Academic journal article Nine

Playing in the Bush League: The Rookie and the Baseball Presidency

Academic journal article Nine

Playing in the Bush League: The Rookie and the Baseball Presidency

Article excerpt

Most viewers of The Rookie will think of it in the terms in which it was reviewed: as a feel-good, Disney, G-rated family movie recounting the true story of pitcher Jim Morris making the Major Leagues at age thirty-five after a ten-year absence from baseball caused by a bad arm. When Morris challenged his lackluster Texas high school players to follow their dreams and do their best, he inspired them to win 16 games after three seasons in which they had won only 1 game each year. In return they demanded that he pursue his dream of pitching in the big leagues because they saw that he could still "throw heat" at the ripe old age of thirty- five. He somewhat reluctantly accepted this challenge and succeeded, becoming a middle-aged rookie relief pitcher for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. (1) That is the biographical story in a nutshell, but The Rookie is also an effective, significant film on the generic and mythopolitical levels.

Roger Ebert did not like the movie because it "is ... relentlessly cobbled together out of older movies," making it unoriginal and plodding. (2) On the contrary, The Rookie's evocation of other sports films constitutes a strength, not a derivative weakness. The director John Lee Hancock's skillful echoes of past sports films and the inherent allusive aspects of Morris's biography as an archetypal comeback story broaden the themes and enhance its audience appeal.

Field of Dreams (1989) is a major influence on the scenes dealing with the hardscrabble diamond at the high school in Big Lake, Texas, where Morris taught science and coached the baseball team. Baseball takes a decided backseat to football at the school, and this disparity is graphically illustrated by the ash-heap baseball field, where grass will not grow until a folk remedy leads to a blossoming of the field and the growth and fulfillment of the team and Morris's dreams. (3) Further, Jimmy's imperfect relationship with his aloof military dad, whom as an adult he still calls "Sir," recalls the troubled father-son relationship in the Costner film. The reconciliation between Morris and his father after Jimmy's first appearance in the big leagues parallels the conciliatory catch between Ray and his father on the Iowa field of dreams. Morris hands the ball he used to strike out Royce Clayton to his father, who goes off tossing the ball into the air and catching it the way young Jimmy did. Sports Illustrated pointed out that this scene is inaccurate since in reality Morris gave the ball to his son Hunter. But it is not so much an inaccuracy as an adaptation of Morris's biography to echo the Field of Dreams context. (4)


Morris's transformation from a high school science teacher to a Major League pitcher recalls the classic baseball comedy It Happens Every Spring (1947), which stars Ray Milland as the bespectacled college science teacher and baseball fan who accidentally discovers a substance that repels wood and uses it to transform himself into King Kelly, pitcher extraordinaire who leads the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series title. Milland's magical transformation is paralleled in The Rookie by Jim's miraculous recovery from his arm problems to emerge as a pitcher who can "bring it at 98 mph." Another parallel magical transformation movie is Rookie of the Year (1993), in which, as the result of an accident to his arm, the adolescent phenom is able to pitch in the big leagues.

The Rookie also evokes a number of baseball films in which the character either fails to make the big leagues or succeeds in doing so late in life, or makes a comeback after a major injury. Pastime (1991) is the sad tale of an aging Minor League pitcher who self-destructs in his hopeless quest for even a "cup of coffee" in the majors. Damn Yankees (1958) concerns an old man who sells his soul for the restoration of his youth and a successful season in the majors. In The Natural (1984), Roy Hobbs, after being shot by a mystery woman, returns to the Major Leagues a grizzled veteran and wins the big game with a dazzling home run. …

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