter fruit and cannot tell a soul about it.

Peter: I thought of Bingo Long for the list, but it had been so long since I'd seen it that I went with titles (some more obvious than others) that were fresher in my head. I do regret having left off Ken Burns' Baseball and The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. And I have already put Shinoda's film on my mental queue (Netflix doesn't seem to have it).

P.S. Did I ever tell you about my rather-too-intimate connection with the red and white polka-dot undershorts Richard Pryor sports in Bingo Long?

Greg said...

Since you haven't responded yet I shall satisfy my boredom by commenting again.

As much as I love baseball and baseball movies (to a degree) this line from your post, "And the ratio of good baseball movies to good movies about any other sport seems pretty lopsided in favor of, yes, America’s Favorite Pastime too." is a little, pardon the expression, off-base.

Generally speaking, I think most sports movies smell to high heaven but one sport has quite a pedigree when it comes to movie classics and quality: Boxing.

A quick sampling gives us -

The Champ 1932
Golden Boy 1939
Body and Soul 1947
Champion 1949
Requiem for a Heavyweight 1962
The Harder they Fall 1956
Fat City 1972
Rocky 1976
Raging Bull 1980

Newer entries include Cinderella Man (which I never saw), Ali (nothing great I admit but not outright bad) and Million Dollar Baby, which even for those who hated it there was plenty of kudos going around for it (for the curious, I found it to be around the same level as Eastwood's Absolute Power, and I wasn't too taken with that one).

If you want to stretch the definition a bit to include films with boxing central characters you could also include On the Waterfront and Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Greg said...

Aaaahhh! You responded while I was typing. I hate it when that happens.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Tucker: I love Eight Men Out too. It'd be in my top five I'd guess, along with Cobb, Ken Burns' Baseball, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and my number-one vote, The Bad News Bears. It's a great film because it works on so many levels to express the relationship between baseball and America and Americans. And speaking as a father who's youngest daughter is thrilling to tee ball this year, I can say that, yes, Little League, for better and worse, does seem to hold the essence of baseball inside its bite-sized dimensions. The Bad News Bears gets that right, along with so many other things. And it's got Walter Matthau in it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan: Good list. I'd lop the first choice off, as well as (sacrilege!) that Stallone pic (and to be honest, I've never been in thrall to Raging Bull). But the heart of the order is very good indeed, and at the risk of losing all my street cred, I think Million Dollar Baby is a pretty marvelous movie. There's something tugging at the back of my mind trying to remind me of a title we've both forgotten, but I can't think of what it is just yet. More to come!

Peter Nellhaus said...

I really liked The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. It should be mandatory viewing for those clowns who own the Rockies, but we've discussed that before.

I'm curious, and just a little afraid, of that Richard Pryor story.

I'm holding out on declaring team loyalty until I know which ones are not playing for Jesus. Right now, the Tigers are off to a good start.

Greg said...

Just to clarify, since you mentioned order, it's chronological, not by what I think is best although I apparently flip-flopped Requiem and Harder.

I don't think anyone loses street-cred for liking a film that was damn near universally praised upon release. I think my problem with Million Dollar Baby came partly from seeing it late, after all the hype and expecting something else. I saw it with someone who was very moved by it and I felt awkward since I was completely dispassionate towards it. And this coming from someone whose wife and children make fun of him for getting choked up two or three times a day I'm so damned emotional. Afterwards there was a little animosity because I didn't find it enthralling.

I tried to explain at the time that I didn't think it was bad just that I found the characters too cliched (to my eye anyway) to make me care. Morgan Freeman didn't seem like a real person, he seemed like an ideal, the everyman who sees the the true heart of the troubled man next to him and relates his story (ala Shawshank).

And I was never quite sure why Hillary Swank wanted to become a boxer. Her character didn't seem to have as much passion for boxing as for the Eastwood trainer, as if she shopped around for a father figure, found this trainer, and then decided to take up boxing.

