I've never been a sports fan. It's probably due to the rebellious nature that made me a horror fan. I've simply never had any interest in it. I played some backyard games when I was young, but I was never tempted to join any sort of league. As for sitting around watching it all the time, no thanks.

It made me a pariah in my hometown of Baltimore, where if you didn't love the Orioles, you were lower than a red communist.

That said, I never minded good movies about sports. We didn't plan it this way, but me and my old drive-in buddy had a baseball-themed double feature last night.

I remember the hubbub surrounding The Bad News Bears when I was a kid. It was released in 1976, which would have made me 15 years old. The Bad News Bears was emphatically not the kind of movie I was interested in at the time.

Now, forty-five long, hard years later, I am ready to enjoy the movie.

This would have meant less than nothing to me in my teen years, but The Bad News Bears was written by Bill Lancaster. Son of the famous Burt Lancaster, Bill was a child actor in some TV shows. He wrote the screenplay for The Bad News Bears, and it was a tremendous success that spawned two sequels. More importantly to horror fans, Lancaster wrote John Carpenter's classic The Thing. These were his only screenwriting credits, but they are impressive.

The Bad News Bears is a rollicking comedy with a lot of heart and a whole, whole lot of unwoke content. An alcoholic ex-ballplayer-turned-swimming-pool-cleaner played by slovenly Walter Matthau inherits the undesirable job of coaching a junior league team of misfits. All the cultural stereotypes are represented: The brain, the fatty, the gross little dork,the weirdo, the delinquent, the tomboy, the cool black kid.

The kids smoke, drink beer, cuss, and talk in what today is considered wildly inappropriate dialogue. This movie could never, and I mean never, been made today. The whole thing feels pretty innocent to me. The kids were repeating the language and behavior of their authority figures.

While there aren't any huge laughs in The Bad News Bears, I was smiling through the whole thing. Matthau as Morris "Boilermaker" Buttermaker is lovable in a gross, seedy way. Doomed Twilight Zone: The Movie-casualty Vic Morrow plays a caustic rival coach. Tatum O'Neal is the girl with a fiery pitching arm, and future Freddy Jackie Earle Haley is the wild card kid from the other side of the tracks.

Richard Linklater remade The Bad News Bears in 2005, with Billy Bob Thornton in the Boilermaker role. It isn't a bad movie, but the original is the one to see.

I always followed the career of John Sayles with enthusiasm. He worked for Corman, writing low budget classics like Battle Beyond the Stars, The Lady in Red, and Piranha. Sayles wrote The Howling and Alligator. He became a hero in the world of independent cinema with smart low budget movies like The Return of the Secaucus 7, Matewan, and many more.

John Sayles wrote, directed and appears as sportswriter Ring Lardner in Eight Men Out, the story of the notorious Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. The team, considered the best club the sport had seen at that point, accepted bribes from gamblers and deliberately lost games in the World Series.

Sayles worked with a limited budget with Eight Men Out, but he recreates the era brilliantly. The movie is an important piece of baseball history, but it is also a morality tale about the price that comes from corruption.

The Eight Men Out cast is superlative: Charlie Sheen before he lost his goddamn mind, Michael Rooker, Sayles regular David Strathairn, John Mahoney, Christopher Lloyd, Michael Lerner, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, and Studs Turkel. John Cusack stands out as a decent, innocent guy who went down with the ship along with the rest of them, and D.B. Sweeney is phenomenal as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Whatever happened to Sweeney, anyway? He did some great work in the eighties and early nineties, and should have been one of the big ones. He continued to work, but in extremely modest productions.

The portrait of early twentieth century corruption in Eight Men Out is riveting. Gamblers, con men, killers, low level grifters, and fatcat tycoons are ruthlessly depicted. I don't think John Sayles ever made a more perfect movie.

The Black Sox scandal was a hundred years ago. Surely we are more evolved and civilized today, right?

Two excellent movies about America's pastime. I've seen various others, like A League of Their Own, Bull Durham, Cobb, The Natural, and Moneyball. The Bad News Bears and Eight Men Out are easily my favorites.

Written by Mark Sieber

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry