The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Baseball Movies”

Rickey Henderson Looks Good On the Dance Floor

There’s been a great deal of early season hype about whether or not Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, who stole over a hundred bases in two consecutive minor league seasons, could match that feat as a rookie this season.  Of course, Hamilton will have to be able to reach first base a reasonable number of times to be able to do so.

Thus far, he is 0 for 2014, having reached base via a base on balls once in 13 plate appearances, without a single safe hit to his credit.  He was also thrown out in his only stolen base attempt.

Still, it’s very early in the season, and Hamilton did bat over .300 in a late-season trial last year, and he hit well this past spring training as well.

Some say Hamilton has the raw speed to steal over 80 bases, if not this year, then certainly in some future season.  That prompted me to research which player(s) was the last to steal over 80 bags in a year.  The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, back in 1988.  Actually, Henderson stole 93 that year for the Yankees.  Vince Coleman led the N.L. with 80 steals.  No other player has reached 80 steals since then.

For those of you who remember watching Henderson play baseball, especially when he was on the base-paths, you will remember that there have been few players like him who could create so much excitement in so many ways.  Rickey was never boring.

I have a Youtube clip of Rickey Henderson playing baseball, and another clip a bit below that of a song that I think goes well with Henderson’s style of play.

To match them up, first click on the bottom (Arctic Monkey’s) video (make sure the volume on your computer is turned up.)  Then go up and click on the Rickey Henderson video.  Be sure to click on the mute icon below the Henderson video to the left of the 2:21, or you’ll be listening to two overlapping videos.  Then click on the full screen icon on the far right,  and watch Rickey do his thing.  (The music lasts slightly longer than the Henderson video.)

Sorry about my lack of technical expertise, but I was born and raised in an analogue world.  I hope you enjoy this synthesis of modern music and classic, old video.






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Batting Practice With Roy Hobbs

I was driving by a baseball field a little while ago, and I happened to spot a pitcher, a batter, and a single outfielder.  Batting practice.  The kid hitting was driving the ball deep into the outfield.  It was a pleasure to watch, even if just for a little while.  It reminded me of the following scene from the movie, “The Natural.”

“Try this one, grandpa.”  Indeed.

Summer Break

After some deliberation, I have decided that I’m going to take a break from blogging for the next couple of weeks.  My family and I will be moving into a new home across town the middle of next week, and we have a lot of packing to do.  Also, I am finishing up a small writing project, and doing some research (as time permits) for other future writing projects.

Meanwhile, I also think a two week break will help refresh me for more blogging in the future.  I do intend to try to continue reading the various blogs I’ve subscribed to, and I will be checking my email to keep up with those of you who I sometimes chat with.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this scene from one of my favorite baseball movies, “Bull Durham.”

A Baseball Post for Super Bowl Sunday

Here’s a little baseball video for Super Bowl Sunday.

Just think, as of tomorrow, the orgy of mindless marketing, sex and violence that is the NFL season is finally finished, and baseball will once again rule the known universe.

The clip is from the movie, “The Sandlot.”

“Mill Town Pride” – A Baseball Movie Review

Watching the Bob Jones University production, “Mill Town Pride”, (2011) allegedly a baseball movie about faith, I was reminded, perhaps ironically, of the Marxist-Leninist statement quoted below:

“There is no ‘pure art’, no art for art’s sake, nor can there be any.  The accessibility, the great power of conviction and emotional influence of art make it an important weapon of class struggle.”

Simply substitute the word “class” with the word “theological”, and you have your religious excuse for this movie.

Unfortunately, as with much of Soviet Art, “Mill Town Pride” falls far short of glorifying its patron, in this case God, because it is just so relentlessly awful.

The story-line goes something like this:  Young Will Wright (played by B.J.U. grad student Thomas Sneed) dreams of someday becoming a Major League baseball player.  In late 1920’s South Carolina, one of the quickest routes to a big league tryout is through the mill teams that were ubiquitous throughout the South.

But this is the Prohibition era, and evil alcohol in the form of moonshine, has apparently slithered its way (remember that metaphor for later) into the subculture of mill-team baseball.  Our naive young Christian boy, Will, is scolded by his upper class father who, upon hearing the news from Will that he intends to go to work in a mill so as to qualify to play for their baseball team, responds with blustery moral authority, “you just can’t do whatever comes to your mind.”

