Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Common Sense is Becoming as Scarce as Cans and Coins During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The other day I was reading a story about how grocery stores were no longer going to be able to give out change to customers due to a national coin shortage.

Yes, that’s right, not only can the richest nation in the world not get their act together regarding corralling a deadly virus, it seems that they cannot bring enough coins to market.

Of course, the usual conspiracy (or is it coin-spiracy?) enthusiasts are tweeting up a storm claiming that the lack of coins is a “Deep State” plot to create a cashless society. I know the First Amendment gives people the right to think and say what they want, but some of the things some people say just make me shake my head in disbelief.

Not only is there a shortage of supplies needed in the battle against COVID-19. Now there is a nationwide coin shortage as well.
Photo R. Anderson

While I was still trying to wrap my mind around the coinpocalypse, I read another story about how not only are we out of coins, apparently the companies that make aluminum cans cannot keep up with the demand.

I would say that the aluminum shortage is due to too many people wearing tin foil hats, and inventing conspiracy theories about coins, but the truth is, there is plenty of aluminum. There just aren’t enough plants to turn that aluminum into cans to keep up with consumer demand.

As a result of the can shortage, several beverage companies noted that certain brands of product might not be available. But hey, at least toilet paper made a return to the shelves.

Normally, a nationwide coin shortage, paired with a nationwide shortage of aluminum cans, would be enough for any given week. But this has not been any given week.

A third story also caught my eye this week, showing me that coins, cans and common sense are all in short supply.

No, I am not talking about people potentially breaking ethics rules by posing with cans of beans behind a desk that was built from the English oak timbers of the British Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute, in an office that is broadly elliptical and/or egg shaped.

I am talking about a lack of common sense on the baseball diamond.

As I have noted many times, even though I am a lifelong baseball fan, I do not think baseball, or any sport, needs to come back in the middle of a global pandemic that has, at the time of this writing, killed over 138,000 Americans.

To put that into perspective, 138,000 people would roughly be the equivalent of 287 completely full Boeing 747 airliners crashing on an island with a polar bear and John Locke. Or, for those of you who did not watch Lost, 138,000 people would fill three and a half Major League Ballparks.

No matter how you slice it, it is not a political statement to say that 138,000 deaths, occurring at a rate of roughly 27,000 deaths a month, is too many. We should be doing everything we can as a united society to ensure that we are part of the solution and not the problem.

Which brings me back to the baseball diamond. Earlier this week in Texas, Fort Bend County joined neighboring Harris County in elevating their threat level to Red Alert, and issued a “Stay at Home to Save Lives” order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Right about now, as Fatboy Slim would say, you are asking yourself what does Fort Bend County have to do with a baseball diamond?

Well, since you asked, Fort Bend County is where the Sugar Land Skeeters are currently hosting a four-team summer league with fans in the stands.

So, when I heard that County Judge KP George joined Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in calling for everyone to stay home “and make sacrifices if our whole community is to remain healthy and intact,” I thought for sure that the Sugar Land Skeeters would be sending out a press release saying that the league was cancelled as a result of the Judge’s order.

The baseball fan in me wants to see the Sugar Land Skeeters summer league succeed. However, as much as I love Swatson, the reporter in me cannot justify putting fans and players at risk of catching COVID-19 just to play ball.
Photo R. Anderson

Alas, that press release never came, and the league is still going strong.

Common sense would say that if the spread of a virus is so bad that County Judges are asking people to “Protect yourself and your family by staying at home except for essential activities, wear required face covering, and cancel gatherings,” that a baseball league would stop playing games.

Last time I checked, playing baseball is not an essential activity, and having fans in the stands watching baseball counts as a gathering and is equally non-essential.

Instead of sending a cancellation notice the team sent a tweet stating, “We’ve got LOTS of sweet giveaways in store for this weekend!”

While anyone who knows me knows that I love a sweet Ballpark giveaway, the idea that baseball is still being played when the people of the county the Ballpark is located in are being asked to stay home comes across as both selfish and tone death to the situation on the ground.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, I love watching the Skeeters play and when it is safe to do so again, I will be the first person in line to do just that.

Until then, I am doing my part to slow the spread by following medical and scientific advice from reputable sources. This advice includes wearing a mask and socially distancing. It also involves avoiding unnecessary excursions, you know like to a Ballpark to watch a baseball game.

As I have said many times, COVID-19 does not care who you voted for. Wearing a mask saves lives and is not some attempt to squelch a person’s freedom. You know what does squelch a person’s freedom? Being dead because you called COVID-19 a hoax, and refused to wear a mask and ended by succumbing to the virus.

I have great respect for the essential workers who are keeping the country going. I am grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store to ensure that I can pull up curbside and have my groceries put in my car.

After declaring Texas open in three gradual phases beginning in May, and seeing COVID-19 cases in the state rise up like a bottle rocket nearly every day since reopening, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, noted in a June 22 press conference that, “COVID-19 is spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas,” and that, “We must corral it.”
Photo R. Anderson

I am grateful to all of the health care workers on the front lines of trying to get a handle on COVID-19.

I pray daily for the safety of each and every person who is out there keeping the essential functions of society going while allowing the rest of us to work from home.

Because of my respect for essential workers, I am not going to do anything to put myself in a situation where I can get exposed to COVID-19 and risk spreading it.

And yes, I know that based on the ease in which COVID-19 spreads, one cannot completely avoid the potential of encountering the virus. However, I am certainly limiting my activities to make sure I am not putting myself at added risk of getting exposed to the virus.

I get that not everyone shares that view. I also get that sports are coming back despite growing infection rates coast to coast. As a result, many athletes are testing positive both inside and outside of sports bubbles.

This COVID-19 virus has already led to a shortage of coins, cans and common sense among other things. If we aren’t careful, and continue at our current pace, COVID-19 could cause a shortage of hospital beds, and health care workers to take care of us as well.

Is going to a baseball game worth putting all of that at risk? I know how I am going to answer that question and I don’t even need to flip a coin. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some coins to count.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson