A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ford Frick

In Saving Private Ryan, he was the sniper casually shooting Nazis at will until he got rushed and got blown up - taking out more than one could count. In 3, he plays Dale Earnhardt Sr., the badass legend of racing, in all of his glory. He's in a lot of other  movies... sometimes in more prominent roles, but mostly as the guy who rounds out the group of guys that he's with... i.e. Will Smith's confidante in Seven Pounds (a rather horrible movie if ever there was one - that guy just needs to redo the Fresh Prince or Independence Day).
But there was a moment of shining glory... an underappreciated gem from Billy Crystal of all people (well, actually not since Crystal is a Yankee drooler and it was right after the time that Mark McGwire was captivating the world and ESPECIALLY ME with his home run race to beat Sammy Sosa to 61 and make it to 70) that changed the possibility of what baseball movies could be.
That movie was 61*, and it's still one of my favorites. Sure, it was sentimental, and sure, it painted Ford Frick as a villain with the ghost of Babe Ruth as some unmovable slug (and in a way, that's about what he is - other than his larger than life big kid persona that hit a lot of home runs, was a great pitcher in his day, and all that yadda yadda yadda pap) in the way of a man's record setting greatness.
And perhaps, I can't say it as well as Bill Veeck in Veeck as in Wreck to talk down on Frick's destruction of the greatest story in baseball in ages (the tale of 2 men for the record with Mantle chasing as well for most of the season), but what this whole story really boils down to isn't an asterisk - it is just that: the fact that only 23,154 people saw the home run live because Frick doesn't understand baseball promotion. Baseball could have embraced the story, remembered its past, as it did with Maris throughout the entire 1998 season (he's still at the top of my all time favorite list of players with McGwire, Pedro, and Gibson). How many books have and will be released on Mr. Maris?
The point is that we don't need our heroes to be one dimensional. Some of them can suffer from having their hair fall out due to stress (I can relate to that - and I can relate to premature white hairs in my chin patch). We can relate to staring down the system that doesn't appreciate us. We can relate to a wife who supports us through thick and thin. We can feel the urge to walk away - but not doing so. We can feel the urge to bunt if it helps us win a game rather than to swing for the fences. Most of us are Maris.
The myth of Babe Ruth is an inflated pile of hooey. Mickey Mantle may have been the boyhood hero of his time, but a certain other center fielder had to leave the game first. There will always be room on the wall for the heroes. They come from a time and place, and they should be revered and respected at something more than old folks / timers days and as a great newspaper story 37 years later (as opposed to being portraryed as an uncooperative jerk to the media at the time).
These are the things that Crystal captured... well, that and the Ball Four side of Mickey Mantle, but that's neither here nor there. Tracey Stallard's price on the banquet circuit went through the roof, and he was a Red Sox pitcher, and yeah... it was a time and place that the rivalry wasn't, and the record wasn't worth watching, and Roger was hitting 2 extra shots that didn't matter since they were after 154 games.
That's the thing about the movie. It makes you want to understand why the media of that day went out of their way to kill the potential idol of the day. It makes you want to go to Fargo and pay respects to the man. It reminds you of why we play the game and live our lives strong. It tells the life of Roger Maris in a way that showcases the season of change for all of us.
Thanks Billy! Great movie

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