For all practical purposes, here endeth the lesson.

Mill Town Pride, at its core, is about the moral imperative of obedience.  Obedience to God, to one’s family, and, implicit as well, obedience to one’s social class, trumps personal freedom every time.  The individual only realizes personal happiness and meaningful existence through submission to an omniscient, omnipotent force.  The lesson is ancient, dating back at least to Odysseus’ run-in with Poseidon.  Seldom, however, has it been illustrated less effectively in film.

Predictably, however, demon alcohol seduces Will into her evil grasp, creating conflict between Will, his girl-friend (the hyphen is intentional; he chastely introduces his obvious love interest, “Ginny,” repeatedly as his “friend”), his family, and his best friend on the team, a pitcher who has recently become a born-again Christian.

Remember the metaphor about the snake I asked you to remember a few paragraphs ago?  Well, apparently, what specifically set Will to a drinkin’ was an unintentionally hilarious incident during which Will’s rival on the team, mill-hand Pike Spangler, decides to ambush Will one late-afternoon by literally throwing a live copperhead snake at Will.

Will actually catches the serpent without getting bitten, then tosses it back at Pike, who is bitten, although not mortally.  Pike is an ignorant wretch who hates without purpose, drinks lots of alcohol, and is inexplicably tolerated by all those around him.

After the snake incident, Will apparently gets depressed, is offered alcohol, and improbably announces, “I’ll never know what the fuss is all about if I don’t at least try it.”

Get it?  Snake?  Temptation? Alcohol?  Clever, huh?

In fact, the script, penned by B.J.U. faculty member David Burke (who also plays evangelist Billy Sunday in this film)  is peppered throughout with trite, embarrassingly unoriginal lines like, “Hey rookie, show us what you got,” and “You got the makings of a natural hitter,” and “Shut-up, chickenhead.”  There are many aw-shucks moments, the boys all wear overalls, and the girls are relegated to lines like, “Would you like some more lemonade?”

“Mill Town Pride” is “The Natural’ combined with “Little House on the Prairie.”

There are wrap-around front porches, lots of picnics, mills in which no one seems to actually work, and goofy grins.  The idyllic Southern myth of a better, purer time now long forgotten permeates this film like the real-life lint dust that used to slowly choke the life out of the young women and underage children who were the backbone of the post-slavery, newly industrializing South.  Damn, those pesky child-labor laws!

Noticeably entirely absent from this film as well are any members of the African-American race.  Considering the demographics of South Carolina, a film set in the Greenville area of the 1920’s sans black people is either a remarkable oversight or an implicit wink at the audience that to include African-Americans would be to undermine the moral tone of the film.  After all, how does one create a film whose primary purpose is moral guidance without undermining that moral tone with the uncomfortable truths about race relations in the South during that era?

But what about the baseball aspect of this movie?

Well, for starters, our hero, Will, has one of the most awkward swings ever filmed.  At first, that’s how it is played for the film.  But later, after a kind of guardian angel of sorts (think Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” but with a southern accent and no sense of mirth) helps Will with his swing using a questionable homemade device, Will’s swing actually still sucks (although in the movie, of course, he starts to hit like a young Joe Jackson.)

Speaking of Shoeless Joe, the loyal citizens of the upstate here in South Carolina where old Shoeless Joe is from (Pickens County) will happily inform you that Joe Jackson was innocent of all charges against him that emerged from the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  And they will cite “evidence” (as they do at one point in this film, and that I’ve been personally confronted with a couple of times since I moved down here) that Jackson’s .375 batting average and 12 hits in that Series are all the evidence you need to know to prove his innocence.

But Jackson actually never returned the tainted five-thousand dollars left in his possession during the 1919 World Series.

While there is no evidence that he ever spent the money on himself, and while his performance in that World Series can only be regarded as inconclusive evidence of either his innocence or his guilt (he actually made several important outs with runners in scoring position), what we do know is that here in Greenville, home of Bob Jones University in which this film was produced, one can either be castigated for his moral shortcomings, as Will Wright is in this movie, or he can be put on a pedestal regardless of his moral shortcomings, as Shoeless Joe is in downtown Greenville.

The important point is that the arbitrary nature of certain kinds of authority create fear, and, therefore, compel conformity and obedience.  And woe to thee who fails to abide by this truth.

