Dream On

February 25, 2017
Just in time for the Oscars…..
 
I was working on a completely different article, but I was stopped in my tracks when I read a couple of recent pieces that commented on the 1989 classic "Field of Dreams", a movie that leaves very little room for middle ground.  Most people have very visceral reactions to it, one way or the other.  Many love it….others loathe it.
 
Craig Calcaterra at NBCSports.com posted a recent article stating how much he hated it.  Joe Posnanski offered a different take shortly thereafter, saying he loved the way it made him feel, although he also expressed the opinion that the movie had many flaws.
 
I decided to offer my own thoughts on the movie.  I unabashedly, unapologetically loved it.  But maybe not for the reasons you may think (more on that later). 
 
What caught my attention in many of the criticisms of the movie, though, are the supposed flaws that people reference.    I thought I’d review some of those here even though I realize it’s probably a fruitless endeavor.  I mean, either you love the film, or you don’t, and I probably won’t change anyone’s mind.  How we feel about films tends to be a very personal, very gut reaction.  Nevertheless, I wanted to address some of the criticisms that you often hear about the movie.
 
The Top Baseball Films of All Time
 
Before digging in, a quick review of popular "baseball" films might be in order. 
 
It’s quite common to find "Field of Dreams" listed as one of the best baseball films ever.  In fact, a couple of years ago, we held our own Bill James Online poll of the best baseball films ever.  Everyone picked their top 10, and we scored it MVP-style.  "Field of Dreams" topped the list. 
 
Here were our results (note: we decided to exclude Ken Burns’ "Baseball", since it’s in an entirely different class of film):
 
Rank
Movie
1
Field of Dreams
2
Bull Durham
3-Tie
Eight Men Out
3-Tie
The Sandlot
5
A League of Their Own
6
The Natural
7
Moneyball
8
Major League
9
Bad News Bears (1976 Version)
10
Bang the Drum Slowly
 
And, in the interest of providing you with new, groundbreaking, never-before-seen information…..I was interested in compiling a consensus list of the top baseball films ever.  I combined the Bill James Online results with 19 other lists I located on the Internet that provided at least a top 10 list.  Sources of top 10 lists included Rotten Tomatoes, ESPN, Baseball America, Ranker.com, CBS, IMDB.com, and many others.  I assigned 10 points for each 1st place result, 9 for each 2nd, and so on.  Here are the results of that exercise:
 
Rank
Title
Points
1
Bull Durham
151
2
Field of Dreams
132
3
The Natural
111
4
A League of Their Own
90
5
The Bad News Bears (1976 Version)
85
6
Eight Men Out
83
7
Moneyball
79
8
The Sandlot
75
9
Major League
75
10
The Pride of the Yankees
61
 
Note that the consensus top 10 is mostly the same list as the Bill James Online list (9 of the 10 are common to both lists), although in a little different order, and with "The Pride of the Yankees" replacing "Bang the Drum Slowly". 
 
The 2 popular Kevin Costner flicks occupied the top 2 slots, with "The Natural" a solid #3.  Those would probably have to comprise 3 of the 4 "Mount Rushmore of Baseball Films" spots, but any of the next 6 has a reasonable argument for the 4th spot.
 
The next 5 on the consensus list, in case you’re interested, were:
·         Bang the Drum Slowly
·         Fever Pitch
·         42
·         The Rookie
·         *61
 
Others that were mentioned: "For Love of the Game", "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings", "Angels in the Outfield", "Sugar", "Mr. Baseball", "Little Big League", "Fear Strikes Out", and "Rookie of the Year". 
 
"Bull Durham" appeared on 19 of the 20 lists, with "The Bad News Bears", "Field of Dreams", and "A League of Their Own" mentioned on 17.
 
"Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" were each ranked #1 on 6 of the lists, with "The Natural" coming in #1 on 3.  "The Bad News Bears", "A League of Their Own", "Moneyball", "Eight Men Out", and "The Sandlot" each earned 1 first-place finish.
 
There might be a bit of an "era" bias running through all of this.  Most of the top ranked films were released within a relatively short period of time.   "The Natural" was released in 1984, "Bull Durham" and "Eight Men Out" in 1988, "Field of Dreams and "Major League" in 1989, "A League of Their Own" in 1992, "The Sandlot" in 1993.  Talk about a "Golden Era" of baseball movies.  Among the top 10, "The Pride of the Yankees was the earliest release (1942), and Moneyball was the most recent (2011). 
 
OK.  So, that’s a quick review of what would be considered the top baseball films ever.  The next question, though, is:
 
Is "Field of Dreams" Really a "Baseball" Film?
 
Clearly, "Field of Dreams" is a film whose message resonates with a great many people.  Just as clearly, it’s not for everyone.  It’s extremely "corny", and it ain’t just because of the cornfield…..
 
In my opinion, though, it is probably a little bit misclassified as a "baseball" movie, although I’m sure it will always be thought of that way.  Sure, baseball runs through it and is central to the theme, but it’s not really about baseball in the way that most of the other movies are.  It uses baseball as a device in a spiritual sense and in a symbolic way to remind us of simplicity and innocence.  But there’s really not much actual baseball in it.  The central theme of the movie is about getting second chances and realizing a sense of redemption. 
 
It’s not a fictional drama, it’s not a dramatization of real events, it’s not a comedy.  The genre it belongs in is fantasy.  It belongs in the same class as films like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Princess Bride", films like that.  "Groundhog Day", which has been running so endlessly on cable this month (after all, it is February) that I feel like I’m experiencing my own personal Groundhog Day that I can’t seem to break out of, is another example of a fantasy film.  Saying that "Field of Dreams" is a baseball film contains some truth to it, but I think it’s a little like saying that "The Wizard of Oz" is a witchcraft film.
 
Quick definition from filmsite.org:
Fantasy films, unlike science fiction films that base their content upon some degree of scientific truth, take the audience to netherworld, fairy-tale places where events are unlikely to occur in real life.  Fantasy films often have an element of magic, myth, wonder, escapism, and the extraordinary.
 
The keys there are magic, myth, escapism, and events unlikely to happen in real life.  Fantasy films have a different standard than other films.  They have a great deal more freedom, more creative license.  Fantasy films allow our minds to go out and play for a while, to roam free, unchained by the realities of our everyday lives.  I think that’s an important thing to bear in mind when critiquing the film.
 
