The Rundown: Exiled Sosa Deserves Fair Shake, ‘The Riot’ Urges Players To Stand Tall, Angels Furlough Minor League Staff

“The only music I make…is with my bat.” – Roy Hobbs, The Natural

I watched 61* last night, an underrated baseball movie that I enjoy immensely. One of the more disappointing aspects of this particular made-for-cable baseball flick is that director Billy Crystal is just a little too attached to the subject matter, so things tend to get a little emotionally exaggerated.

Where Crystal excelled however, is in his casting choices for Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and Roger Maris (Barry Pepper). Jane nails the Mick’s charisma and his painful, self-destructive streak, while Pepper exudes the transition in Maris from Midwestern wallflower to anti-media recluse. Even better, both actors actually pass the eye test as ballplayers, having been tutored on set through the entire production by former Red Sox and Dodgers outfielder Reggie Smith.

What is wonderfully omniscient of the director is his portrayal of Maris as New York’s pariah after opening the movie with clips of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the course of their own home run chase in 1998. During a season where the M&M boys stalked the ghost of Babe Ruth, one would figure Yankees fans would have clung to their legends-in-the-making. In reality, many actually took offense that Ruth’s revered single-season home run record could even be approached by either, but especially by Maris.

When Crystal released this movie in 2001, both Sosa and McGwire were still larger-than-life heroes, the sluggers who saved baseball. Within a few years, both would be exiled by fans, former teammates, the franchises they played for, and the game itself as PED poster boys who were said to have soiled the game. Baseball zealots tend to have a distinct and often fictitious profile for their heroes at times, but Sosa, Big Mac, and eventually Barry Bonds apparently pissed on those delineations enough that, like Maris in ’61, each became expatriates in their own right.

Maris had to face his critics in real time, including baseball’s commissioner Ford Frick, who insisted that the record be marked by an asterisk if not tied or broken on or before game 154. Baseball went to a 162-game schedule in ’61, and Frick, who was a friend of the Babe, was Maris’s biggest antagonist. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and no asterisk ever existed, but the motion picture does accurately depict that vitriol and the heartbreak associated with being portrayed as an anti-hero. Bonds suffered similar disrespect as he passed the career home run record of 714 set by Hank Aaron in 1974.

Where Sosa and McGwire were shortchanged, unfairly I may add, is in the way commissioner Bud Selig and all of baseball used both players. It can be argued that the two sluggers pushed their franchises, and the game itself, into a new financial stratosphere by increasing the values of their organizations tenfold or more while doing the same for the popularity of the sport. I don’t know if Wrigley Field or the Cubs’ brand would be as nationally treasured it is today without the exploits of Sosa at the end of the century. A case can justifiably be made that he is more than partly responsible for what the team and the stadium has become.

Baseball was dead after the 1994 work stoppage. Sosa and McGwire resurrected it as their 1998 home run chase became the lead news story in almost every city in the country while expanding the game’s global reach. And though Bonds and McGwire have reconnected with the Giants and Cardinals, respectively, Sosa and the Cubs remain estranged. It’s time to fix that. All three belong in the Hall of Fame, though Sosa has no chance of getting there if he remains criminally absent and purposely exiled by Cubs’ ownership, and specifically by Tom Ricketts.

Is Slammin’ Sammy guilty of the charges of which he has been accused? Maybe, but it’s never been proven. If he is culpable, however, the Cubs and Major League Baseball were more than willing accomplices at the time.

Cubs News & Notes

Find Your Inner Hero

Though not as iconic as the Beatles’ impromptu concert in 1969, balconies and rooftops are becoming makeshift stages for indie musicians hoping to build their audiences through live performances. It’s beneficial  to listeners, too, who are missing live music due to social distancing protocols. Winner winner chicken dinner.

Apropos of Nothing

I never tire of watching Sosa hit dingers or hearing Harry Caray call them.

Odds & Sods

The Angels annually average between 2.5 and 3 million in attendance.

MLB News & Notes

In a heartbreaking tweet, Pirates outfielder Starling Marté announced his wife died of a heart attack while waiting to be seen by a doctor to treat a her injured ankle.

Former All-Star Bob Watson, who went on to become the first black general manager in history to win a World Series, has died. He was 74.

Lessons learned from the ’94 strike could sink or save the future of baseball.

Bryce Harper agrees with Blake Snell that baseball owners are using the coronavirus pandemic to take advantage of players.

The Marlins have reopened their spring training facility in Jupiter, FL.

Veteran starter Bartolo Colon, now 46 years old, would like to pitch one more season before officially retiring.

Extra Innings

Sometimes Yogi Berra actually got it right.

They Said It

  • “In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game]. And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.” – Javier Báez
  • “[Blake Snell] ain’t lying. He’s speaking the truth, bro. I ain’t mad at him. Somebody’s gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it. Good for him. I love him, the guy’s a beast. One of the best lefties in the game.” – Bryce Harper

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Something by the Beatles – I’m not as big a fan as the Fab Four as many others, but I do think this song is one of the most beautiful compositions of all time. George Harrison was truly amazing.

Back to top button