With the Arizona Diamondbacks clinching the National League West crown, playoff baseball will arrive in Phoenix next week! Baseball has also found its way into Valley theatres, as “Moneyball” (4 / 5 stars), starring Brad Pitt as real life ingenious Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, can be found at your nearby cineplex.
This terrific and detailed David vs. Goliath story features Beane’s struggle to keep the 2002 Oakland A’s competitive despite a small $39 million payroll.
Of course, $39 million seems like a fortune, but not when the New York Yankees’ payroll exceeds $114 million.
The inherent competitive disadvantage is exacerbated when the Yankees squeak out an American League Division Series over the A’s, 3 games to 2, in 2001.
When three of the A’s best players decide to leave for more money and “greener” pastures, it makes you wonder why Major League Baseball does not apply a hard salary cap.
Beane decides to hire Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who helps find talent where other teams don’t look.
Beane and Brand only look players’ statistics, and the numbers don’t lie!
Director Bennett Miller successfully pulls us into Beane’s world as we gain insight into how his “magic” works.
The baseball scenes are fine, and Miller pays close attention to sights, and especially, sounds, but the real drama takes place behind the scenes as Pitt leads this orchestra of blood, sweat and tears.
Also it’s important to note, “Moneyball” is surprisingly very funny….under the guise of a clearly unfair system.
Now long before free agency and billion dollar stadiums, baseball was alive and well over eighty/ninety years ago. The New York Yankees were playing extremely well, as – led by Babe Ruth – The Bronx Bombers were the dominant team of the era. In 1923, another superstar, Lou Gehrig, made his New York Yankees debut, and his play on the field and his grace off the field is nothing short of legendary.
“The Pride of the Yankees” beautifully covers his story that even the most skeptical Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox fans will enjoy.
“The Pride of the Yankees” (1942) 5 / 5 stars – Lou Gehrig is arguably the best first baseman in Major League Baseball history.
Gehrig – nicknamed “The Iron Horse” – played in 2,130 consecutive games while maintaining a .340 career batting average and winning two American League MVP awards during his career from 1923 to 1939.
As much wonderful success he enjoyed on the field, he contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – which is now named Lou Gehrig’s disease – and died tragically at age 37.
Just three years after he passed away, Hollywood told his life story, and Gary Cooper took on the challenge to play the New York Yankees’ beloved first basemen in “The Pride of the Yankees.”
With director Sam Wood at the helm, he covers much more than Gehrig’s work on the diamond and spends plenty of time on Lou’s personal life as well.
A son of German immigrants, Gehrig’s mother, Christina (Elsa Janssen) pushes Lou to become an engineer like his Uncle Otto, and he was well on his way to reaching that goal.
The problem: he’s also a terrific first basemen – with tremendous home run power – for Columbia University’s baseball team.
Gehrig wants to adhere to his mother’s wishes, but when she finds herself hospitalized, he decides to sign with the Yankees to help pay the medical bills.
Unbeknownst to Christina, Lou is playing minor league ball in Hartford, CT, but she believes he’s studying at Harvard.
Much to her surprise – and colossal – disappointment, she sadly discovers he’s really just “wasting his time” as a baseball ballplayer.
The overbearing mother theme runs through much of the picture, and becomes a factor when Lou meets and proposes to Miss Eleanor Twitchell (Teresa Wright).
When they move into their house, Momma Gehrig overrules Eleanor on all the interior decorating decisions.
Will Lou put his foot down because Eleanor is his new best girl?
As silly as this internal strife sounds for a baseball movie, with Wright’s charm and Cooper’s oh-golly-gee performance, it is very easy to become emotionally invested with this couple.
Wood’s film takes this unexpected right turn which balances play on the diamond with Gehrig’s family life, and Lou’s and Eleanor’s relationship blossoms into a engaging love story.
Real life New York Yankees find their way on screen too, including Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and even Babe Ruth!
From a sports fan’s perspective, it’s truly a pleasure to see The Babe in the film.
He seems to be enjoying his time on screen as much as I appreciated seeing him in his Yankees pinstripes (full disclosure: I’m a lifelong New York Yankees fan).
This is Gehrig’s picture, however, and the filmmakers handle his life and his fatal illness with grace and sensitivity.
The movie – of course – wouldn’t be complete without Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in front of over 60,000 people, and Cooper’s performance in that moment will cause you to fight back the tears.
While playing, Gehrig is best known for his aforementioned consecutive games streak, but other than his blue collar roots, the film does not delve into what drives Lou to play every day.
Sportswriter Sam Blake (Walter Brennan) may have summed it up best: “(Gehrig is) a guy who does his job and nothing else.”
Through his tireless work ethic, Gehrig accomplished so much more.
“The Pride of the Yankees” is available on DVD and not rated.