"Ghost" Busters
 
My first encounter with the anti-Field of Dreams crowd occurred shortly after it came out.  I had just seen the movie and asked a co-worker what she thought of it.  She said "That’s the movie with the ghosts, right?  Well, I didn’t buy it.  It wasn’t very believable"
 
I didn’t know how to reply to her.  Didn’t buy it?  Didn’t buy what?  It wasn’t believable?  Come on….it’s a fantasy.  It’s a fable.  It’s not intended to be literal, and it’s not restricted by facts. 
 
This reaction reminded me of a bit I saw once from comedian Tom Kenny (who you might be more familiar with as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, but who also used to do stand-up).  Kenny tells of the time that he went to see "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" in the theater with a date, and when they got to the scene where the kids are being chased on their bikes and E.T. magically empowers the bikes to fly, his date screamed out "Oh, come on!" and then sarcastically blurted out "Yeah…..right!"  At which point he turns to her and says "Look, honey, it’s not a documentary!"
 
I feel the same way about Field of Dreams when people insist on enforcing too much reality on its shoulders.  It’s a fantasy, a fairy tale.  I give it a ton of leeway for that fact alone.  They can have ghosts, and voices in the corn field, and old Moonlight Graham turning into young Moonlight Graham and then back to old Dr. Graham again after stepping off the field, and ballplayers fading into the corn, and messages that appear and disappear from the Fenway Park scoreboard, and a farmer deciding to plow under his land and convert it into a baseball field, and Ray Kinsella getting reunited with his father while his father reappears as an even younger man than Ray is, and none of it bothers me a bit.  It’s a story.  It doesn’t have to be believable.  The rules of reality don’t apply.  In fact, I prefer that they don’t.  I got plenty of reality without it creeping into my movies, especially one like this.
 
Right is Left, Left is Right
 
One of the more frequent gripes you hear about "Field of Dreams", especially from fans intimate with baseball history, is the rather famous "error" of Ray Liotta’s portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson as a right-handed hitter and left-handed thrower, when in fact Jackson was the exact opposite (batted left, threw right).  This drives many baseball fans absolutely nuts.
 
Not me.
 
To start with, "Field of Dreams" is neither a dramatization nor a biopic about Joe Jackson.  If it were, I would have cared more about getting his "handedness" correct.  But it’s neither of those types of films.  As an allegorical story, the accuracy of how Jackson batted or threw is irrelevant.  The story’s not really about Jackson, anyway.  It’s only using Jackson as a device, as a symbol of one of many characters seeking a second chance.
 
It’s also not as if the film makers were just careless and unaware.  They knew full well that Jackson batted lefty and threw righty.  Ray Liotta, the actor who portrayed Jackson, tried for a while to pull it off, but he couldn’t do it convincingly.  So, he went back to his natural way of hitting and throwing, and they made a decision to let that part be historically inaccurate.  Plus, as Liotta himself pointed out when interviewed about Jackson batting the wrong way, "Well, he didn’t come down from heaven either!"  Well said, Ray.
 
Much is also made of the fact that Liotta doesn’t look or sound much like Shoeless Joe, who was from South Carolina.  Again, that didn’t bother me in the least.  Liotta wasn’t trying to do an impression of him. 
 
And, my feeling is…what did all of that really hurt?  The film makers made an acting choice over a historical accuracy choice.  In a film like this, that’s the more important variable.  They liked what Liotta brought to the character.  In my view, that was the proper decision.  The historical details of Joe Jackson’s voice, looks, and handedness aren’t relevant to the story.  Look, I’m as big a baseball historical nut as you’ll find.  I’ve immersed myself in baseball’s history starting from a very early age.  When I first saw the film, I was well aware how Jackson hit and threw in real life.  I noticed it.  But, I can honestly say it didn’t bother me in the least, and it didn’t detract from what the film was trying to do.
 
But, while we’re at it, why do we care so much about this particular historical inaccuracy?  In 1988, a year before "Field of Dreams" was released, "Eight Men Out" hit the big screen.  Now, "Eight Men Out", in contrast to "Field of Dreams", was about real events.  It was a dramatization of those events, no doubt, but it was based the events in and around the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  However, "Eight Men Out" had a lot of historical inaccuracies.  Granted, they did have Jackson (played by D.B. Sweeney) batting left and throwing right, so they got that right, but they had Eddie Collins (Bill Irwin) batting right handed instead of left handed, and they also had one of the "clean Sox" pitchers, Dickey Kerr (Jace Alexander), pitching right handed instead of lefty.  Again, it didn’t bother me….but why did "Eight Men Out" largely get off the hook for things like this while "Field of Dreams" was hammered for the Joe Jackson portrayal?  If you’re going to hold one of the films to a higher standard, wouldn’t you hold the film that’s actually about real events more accountable?
 
While we’re on the topic….."Eight Men Out" had numerous other inaccuracies, including Kerr retelling a story to his manager (Kid Gleason) about how Kerr, in the first big league game he had ever seen, witnessed Gleason pitching a no-hitter against Cy Young, an event that never occurred, as Gleason never pitched a no-hitter.  So, it was clearly made up for dramatic effect in the exchange between Kerr and Gleason, which is fine, but, again, why not slam the film for that error?  In addition, there have been numerous other details that the film got wrong, ranging from various scores of the World Series games to inaccurate timelines regarding the trial, etc.  But, no one seemed to care about those, and frankly, I don’t either, because in most cases, they’re not all that critical and don’t really detract from the essence of the film.  They’re details, but to me, they’re not deal breakers.  But, in these examples, why hold "Field of Dreams", a fantasy, to a higher standard than "Eight Men Out", which was based on real events? 
 
The Absence of Negro Leaguers
 
I admit I’m a little conflicted on addressing this topic, because any time you comment on race, you run the risk that if you go too far one direction, you’ll be labeled as just being politically correct, and if you go too far in the other, you may be branded as racist.  It can be tricky waters to navigate.  Still, I thought I’d provide my thoughts.
 
By the way, a quick sidebar on words…..
 
I believe the term "racist", as happens to many words over time, is undergoing a transformation.  And, no, I’m not even referring to current political usage of it, which has been getting a great deal of attention lately, including a recent article by Bill posted on this site.  I’m talking about something a little closer to home. 
 
See, my middle-school-aged kids use the term "racist", but in a different context.  For example, we were at Chipotle the other day, and while instructing the "burrito artist" on what I wanted to include in my burrito, I selected the white rice rather than the brown rice.  My daughter commented that that was "racist". 
 
My kids throw the word around like that all the time.  When I tried to explain to my daughter that it’s not really proper usage of the term, she explained that she uses it any time someone favors one thing over another.  In other words, she’s eliminating a key element of discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, and instead is applying a simplified definition of merely showing favoritism towards one thing over another.  I wonder if, eventually, that will be the more common application of the word? 
 
I believe the term for this dynamic is "semantic shift".  For example, I recently was at a restaurant and ordered a steak and asked the waiter which steak sauces they had, and he said they had Heinz 57 and A1.  I chose A1, and the waiter replied "awesome!"  Well, I’m sorry, but my choice of steak sauce was not "awesome".  There was nothing impressive or earth-shattering about my selection.  Nevertheless….over time, "awesome" now has very little to do with "awe" and has morphed into something more along the lines of "Great, thank you for selecting an option that I can actually fulfill".
 
OK…end of sidebar.
 
For well over 20 years after the release of the film, I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about this particular point, but I’ve heard it referenced more and more often lately about how the film didn’t include any Negro League players (or any African-American players at all, for that matter) in any of the scenes where the ghosts of deceased players returned to play on the Field of Dreams. 
 
Back when we were having our top 10 baseball movie discussion in Reader Posts a couple of years ago, one well-intentioned but (in my view) misguided member observed that "Field of Dreams" made him very angry because it implied that such a wonderful place would only welcome white players, and that a "real" Field of Dreams should rightfully include players like Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Oscar Charleston.   He made a comment about "wouldn’t Josh Gibson like to take a few cuts against Eddie Cicotte?"  He also made the point that the film had a "forum" to address the injustice of the Negro Leagues, and that they should have "made the most of that forum".  I guess I never particularly thought of "Field of Dreams" as a "forum"….
 
Others have also pointed out that the absence of African-Americans in those scenes make them uncomfortable when viewing the movie, and that it was a real miss on the filmmakers’ part.  Even the film’s director, Phil Alden Robinson, expressed regret after the fact that he didn’t include any African-Americans, and that he would include them if he had the chance again (ironic, I suppose, since the film is about second chances and regret…..)
 
While I certainly don’t want to imply that it would have been a bad decision for the film to include Negro League players, I really don’t think it would have helped either, and I think people that insist it was a big oversight generally miss the point of what the movie’s ultimately about.  Here’s why….
 
See, the film is indeed about second chances.  But, not just any second chances.  It’s not about getting another chance to do something that you weren’t able to do before.  It’s about getting second chances directly related to decisions that the characters themselves made, second chances related to regretful decisions or errors on their part. 
 
Look at the main characters more closely, their background stories, and their connection to the Field of Dreams that offers them a second chance:
 
  • Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) and his father John (Dwier Brown) – their relationship deteriorated over time due to their respective actions and behavior, and they never reconciled.
 
  • Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) – an author who loved baseball and writing, but over time became cynical and reclusive.
 
  • Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster as the old Graham, Frank Whaley as the young Graham) – A fringe ballplayer who only made one appearance in the Majors and never got a turn at bat, and then hung it up to become a doctor.  He didn’t regret his choice, because he knew that being a doctor was his calling, but he always wondered about what it might have felt like had he stuck with baseball a little longer and had the chance to take a turn at bat.
 
  • The 8 Black Sox players – Found guilty of throwing the 1919 World Series, banned from the Majors forever for their actions.
 
What do these characters all have in common?  They all made choices that, to one degree or another, they regretted, because those decisions caused them to lose something they loved, whether it was a relationship, a passion, an opportunity, or a livelihood.  The Field of Dreams is not simply some kind of Nirvana where all the dead players can regroup and play together in peace and harmony while re-living their glory years.  It’s a place for second chances, most definitely…..but specifically it’s a place that provides second chances for those who have erred in the past, a chance to right a wrong of their own doing.  A chance for redemption.  A chance for absolution, if you will.  A place of forgiveness.
 
So, if you look at it in that light, the plight of the Negro Leaguers doesn’t really fit into the theme.  The Negro Leaguers didn’t make bad choices.  They didn’t err in any way.  There was no need for those players to seek redemption. They didn’t do anything wrong….they had a wrong done unto them by others by prohibiting them from playing in the Major Leagues.  It was beyond their control.  They’re already as innocent as children in this context.  While I understand where people are coming from when they make the point that they should have been included, I feel it misses the point.  To have included them just for inclusion’s sake would have been, in my opinion, gratuitous and served no purpose related to the movie’s theme. 
 
Now, some of you who are especially sharp might be wondering "OK…but what about Mel Ott, Gil Hodges, and Smoky Joe Wood?  Why are they there?"  Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a good answer.  I do think the film makers were inconsistent in that way.  I don’t think there was any particularly good reason to identify those players other than for a brief bit of name dropping.   They don’t fit the theme either, unless you take the position that they’re looking for a second chance because Smoky Joe regretted hurting his thumb while fielding a bunt, Ott regretted getting in a car accident and dying before he was 50, and Hodges regretted chain smoking and dying young from a heart attack, all of which I think would be real stretches.  Apparently, they were dead and word got out that there was a magic field, and they showed up.  If that were the case, if that’s all the film was about, to have a place where the dead could return and play, then they would have saved themselves a lot of grief by being more inclusive. 
 
But, the theme was really about more than that.  If it were simply about just a having a place where the ghosts of great ballplayers from the past could assemble and frolic, how come Christy Mathewson and Lou Gehrig and Honus Wagner and thousands of others weren’t there?  Answer: they didn’t need to be there.  It wasn’t a place for them.  They didn’t need redemption.  The Black Sox needed it.  It should have been as simple as that.
 
Moonlight and Burt
 
"It was like coming this close to your dreams and then watching them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time, you don't think much of it. You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. Back then I thought, 'Well, there'll be other days.' I didn't realize that that was the only day."
- Moonlight Graham, "Field of Dreams"
 
Another common complaint I hear is that Burt Lancaster’s acting was over-the-top in his portrayal of the Moonlight Graham character.  I honestly don’t know what in the world these people are talking about.  
 
Lancaster’s time on the screen yielded some of the moments of the film for me.  I think it was a terrific, poignant, memorable performance.   Like many aspects of the film, you either loved it or you didn’t.  And, I loved his moments on screen.  I felt he played the role just right.  I recently went back and re-watched his scenes to see if maybe I missed something.  I didn’t.  He was terrific.
 
By the way, I also love that his character’s wishes are to wink at a pitcher (to make him think you know something he doesn’t) and to hit a triple.  Not a home run, but a triple, to circle the bases and to hug third base when you arrive.  And when he gets his chance on the Field of Dreams, he finds out that winking at a pitcher will only result in a brushback pitch that knocks you on your ass.  And, it was an excellent film decision to have him hit a sacrifice fly in his at-bat.  Not a triple, like he had imagined…. a simple sac fly, just deep enough to get the run home.  A very wise and effective choice they made there.
 
Terence Mann & The Speech
 
Another observation that you hear people make is the problem they have with Terence Mann’s (James Earl Jones) speech near the end of the movie.  It’s one of the big moments in the movie, and a lot of people loved that speech.  It’s probably worth looking at in its entirety for reference purposes, because it can show how people can interpret the same words in extremely different ways.  (note, I removed the intermediate lines where the brother-in-law keeps imploring Ray (Costner) to "sign the papers"):
 
*****
 
Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. "Of course, we won't mind if you have a look around," you'll say. "It's only twenty dollars per person." They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
 
And they'll walk out to the bleachers, and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as if they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces.  People will come, Ray.
 
The one constant through all the years, Ray, 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, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.
 
*****
 
Now, that’s a speech that "gets to" people in very different ways.  To some, it’s a moving speech, one of the highlights of the film.  To others, they wonder how the character of Terence Mann, an African-American author, one who was squarely in the middle of the civil rights fight, could make such a speech like this that "longs for the past".  They see this speech as a call to return to the past, a time when African-Americans faced terrible prejudice, that Mann’s character could be interpreted as glorifying the era of the deceased ballplayers (which, in the case of the Black Sox players, would have been the 1910’s and 1920’s) in which baseball was segregated.  They wonder, how could an African-American logically make that speech?  In addition, they’re troubled by the money reference, inferring from the speech that they’ll take your 20 bucks to let you bask in the nostalgia, but if you’re poor and don’t have the cash….well, forget it, buddy.
 
Let me offer a different take.  When someone waxes nostalgic about the past, it doesn’t mean that person wants to return to every aspect of that past.  If I get nostalgic about the 1960’s, it’s likely because I’m remembering the music, or certain sporting events, or landing a man on the moon, or other things related to growing up.  It doesn’t mean I’m hoping to return to an era that included Vietnam, the Manson family, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys.  Nostalgia generally involves selective memories that made you happy.  You may be nostalgic about specific events or people, or simply how something made you feel, perhaps just because, when you’re younger, things may have seemed simpler and, in many ways, better.  Not necessarily everything about the past, but certain things.  That doesn’t mean you want to see society regress.  That doesn’t mean you wish to return completely to all of the realities of a prior era.
 
So, I really don’t see anything truly inconsistent about Mann’s character making a reference to "all that was once good, and could be again".  He’s talking symbolically about how baseball itself made people feel, especially as children, even though that past contains ugly truths including segregation.  Longing for positive memories from the past does not mean that you’re calling for a complete return to that era.
 
Look at the phrases and images:  "innocent as children.   "where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes".  He’s expressing nostalgia in the form of how people felt when they were younger, when things were simpler, before you had to worry about making a living and paying the mortgage and all of the stresses with life, when you could just sit and watch the game without a care in the world.  He’s not calling for society to return to its previous norms.  He’s not saying that the past was all good, and he’s not even saying that baseball was free of its own shortcomings.  He’s saying that the game itself, at its essence, reminds us of what was good, because of how it made us feel. 
 
That’s the spirit of the speech, in my opinion.  To impose some larger societal meaning beyond that is, I think, a true disservice in the context of the film.   Everyone reacts differently, I suppose, but I see no inconsistency between Mann’s character and the delivering of this speech.  It remains a highlight for so many fans of the movie.
 
By  the way…..the sight of having Terence Mann sitting in the bleachers with "The Baseball Encyclopedia" open on his lap is perfect.  A true analyst at heart, he was.  Makes me wonder if he had a Baseball Abstract with him as well.  The timing would have been about right….
 
Having a Catch / Dad
 
Perhaps the one scene that tends to be cited most often by people that love the film is the climactic "Hey, Dad, wanna have a catch?" scene between Ray and his father.   Many a fan has admitted to blubbering upon watching that moment.
 
I’d have to say, though, that I’m not one of them.  Oh, I understand why many react that way.  I just didn’t have that kind of emotional connection to that part of it.  See, as much as I love baseball, my dad simply didn’t.  Now, we had a great relationship, and we loved each other.  We just didn’t have a bond that included baseball.
 
My dad was a veteran of World War II.  He was smart.  He could fix just about anything, and loved disassembling things so he could better understand how they operated.  The old joke about my dad was that if you asked him what time it was, he would explain to you how a clock worked.
 
But, baseball?  He just wasn’t interested.  He didn’t get it.  It didn’t speak to him.  Once, a friend asked him if he wanted to watch a ball game, and he replied "No thanks….I’ve already seen one".  That’s literally how he felt.  Where as you or I could find something unique in every baseball game we've seen, they all looked the same to him.
 
He would take me to ball games occasionally (as did my mom) to Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, but he found it hard to sit and watch them.  More often than not, he would head up to the top of the upper level and look out over the Ohio River and smoke his cigar.  I really didn’t mind…..I was too much into the ball game and keeping score to let it bother me.  Honestly, I was just always happy to be there and to watch the game.
 
But, playing catch with my dad?  No, I really couldn’t identify with that.  Funny how that works sometimes.  Both of my grandfathers were baseball players and huge baseball fans.  My father’s father always encouraged people that would immigrate from the "old country" to attend baseball games.  He liked to say "if you’re going to be an American, you’re going to have to learn about baseball".  He felt it was an important part of our national identity, that it represented teamwork at its best.  I guess that attraction must have skipped a generation.  Similarly, my son has never developed any real interest in baseball either.  He’s much more into art and computers.  I guess baseball either speaks to you, or it doesn’t.
 
So, I still think it’s a wonderful film.  And I do think of my dad and remember him fondly when watching.  I just don’t happen to tear up at that moment.  It’s not a big emotional moment, and it’s not really a reason why I love the film.
 
Wrapping it Up
 
In the course of writing this, something else occurred to me that hadn’t before, a new way that I now relate to the film.  In some ways, I have come to feel like a combination of 2 of the main characters in the film: Moonlight Graham and Terence Mann.  It’s as though I’ve gotten a small taste of my own personal Field of Dreams.
 
A little background:  In the early 1980’s, when I was college age, trying to decide what I wanted to do, I started reading Bill James and the Abstracts (which, by the way, would a great name for an alternative rock band).  My mind was blown.  I thought, "What a great way to make a living!"  I had always enjoyed tinkering with information, playing tabletop games, compiling stats, looking through reference material, doing my little analyses, and it crossed my mind that that was exactly the type of work I would love doing.  However, I lacked the confidence in my ability to pursue it.  I wouldn’t have even known how to begin.  Was it realistic?  What if I failed?  I ruled it out before I ever got started.  So, I continued my more traditional educational path, while still remaining a loyal reader.
 
See, it strikes me that what Bill James created, much like Ray Kinsella creating the Field of Dreams itself, was totally illogical.  It seemed unlikely that something like what he was doing could succeed.  He was consistently told by publishers that there was no way that his work would appeal to a large audience.  Yet, he defied all the odds.  He self-published his early Abstracts.  Success must have seemed unattainable at times.  However, succeed he did, and the rest is history.
 
Much like Moonlight Graham, I chose a more conventional path, a safer path, but always wondered what might have happened had I stuck with my original passion.  Much like Terence Mann, I spent many years doing other things besides writing, when writing and analysis was my true passion.
 
Since joining Bill James Online as an author, I have been afforded the chance to write on this site, unconstrained by restrictions on topic or content, unbelievably getting the opportunity to write in the same space as Bill James himself.  When I stop to think about it, it strikes me as being very surreal.  Ironically, very "dreamlike", if you will.
 
Much like Moonlight Graham, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything else.  I have no complaints.   I have a great family, a wife and kids that I love.  I don’t have any true regrets.  But, a couple of times a month, I do get the pleasure of diving into my original passion, sequestering myself away, doing my research, organizing my thoughts, publishing my work, and witnessing the reactions. 
 
When I publish my articles, I know I don’t always hit a home run….sometimes I strike out, and sometimes, just like the young Moonlight Graham, I merely hit a sacrifice fly just deep enough to score the runner.  And like Terence Mann, I have been provided with a second chance, in some small way, to follow a passion, to see what’s out there in the cornfield. 
 
A second chance….isn’t that what the film’s really all about? 
 
As always, thank you for reading.
 
Dan 
 
 

COMMENTS (40 Comments, most recent shown first)

Manushfan
Agree with your take on this. Love the movie. I think lots of the criticism is a case of a double standard being applied. Really--you're upset that there's a portrayal of the afterlife taken seriously, and this hurts your feelings? Then go watch Mikey Bay's Big Robots hit each other some more. This is fantasy. It's heartfelt. It's beautifully done. And as far's the whining about Lancaster-holy. He's great in this. Go watch Charlie Sheen 'under play' in Major League if that's your thing. I can assure you that you'll be on the losing end of things there. (I like that film by the way-hats for bats etc. Fun stuff).

It might be fun to see them insert a CGI of say 'Josh Gibson' and 'Biz Mackey' into the group of players that come back, but as this Wasn't done by Lucas, never happen. I'm okay with it as is.
11:16 AM Mar 11th
 
Brock Hanke
I agree with almost all of your review, but one of the few points I disagree with is what the movie is "about." IMO, it's about someone finally reconciling his feelings towards his father. He builds what was his father's Field of Dreams, and the players who come are the players that his father thought were the greats of baseball, when his father was young. That's why, although I've been radicalized about civil rights since 1954, I didn't miss the Negro Leaguers. The FATHER would not have had any of them on his young man's list of baseball gods. The people "who will come" are people who are nostalgic about early baseball; the baseball their fathers saw when their fathers were kids, or, in Graham's case, the baseball that he touched, but only once and only tangentially. That's what unites the cast. The wife isn't being submissive; she is being supportive of her husband, who is dealing with getting the greatest piece of emotional baggage he has out of his system. Baseball is a metaphor for the bond that exists between father and son, and what happens when it gets broken but never healed.

I had the better side of the same coin. My father was born in 1911, and grew up a St. Louis Browns fan. He thought George Sisler was God. He was also 11 years old in 1922. By the time he was getting me into baseball, there were black players. Dad was absolutely supportive of this; his opinions of civil rights and mine were very similar. But when he was young, black major leaguers didn't exist. He didn't spend any time watching Negro League baseball, largely because there was always a Browns or Cardinals game going on. So, if I were to create a Field of Dreams to connect with him, it would be HIS field of dreams. It would not have any black players on it.

Also, I think the biggest omission from the Top Ten Movie list is Fear Strikes Out. The early baseball movies are, as a group, pretty bad, especially the biographies. Fear Strikes Out succeeds because it has one clear and important thing to talk about, aside from baseball. It's about mental illness and how it affects even high achievers. Most baseball biographies are pretty directionless. Alibi Ike is pretty good too, once you realize that you're watching a vaudeville comedy starting Joe E. Brown and his Amazing Frog Mouth. Baseball is just the backdrop.
11:57 PM Mar 6th
 
Brock Hanke
I agree with almost all of your review, but one of the few points I disagree with is what the movie is "about." IMO, it's about someone finally reconciling his feelings towards his father. He builds what was his father's Field of Dreams, and the players who come are the players that his father thought were the greats of baseball, when his father was young. That's why, although I've been radicalized about civil rights since 1954, I didn't miss the Negro Leaguers. The FATHER would not have had any of them on his young man's list of baseball gods. The people "who will come" are people who are nostalgic about early baseball; the baseball their fathers saw when their fathers were kids, or, in Graham's case, the baseball that he touched, but only once and only tangentially. That's what unites the cast. The wife isn't being submissive; she is being supportive of her husband, who is dealing with getting the greatest piece of emotional baggage he has out of his system. Baseball is a metaphor for the bond that exists between father and son, and what happens when it gets broken but never healed.

I had the better side of the same coin. My father was born in 1911, and grew up a St. Louis Browns fan. He thought George Sisler was God. He was also 11 years old in 1922. By the time he was getting me into baseball, there were black players. Dad was absolutely supportive of this; his opinions of civil rights and mine were very similar. But when he was young, black major leaguers didn't exist. He didn't spend any time watching Negro League baseball, largely because there was always a Browns or Cardinals game going on. So, if I were to create a Field of Dreams to connect with him, it would be HIS field of dreams. It would not have any black players on it.

Also, I think the biggest omission from the Top Ten Movie list is Fear Strikes Out. The early baseball movies are, as a group, pretty bad, especially the biographies. Fear Strikes Out succeeds because it has one clear and important thing to talk about, aside from baseball. It's about mental illness and how it affects even high achievers. Most baseball biographies are pretty directionless. Alibi Ike is pretty good too, once you realize that you're watching a vaudeville comedy starting Joe E. Brown and his Amazing Frog Mouth. Baseball is just the backdrop.
11:56 PM Mar 6th
 
Marc Schneider
One of the odd things in the movie is that when John and Ray play catch, the son is older than his father. That sort of defeats the point. IMO, people think of their fathers as they knew them. The younger man is not really his father.
9:14 PM Mar 2nd
 
DaveNJnews
Coming a little late to this conversation ... but I really dislike Field of Dreams (though I haven't seen it in a while).