Allow me an interesting and ironic digression to illustrate my point, which has to do specifically with the making of this film.

I happen to work with a young lady whose father, Tim Rogers, was the director of  “Mill Town Pride.”  I learned from her a few weeks ago that her dad, an employee at Bob Jones University for many years, was actually fired by B.J.U. during the making of this film allegedly because he questioned the plausibility of the script from which he was working.

Although he was fired, he agreed to finish making this film, which he’d already invested so much of himself up to at that point.

Mr. Rogers, like the character Will Wright he was directing, felt the full wrath of angered, arbitrary power.  His disobedience was punished forcefully, and without mercy.  Will Wright, as it turns out, is given a new lease on life, and walks off with his girl-friend into the sunlight of a second chance, a chance the director himself will apparently never get.

“Mill Town Pride” is apparently just too important in the spiritual struggle for men’s souls to be “art for art’s sake.”

Thus we have come full circle.

“Mill Town Pride” is a movie, but it is not art.

It is a sermon whose implicit purpose is to get you to heaven by revealing to you a small, banal taste of hell.  If that’s all you require from a film, then this is your movie.  If, on the other hand, you believe that true art is the honest, unfettered expression of the soul, then you will benefit enormously by avoiding this film.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 27 – The Houston Astros

The Bad News Bears

Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps it says something about my shameless immaturity, as well as the uniquely mind-warping experience of having been weened on 1970’s pop culture, that whenever I think of the Houston Astros, Walter Matthau’s “Bad News Bears” come to mind.

I have to admit that I thought Tatum O’Neal (the best pitcher on that team) was pretty cute back then.

This was 1976, when she and I were both just 13-years old.

The movie ends, more or less, with the foul-mouthed, youthful Bears spraying beer (!) all over each other upon finishing the season in second place (they had been expected to finish last.)

In 1977, “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training” follows the Bears all the way to the Houston Astrodome (minus my gal Tatum,) which was still considered an impressive monument to modern engineering in those days.

I remember Cesar Cedeno, the Astros center-fielder, had a cameo role in that film.  While the Bears enjoyed yet another successful season in ’77, the Astros finished 81-81, good for 3rd place in the N.L. West.

Meanwhile, 26-year old Cesar Cedeno — already in his eighth big league season — enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular, year.  He batted .279, stole 61 bases, stroked 36 doubles, and scored 92 runs.

But Cesar Cedeno’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1972.

Just 21-years old, Cedeno led the N.L. in doubles for the second time with 39 (after swatting 40 the previous year), he scored a career high 103 runs, stole 55 bases, and added 22 homers, eight triples and 82 RBI’s.

Cedeno batted .320 and slugged .537; he would post precisely the same two percentages the following season.

Cedeno’s 8.2 WAR is still the fourth best in Astros history.

His .921 OPS, 162 OPS+, and 300 total bases would all represent the highest totals he would reach in those three categories in his career. 

Cedeno also played in the ’72 All-Star game, won a Gold Glove (one of five he would win in his career), and finished sixth in the N.L. MVP voting.

I always find it interesting when a player like Cedeno peeks at such a young age, remains productive for an extended period of time, but never again produces an MVP caliber season. 

Why is that?  Is there a certain amount of luck involved, coupled with peak physical performance, that accounts for this phenomenon?

True, many players reach their peak-performance years when they are about 27-years old. But baseball history is littered with ballplayers who had careers similar to Cedeno’s: Vada Pinson and Ruben Sierra are just two players who come immediately to mind.

Cedeno enjoyed 17 big league seasons, finishing with a career batting average of .285, 550 stolen bases (26th all-time), 2,087 hits, 1,084 runs scored, 436 doubles, 60 triples and 199 home runs.

His career Win Probability Added (WPA) is 31.7, 77th best in baseball history.

Meanwhile, Tatum O’Neal, after having  dealt with drug and alcohol issues in the past, has made a comeback in recent years starring as Maggie Gavin in the hit T.V. show “Rescue Me,” playing Tommy Gavin’s (Denis Leary) sister.

Going back even further in Houston Astros history, though, back to a time when they were known as the Colt-45’s, and Tatum and I were yet to be born, you may come across the name Turk Farrell.