And finally, Eastwood's character went through predictable machinations from beginning to end. When a character gives up something because of the damage it did don't you just know he's going to take it up again and more damage will occur? Isn't that how it always works? Monty Clift in From Here to Eternity is a good example.

The family was too much black and white cardboard villainy. And the end seemed awfully rushed. When Eastwood is struggling with the idea of aiding her suicide I finally began to get interested but his moral and emotional struggles last for about ten minutes, he kills her and it's over. It felt like they built up to a grand emotionally wrenching morally ambiguous finale then lost their nerve and rushed through it.

And as for Rocky, it's okay, full of cliche and I can take it or leave it but I couldn't leave it off a list about boxing movies. Ya gotta have Rocky there.

bill said...

I've seen very few of the films on Jonathan's list, I'm ashamed to say. "Fat City" is one I have seen, but it's been a long time. I remember liking it, though.

I agree that "Raging Bull" is a bit overrated, but any film with that draws that kind of worship kind of has to be. It's pretty hard to call it bad in any way, though.

I voted for "Eight Men Out". It's such a rich movie. However, if "The Bad News Bears" takes the prize, I won't kick up a fuss.

PS - Dennis, did you get my e-mail?

The Siren said...

Dennis, I am so relieved you like North Dallas Forty too! Did you read Larry Aydlette on Semi-Tough? but this isn't a football movie poll, I'm digressing.

Why do we think baseball makes for better movies than most other sports (I agree with Jonathan that the exception is boxing)? Is it the enforced rhythm of the game's structure? The way the men are scattered around the field that lets you perceive them more as individuals? Just that whole mysterious mirror-of-the-American-soul stuff that inspires the writers and directors?

Peter, I thought about Bingo Long too. That was the first PG movie my parents took me to and I remember it more vividly than some movies I saw last year.

All the same, after consideration I'm going with Cobb. Dennis puts it so well: "I think it's brilliant on the subject of heroism, especially as filtered through our sports figures, a topic that couldn't be more timely as this season gets underway." Amen from the bleachers.

Anonymous said...

Just to elaborate as you requested, my poll vote was for OTHER. The other being "Bang The Drum Slowly"

Lester said...

Dennis, I am glad Baseball season has started, it means spring time and sunshine (sometimes in Oregon). Field of Dreams got my vote, but I would have also voted for "For Love of The Game" if it were on your list, I really liked that movie. Apparently most critics hate it as it never seems to be mentioned in any baseball movie lists. In fact you have to dig deep to find mention of it on Google. Perhaps a love story and baseball does not mix well with the charged up testostrone crowd with cabin fever from the long winter, but hey it worked for me.

Greg said...

Oh, and no offense to the vendors or your opinion which I trust, but that hot dog looks vomitously disgusting. And I like hot dogs! By the way, where's the bacon? I don't see it.

bill said...

That's funny, because I thought the hot dog looked non-vomitously delicious (take that pepper or whatever it is away, and you've really got something). Also, the bacon can be viewed, I believe, at the bottom, about halfway along the bun.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: It's a story where you have to put your faith in the good housekeeping capabilities of the costume department at a major Hollywood studio. When we were preparing to shoot the initiation scene in the basement of the frat house for Animal House, the gregarious, Rip Taylor-esque lead costumer was overseeing the distribution of robes and undies for us to wear as we took the oath. I shuffled up to the big box, he sized me up and, me not being all that big of a fella just yet (I was a late-blooming 17 at the time), he reaches in, tosses me a well-worn robe and a big pair of red polka-dotted boxers and says, "Son, you hit the jackpot! Richard Pryor wore those shorts in Bingo Long!" I must have looked at him with a little less than pure excitement on my face, because he quickly answered, "And they've even been washed a time or two since then!" So during my big Animal House moment, there's a little extra frisson of film history at play there, and it's all going on under my robe!

Bill: Forgive me! I did get your e-mail and will hopefully have time to send back a response in the next day or so (My youngest is now the sole propreitor of the flu around our house, but she's selling it hard and wholesale). No imposition, to be sure, and you've made me really intrigued to see those other Haneke movies.

Campaspe: Yes, I loved Larry's piece on Semi-Tough (and Hustle too, which I think is a marvelously weird movie). I think I was probably a bit too young to have seen it when I did-- it was a big Christmas release and I don't think I had the cultural grounding or experience to understand some of the targets of the satire. It still sounds like it might be somewhat uneven, but that piece really made me want to revisit it, especially given Michael Ritchie's participation. (Let's take this even further off track: Do you enjoy Ritchie's Smile as much as I do? Now, there's a movie that can stand comparison with the Altman sensibility and come out looking as good as something the director of Nashville himself might have made-- and Smile was done during Altman's great 70s period too!)

I hadn't given much thought to it, but a well-filmed baseball game does lend itself to the way film can clarify geography, and how it can make the individual players stand out. (This is something that North Dallas Forty did well too, especially for a football picture, better than any before or since, I think.) I think that directors and writers get into a very iffy area when they start to take the mysticism and microcosm-of-the-world that baseball lends itself to as their subject, which is why I have such a reserve of bad feeling for two pictures on the poll list in particular. But when those things come out organically as part of the mix that a viewer can engage in while discovering all the others elements in play, then you get a Bad News Bears or an Eight Men Out or a Cobb or, more deliberately, something like Ken Burns' film.

Murray: I have to admit that For Love of the Game played better for me than I thought it would, despite :) that love story. But then, the game Costner pitches over the entirety of the movie was called by... Vin Scully!

Greg said...

I still don't see the bacon. Anyway, it just looks too goopy. Like a big, pudding-like mess of condiments drowning out the delicious fats and nitrates of the hot dog.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Non-delicious?! My stomach is growling in protest at this very instant!

Actually, the pic doesn't illustrate the bacon aspect as it really should. All of the other luscious elements are obscuring it, though I think there is visible a hint of bacon underneath. In the real world, you can see (and smell) about 20 of those boys the vendor has lined up and grilling in the open air all at the same time. They've been wrapped in two or three hearty slices of bacon and laid on the heat until the bacon righteously fuses with the dog into a heart-stopping tube o' bliss. Good enough for mustard alone, but doggone divine with the works.

I think it's lunchtime.

Greg said...

"We take eighteen ounces of sizzling ground beef, and soak it in rich, creamery butter, then we top it off with bacon, ham, and a fried egg. We call it the Good Morning Burger."

bill said...

Yeah, and remember how much Homer wanted to eat that. Are you telling me that you also find the idea of the Good Morning Burger repellant? Jonathan, I don't think I can be your invisible internet friend anymore.

Dennis: No rush on your response to my e-mail. I just wanted to make sure you got it.

Greg said...

I actually find the idea of the Good Morning Burger enticing. But if you don't want to be my invisible internet friend anymore, fine. Just send me a picture and you can become my visible internet friend. Of course, I realize I'm not special enough to be your e-mail buddy like Dennis, but I'll take what I can get.

bill said...

Hey, I tried e-mailing you. The computer always asks me for some BS computer information I don't know, so I gave up.

Greg said...

Huh? It's a gmail account. How complicated can that be? Judging from every human being who's ever made an independent movie and wants me to review it, it can't be that hard.

bill said...

Maybe it's my work computer. I don't know. I click on the "E-mail Jonathan Lapper" thing, and something happens. I'll try again. We shouldn't be talking about this sort of thing here. For God's sake, Jonathan!

Tucker said...

I have to say the image of that hot-dog-whatever-it-is looks just like something from another planet that you feel impelled to ingest no matter what the authorities say. I can already imagine that semi-painful bliss of joy mixed with gas. It's so perfectly American.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

It is, ain't it? Personally, I could do without the rivulet of what I'm guessing is mayonnaise. But as long as we know the price (short and long-term) that must be paid by gobbling one of these beasts, then by all means bring it on! Just don't do it more than once or twice a year!