I loved the book Shoeless Joe and thought that the movie flipped some of Kinsella's themes on their head, perhaps to rein in some of Kinsella's more fantastic notions. (No, I don't fault them for changing the character from J.D. Salinger, because I am sure they had no choice in that regard.) Re-framing the main character's issues with his father as a generation gap 1960s thing annoyed me as well.


5:12 PM Mar 1st
 
taosjohn
"But nothing is black and white. I wasn't nearly as bothered by Joe Jackson batting right handed as I was by Tim Robbins' pitching motion."

This sums up the suspension of disbelief thingy perfectly for me-- I saw FoD in a crowded bar, the only place in town that was open after I got off work every night. They started a midnight movie night to try to draw in a very late night crowd, and they were just starting it ( to not much of a crowd, maybe six? when I got in about 12:20.

I remember commenting to Jack, the bartender, that Shoeless Joe hit from the other side; but I didn't reject the movie at that point, or brood about it or anything. I also wondered at the inability of Tim Robbins to actually throw a baseball with any snap at all; but I didn't really focus on that either, even though it was obvious that a 1927 HS team would have beaten on that weak stuff.

The rest of the movie worked for me, and wasn't even spoiled by the presence of Kevin Costner, so...

10:19 AM Feb 28th
 
steve161
The speech I would etch in stone is The Church of Baseball from Bull Durham. And the other side of the marble slab would have Crash Davis' credo.

I'm not knocking Field of Dreams. It's a nice film of a better book, but it's a nostalgic fantasy (with, as Dan points out, a serious core), where Bull Durham is gritty reality, thus more to my taste, at least where baseball is concerned.

But nothing is black and white. I wasn't nearly as bothered by Joe Jackson batting right handed as I was by Tim Robbins' pitching motion.
8:00 AM Feb 28th
 
jollydodger
Fun read, thanks.
I haven't seen it mentioned here, but my biggest gripe with the movie is "have a catch" and not "play catch." I grew up 'playing' catch.
James Earl Jones' speech, for me, is legend. It should be etched into stone.

My dad wasn't a huge baseball fan, but he wanted me to play Little League every year, and I did. He'd play catch with me until his arm hurt, often. If I had to pick one memory I could keep, only one, it would be playing catch with my dad. Over any success or relationship stuff, above all adult events.

It makes me dread my dad's death, whenever it happens. Crazy, huh?
11:36 PM Feb 27th
 
DMBBHF
Nigel Tufnel's a member on Bill James Online? Outstanding.

I'm wondering if Nigel's rating of "Field of Dreams" goes to 11 :)
7:59 PM Feb 27th
 
ajmilner
I would nominate Richard Linklater's 2016 film "Everybody Wants Some!!!" as a great recent baseball film, as well as an accurate look at an introduction to undergraduate life, circa 1980.
7:14 PM Feb 27th
 
NigelTufnel
I can live with Shoeless Joe hitting and throwing the opposite way - maybe there's some kind of mystical mirror image/redemption thing going on, although they probably should have had all the Black Sox do the same thing.

Anyway, Shoeless Joe batting righty makes more sense than Roy Hobbs hitting a walk off homer on the road.
2:21 PM Feb 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Another satisfied customer!
9:44 AM Feb 27th
 
DMBBHF
Hi Steven,

Well, we can agree on one thing. That sure was an absurd example. :)

Dan
8:56 AM Feb 27th
 
Steven Goldleaf
+1 to Fireball's comment. Dan, I think what you're not grasping here

"do you make a decision that you're going to only audition lefty-hitting/righty throwing actors, and select only from that pool? Or, do you make a decision about who is going to be the best acting fit? Or, do you try some hokey camera trick? They decided Liotta was the guy they wanted and tried to have him pull off the left/right thing, but then ditched it, but decided to keep the guy they wanted for the part. In context, I have no problem with that decision. "

is that this reasoning is fine to justify a financial, practical issue regarding the production of a profitable movie, but we (those who had a issue with FoD) are discussing an artistic matter. To give in to my baser instincts and give an absurd example for illustration, if they'd filmed the whole movie but Kevin Costner insisted on acting the last-filmed scene while standing on his head, do they shut down production, hire a new actor, and re-film the whole thing while suing Costner for breach of contract? Or do they release it as filmed and hope for the best? One answer is clear from an artistic point of view, while the other may make sense from a practical perspective.
8:29 AM Feb 27th
 
Fireball Wenz
I think that in a movie with supernatural or fantasy elements, its important that the "other stuff" - especially characters' reactions to the situations presented - are believable.

Where this breaks down for me in "Field of Dreams" is the Amy Madigan character. She functions, essentially, as some male fantasy of a dutiful wife. The guy runs all over the country on some nitwit dream fulfillment as they face financial ruin, and she's fine with it?

My wife made the observation that when my cry while watching "Field of Dreams," it's when the father and the son play catch. The women cry when Moonlight Graham gives up his dream to take care of the kid.
7:59 AM Feb 27th
 
jwilt
I liked the movie when it came out when I was about 20, and I liked it when I watched it again a year or so ago.

But I can't shake the feeling that it contributes to the cult of Black Sox rehabilitation, the folks who will always chime in with "see, steroid guys/greenies/Ty Cobb/(insert other player with human flaws here) are in the Hall, so Shoeless Joe definitely should be in!!" There's a lot of unknowns and ambiguities about the story, but this one comes down clearly on the side of Joe was a good and decent man put in an impossible situation and we should just forgive him already despite taking money from gamblers to throw the World Series.

My attitude has been heavily influenced by reading Bill James, who I believe said in one of the Historical Abstracts that Jackson was lucky he didn't get thrown in jail, and that he's fine with inducting Joe into Cooperstown after the thousands of other more-deserving candidates go in.
7:24 AM Feb 27th
 
Gfletch
Dan, I had no problem with inaccuracies of any kind in Field of Dreams; I was just musing on what works or doesn't work in fantasy...and of course it's an individual thing as to how we react.

To the specific thing...the portrayal of Shoeless Joe...I didn't even notice anything amiss and it wouldn't have bothered me if I had.

