I have an old friend who is into
baseball history as much as I am. This is his
favorite baseball movie. Yes, he has seen all the
ones you have seen, like Bull Durham and Field of
Dreams and The Natural and Major League and all the
others, and this is the one he likes best.
It's not the one I like best, but I think I can
summarize the case for it.
- First of all it is a beautiful period
reproduction of how people felt about baseball
in its second golden age, just after WW2, when
baseball was king. It captures the struggle of a
black star to play in the deep south in the 50s,
and it pictures the enthusiasm of the players
and crowd for their team, even though that team
was in the very low minors. It brought back
memories of how my own home town felt about the
local minor league team in that era.
- William Petersen is charismatic as the team's
manager and star player, Stud Cantrell. Although
a WW2 injury robbed him of his shot at the bigs,
Stud treats every aspect of his rinky-dink team
as seriously as he would if he were in the big
show - and he's having a lot more fun than he
would up there, because he loves every aspect of
the game - the strategies, the competition, the
camaraderie, the thrill of discovering a new
prospect, the groupies - even the cheap hotels
and uncomfortable bus rides.
- Although the dialogue is not as polished and
the jokes are not as cleverly crafted as in a
slick studio film like Bull Durham, the
atmosphere of Long Gone is more gritty and
realistic. Characters talk and think as they
actually did in the era.
- Virginia Madsen may have been the queen of
screen nudity in the late 80s, and this puts one
more credit on her resume for that position.
- Teller (the silent partner in the Penn and
Teller act) speaks! He has a lot of dialogue,
and an accent (theoretically) crafted from the
Deep South. To me it sounds more like a comic
parody of an Alabama accent, but what do I know?
I thought Jude Law did a decent job as Thomas
Wolfe in Genius, but my friend in Wolfe's native
town (Asheville, NC) says that Law'a accent made
the great author sound like a dumb-ass from
Asheville, rather than an esteemed intellectual.
So there are many subtleties to be considered,
and I've never studied an Alabama accent, so I
may not grasp those subtleties. One thing I did
grasp is that Teller's character is annoying as
The story gets complicated by a couple of messy love
stories, and there are a few other sub-plots which
seem like unnecessary distractions, but the film is
a lot of fun and, if you are baseball fan who
remembers that era, a lot of nostalgia.
Stud's team, the Tampico Stogies, is a fictional
creation, but their #1 rival, the Dothan Cardinals,
was a real team in the Alabama-Florida league in the
1950s, so that gives us a general fix on the time
and place in which the story takes place. As the
story begins, the Stogies have a losing record and
no hope to improve it, but Stud is the recipient of
Actually two miracles.
The first comes in the presence of a naive,
wide-eyed kid just out of high school (played by a
very young Dermot Mulroney), with dreams of a
baseball career. The kid's brilliant strategy to
achieve that career is to knock on the door of
Stud's hotel room and say "can I play for your
team?" Stud dismisses the slight youngster as a
crackpot, but just out of his natural baseball
curiosity, he asks the kid which position he plays,
and when he hears, "second base," his eyes light up.
Could this be a sign from God? Stud's current second
baseman bobbles more balls than he handles. Turns
out the kid can play second base like the second
coming of Nap Lajoie. Unfortunately, the frail
youngster can't hit like Lajoie, so he won't ever
fulfill his dreams of a baseball career, but ol'
Stud figures he has nothing to lose by giving the
kid a break.
The second miracle arrives in the presence of a
monstrous black catcher, Joe Brown, who can hit like
Josh Gibson, a real-life superstar catcher in the
old Negro Leagues. Brown just wants a chance to play
ball, and Stud knows a ballplayer when he sees one,
so he's ready to sign a new star. Of course this is
Alabama in the 50s, so Stud has to pass off Joe
Brown as Jose Moreno from Caracas, Venezuela. That
deception only gets them so far, as the locals
eventually see through the ruse, the KKK gets
involved, and trouble ensues.
The team comes together, surges and may have a
chance to defeat the mighty Dothan Cardinals for the
pennant. It all comes down to the last game of the
season. Unfortunately for the Stogies, Joe Brown and
Stud Cantrell get bribed into abandoning their team
for the final show-down. Will the two stars repent
in time? Or can the team win without them? Or are
the Stogies doomed to yet another disappointing