Finally, something I think I touched on earlier...thanks for the review. I now think there might be more to the movie than I realized and I will try to view it again. I don't always 'get' things the first time around.
9:02 PM Feb 26th
 
DMBBHF
Gary,

Understood. But I still maintain that when you get to the logistics of a major motion picture, do you make a decision that you're going to only audition lefty-hitting/righty throwing actors, and select only from that pool? Or, do you make a decision about who is going to be the best acting fit? Or, do you try some hokey camera trick? They decided Liotta was the guy they wanted and tried to have him pull off the left/right thing, but then ditched it, but decided to keep the guy they wanted for the part. In context, I have no problem with that decision.
4:14 PM Feb 26th
 
Blueron
Very much agree about Bert Lancaster's performance. Also, the great thing, to me, about Moonlight Graham getting a sac fly is that it gets him a plate appearance, but no official at bat, so the official record remains the same, history is not altered, so no "butterfly" effect.

Playing catch with his dad-that always gets me, that is one of my favorite memories from growing up, and having lost my dad when I was 14 years old, the idea of seeing him again and having a catch... well there are no manipulated feelings there, the tears are real...
2:47 PM Feb 26th
 
Gfletch
Dan, the bit about Gary Larson / The Far Side / facts about mosquitoes, that’s interesting as to how we accept certain things to enjoy fantasy but cannot accept others.

I wonder if it has to do with the sense of trust that the reader or viewer has with the artist(s). In the Larson cartoon of course we accept that mosquitoes “…lived in houses and wore clothes and spoke English.” That’s artistic license, conferred by the reader. But the joke itself hinges on a real fact and a mistake here isn’t as easily forgiven.

If you are going to use real historical figures in a movie or book you will always be in danger of breaking that sense of trust. We want the author to be clearly in control and we don’t put ourselves confidently in less than confident hands.

2:30 PM Feb 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
As I thought. From the link supplied below (and thanks):
Q. You never had any contact at all?
A. His lawyers wrote my publisher’s lawyers saying he was outraged and offended to be portrayed in the novel and they would be very unhappy if it were transferred to other media. Which was legalese for, We really don’t have enough to sue you, but we’ll try to pee on your parade if you try to take it to television or the movies. So the movie people [behind Field of Dreams] were too chicken to use Kinsella as a character, so they created Terence Mann.
Q. To me, losing Salinger took something away from the story.
A. Their feeling was that probably only 15 per cent of the movie-goers would have any idea who Salinger was anyway.

1:23 PM Feb 26th
 
bearbyz
Best review of Field of Dreams I have ever read. Thanks, I would have wrote it that way if I could.

I am also proud of Bill James readers as I agree with our listing of movies more than the consensus list. I didn't like The Natural as they changed the book ending and I think Pride of the Yankees is overrated.
1:16 PM Feb 26th
 
BarryBondsFan25
Just checked on Salinger and shoeless joe. According to Kinsella, Salinger threatened him with a lawsuit but never went through with it which to Kinsella meant that Salinger did not have enough to bring a suit. Salinger also threatened the same if the book ever became a movie. Below is a link to a Kinsella interview:


http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/w-p-on-j-d-kinsella-talks-about-writing-salinger-into-shoeless-joe/


The use of Salinger in the book works very well and much better than the Terrance Mann character in the movie.
12:47 PM Feb 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Did Salinger have a basis for a lawsuit? Seems very spotty. He let Kinsella use his name in the novel, if "let" is the correct term. Salinger was a public figure, very famous, so I'd imagine he was fair game to be written about, however scurrilously.

If he was threatening a nuisance lawsuit and the producers decided "Who needs the aggravation, let's just change the name," that's one thing (and a probable thing), but if Salinger had a viable legal case, I'd like to hear someone's explanation of it.

I recently was threatened with a lawsuit because I wrote about a colleague of mine who died. His family threatened to sue if I published my essay with his name in it, and after sputtering "BBBBut he's dead! You can't sue me! Besides, I said only nice things about him! And he wrote all the time about various dead people, saying nasty stuff about them. Do you think they should be able to sue him or to sue his estate?" I just decided to let it sit until my article got accepted for publication, and if they still felt this way I could change his name at that point. Sometimes people just get into their heads that suing is an option, and sometimes that option doesn't go away easily, however poorly formed it is.

In this case, I can't see Salinger's argument.​
12:13 PM Feb 26th
 
BarryBondsFan25
If you like the movie Field of Dreams, I suggest reading the book Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. Warning though, you may like the movie less after reading the book. The movie excludes several of the book's major characters.

Also, the Terrance Mann character was JD Salinger in the book. There was no way Salinger was going to allow his name to be used for a movie, so his character had to be changed. I believe Salinger also sued the author Kinsella for using his name in the book.

Anyway, Shoeless Joe is a fantastic read in my humble opinion.
9:51 AM Feb 26th
 
3for3
Excellent Dan. I feel the same way about the final scene. My dad WAS A huge baseball fan until the Dodgers went west. That ruined it for him, and we never had the baseball connection. Instead we had hockey and our shared love of the New York Rangers..No rink of dreams out there. I think you nailed the movie perfectly
9:35 AM Feb 26th
 
stevekohlhagen
Great article, Dan. Thanks so much.
On these lists, I think "Bang the Drum Slowly" is way underrated and deserves more print time. Robert Deniro is all but unrecognizable as a character unlike any other he ever did. As most of us are observing, these movies aren't necessarily about baseball. Baseball is used as a vehicle. In this case, the movie is about character and how personal adversity can enable people of character to work together to rise above themselves.
And, oh by the way, "Bull Durham" isn't about baseball either. it's about sex!
Thanks for sharing and getting us all to think. And remember.
swk
9:12 AM Feb 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for expressing your thoughts so well, Dan, especially on the dreamlike experience of writing on Bill's site, which I endorse and share. Thinking about it, though I love film and love baseball, I usually dislike baseball movies, on the principle that topics you know well are inevitably debased in popular culture. I have never known a lawyer who finds lawyers shows TV less than out and out laughable, same with doctors, professors, cops, and on and on. The more intimately you understand a process, the more the oversimplifications will bother you. I can't get over imperfections on a large scale, so the big ones that crop up in movies, especially about subjects I know well, tend to drive me nuts, not that that's a very long drive.
7:06 AM Feb 26th
 
DMBBHF
Hi guys,

Thanks for the continual comments and feedback.

Bruce - I loved "The Sandlot too". I think I said it somewhere before, but that film really is my childhood.

9:47 PM Feb 25th
 
evanecurb
Dan:

I like the review. I love this movie. I read the book as well. The movie is very true to the book, although the Terrance Mann character is replaced by J.D. Salinger in the book, and there's a relative who works for a carnival who brings his family and some carnival members and comes to stay with the Kinsellas for a bit. The film left that out; I'm fine with that.

I read three basball books and two short story collections that were written by Kinsella; this one (which was called "Shoeless Joe," is by far my favorite. The only one I didn't like was the "Iowa Baseball Confederacy," which was about a game played between the 1908 Cubs and a local team in Iowa. The game was played in a driving rainstorm, and lasted 40 days and 40 nights. I understood that they were referring to Noah and the Great Flood, but I didn't get the overall point. Talk about a digression....

Back to Field of Dreams: I appreciate Dan taking the time to point out the central point of the movie: second chances and redemption. I think he nailed it. When viewed in that context, the entire film fits together.

My favorite baseball movie is "The Sandlot."

The baseball movie I think is most overrated is "Bull Durham." It's not in my top five, maybe not even my top ten. As Dan said, how we see movies is very personal.
9:31 PM Feb 25th
 
chuck
Home run, Dan. Thank you. I love the simile of the Field of Dreams being like Bill's Abstracts & writing. He had the belief that if he wrote it, people would come (to read it, and would gladly pay for the privilege).
9:17 PM Feb 25th
 
Marc Schneider
Great article. I'm one of those that liked the movie but wasn't wild about it. Bull Durham is much better to me. But I read the linked review by Calcaterra and I must say I don't know what the hell he is talking about. He read way more into the movie than I think was there. And the notion that it's a peaen to Reagan seems ridiculous considering the politics of Costner and presumably the rest of the directors and producers. I don't really understand his idea that the movie is a repudiation of liberal 1960s values.


9:04 PM Feb 25th
 
DMBBHF
Thanks for the comments everyone...

Taosjohn,

Yeah, I remember when we did the BJOL poll on best baseball movies, you didn't vote for Field of Dreams. I think you were the only one who didn't. Good to see you're consistent. :)

Gary,

Yeah, I get your point on factual inaccuracies potentially interfering with the suspension of disbelief process. I guess it's an individual thing.

Gary Larson (The Far Side creator) had an interesting take on the subject of suspension of disbelief....he mentioned an example where one of his single-panel cartoons referenced something about a male mosquito complaining about his job sucking blood, and several readers wrote in pointing out that that's really the female's job, but that the same readers accepted the fact that the mosquitoes lived in houses and wore clothes and spoke English. :)
8:13 PM Feb 25th
 
doncoffin
Commenting before finishing the piece (which is never a good idea, but...).

When I saw "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings," in a theater in 1976, in Indianapolis, in a suburban multiplex, my wife and I were the only two white people in the theater. Which is not a common experience for us white folk. I loved the book (by William Brashler), which I had read when it was published (in 1975, I think), and I thought the movie was better than the book. Of course, it has James Earl Jones, which helps almost any project.
8:08 PM Feb 25th
 
Gfletch
Oddly enough for a movie that you say people either love or hate, with no middle ground...I just kinda liked the movie, but not that much. It's kind of odd standing alone here in the middle.

I didn't catch any subtle symbolic meaning or hidden levels in Field of Dreams. But having read your article, perhaps I will re-watch it and try to be a bit more open...sometimes it helps me if someone else points the way.

I think the problem with factual inaccuracy is that it interferes with our ability to suspend disbelief, something essential to enjoying a fantasy.
7:42 PM Feb 25th
 
DaveFleming
I agree with everything you've posted here, Dan. It's a beautiful movie, and your counter to the specific question of Negro League players is a good one.

I've read the novel version a few times, and enjoy it a great deal, but the movie makes a few decisions that improved it tremendously. As 'clarkshu' mentioned, the novel has Salinger as the writer, which demands an extra few scenes getting the recluse author in NH all the way down to Boston. I like the James Earl Jones character better, and it keeps the cast from being all-white.

The more important change is the 'if you build it' thing....in the novel the protagonist builds it on the assumption that he will eventually see his dad. In the film, it's a surprise that it's his dad who he is building it for. I think making that a realization instead of a goal is a great improvement.

But I love 'em both, in part because they are both richly evocative of the geography and landscape of Iowa, which is my favorite place in the world.
5:41 PM Feb 25th
 
those
Nice take, Dan. I thought this was maybe the best of any of the "contributed" articles.

My feeling on the Negro Leaguers is that it would have overtaken the movie. The whole reason Shoeless Joe feels pain is that he got kicked out of organized baseball before his time. So how can the viewer feel sorry for him, when the Negro Leaguers of the time never got to be a part of Organized Baseball in the first place?

I had never heard that quote from Ray Liotta; that's a good one. It reminds of when "Will & Grace" started up and the asked Eric McCormack about being a heterosexual and playing a gay character. He pointed out tha, to the best of his knowledge, Anthony Edwards wasn't an actual doctor, either.
5:09 PM Feb 25th
 
taosjohn
Much as I love "Bull Durham," the movie playing in my nightmares stars Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, and Andie Mac Dowell, directed by Oliver Stone. "FOD" is just one of many that make up that feeling. In its case I just can't manage to suspend disbelief-- I'm simply too aware that my tears are being jerked, as though ring-girls are parading across the screen holding up placards that say "Cry" and "Cry More" on them. I am with you on everything you say, and I have no problem with the inconsistency of fantasy, and I think Lancaster is the best thing about it (with the exception of Amy Madigan-- her presence is kind of swatting a fly with a cannon.)

I just don't like the movie on its own terms, is all. Ditto "The Natural."

Now "Bang the Drum Slowly" is of tv quality, and yet it works for me-- again on its own terms.
5:03 PM Feb 25th
 
clarkshu
I read the book before I saw the movie, so I have my own problems with the movie. I think the speech is a problem but it was caused by a poorly thought out casting decision. The book has JD Salinger as the reclusive author who gives a longer version of the speech. I think the producers changed JD Salinger to a fictional character because they didn't want any lawsuits. I think they then thought about the speech and imagined it in James Earl Jones' voice. I think then they had to create a realistic back story for the James Earl Jones character, and they ended up with a character that probably wouldn't have an uncomplicated love of baseball. Then they didn't either see this problem or they ignored it.
4:35 PM Feb 25th
 
SteveN
On a nonbaseball baseball movie theme, I don't think that A League of Their Own is exactly a baseball movie. It is more about lost youth. Sigh.

I agree with most of what you have said but I thought that JRJ's speech was a tad stodgy.
3:59 PM Feb 25th
 
 
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