28-year old Turk Farrell, a big right-handed pitcher born and raised in Massachusetts, had been taken in the 1961 expansion draft by the Colt 45’s after having been left unprotected by the L.A. Dodgers.

Turk Farrell’s Best Forgotten Season was 1962.

For a pitcher on a first-year expansion team, Farrell performed quite well.  In a club-leading 241 innings, he struck out 203 batters, posted a 3.02 ERA, tossed eleven complete games, including two shutouts, and posted a solid WHIP of 1.097, which was second best in the league.

For all of that, Farrell was rewarded by his teammates with a final win-loss record of 10-20.  There were three other 20-game losers in the N.L. in ’62; two of them played for the expansion Mets.

Farrell ended his 14-year big league career after the 1969 season with a career record of 106-111.  His career ERA+ of 104 indicates that he was typically your standard issue, average major league starting pitcher.

His 1962 season has led me to consider starting a new (shorter) series about players who perform well, often for bad or mediocre teams, but whose statistics don’t always tell the full story of their relative success.

That’s another way of saying that this 27-part series “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons,” has finally come to a merciful end.  After slogging it out for about six months, I have certainly learned a lot more than I ever thought I would about each teams’ forgotten stars.

If you’ve been with me the whole time, or even part of the time, thank you so much for being kind enough to follow along.  For those of you who have left kind comments along the way, I always appreciate the ego-stroking sentiments.

If you are interested in reviewing any of the particular posts from this series, or if there are some you missed along the way, I have included links to each segment of this series below.

Part 1: The New York Mets
Part 2: The Chicago Cubs
Part 3: The New York Yankees
Part 4: The Montreal Expos
Part 5: The Phillies
Part 6: The Brooklyn Dodgers
Part 7: The Los Angeles Dodgers
Part 8: The Cincinnati Reds
Part 9: The Boston Red Sox
Part 10: The Atlanta Braves
Part 11: The Cleveland Indians
Part 12: The Kansas City Royals
Part 13: The Baltimore Orioles
Part 14: The Detroit Tigers
Part 15: The St. Louis Cardinals
Part 16: The Oakland A’s
Part 17: The Pittsburgh Pirates
Part 18: The San Francisco Giants
Part 19: The Seattle Mariners
Part 20: The Minnesota Twins
Part 21: The Chicago White Sox
Part 22: The Texas Rangers
Part 23: The San Diego Padres
Part 24: The Toronto Blue Jays
Part 25: The Milwaukee Brewers
Part 26: The Angels

Meanwhile, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Bill Miller

Bonus Baseball Video Clip and Poem: Memorial Day Edition

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.  In honor of our armed forces serving all over the world, and the sacrifices they make, today I am reprinting a poem written by Bill Gallo entitled, ” Ode to Baseball and AmericaWho’s Up?”  It originally appeared in the New York Daily News on May 12, 2010.  Gallo is actually a cartoonist.

After the poem, I’ve included a bonus video clip from a baseball film.  It is understated, and one of my favorites.  It expresses the hope we all share to someday reach our potential, despite the fact that many of us get sidetracked along the way.

Ode to Baseball and America:  Who’s Up?

The geezer sits there thinking of war

“No more,” he says, “No more.”

C’mon, we’ve had them all our lives

No more, no more.

Yes, we’re thankful for the

guy who survives.

And, thank God, too

That the guy is you

Who can watch a ballgame — and yells

Like a fan:  “Get ’em Home!”

It’s for the ones

on base…and

the ones in


Tomorrow, I resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons:  A Team by Team Analysis.

Now, on to the video clip.

Best Scenes From Baseball Movies: Part 3 – The Best One Ever

Well, here it is, folks.  Part 3 of my very short series called,  “Best Scenes From Baseball Movies.” I hope you enjoyed Part 1, “There’s No Crying In Baseball,” from the film “A League of Their Own,” and Part 2, “I Believe,” from “Bull Durham.”

Part 3 will probably not come as a surprise.  In my opinion, this is not only the best scene ever in a baseball movie, it is one of the ten best scenes from any movie ever made.

Next Tuesday, I will resume my new series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons:  A Team By Team Analysis.”  Also, come back here on Monday, Memorial Day, for a special bonus baseball movie scene, and a baseball poem honoring our military personnel serving overseas.  (And no, I didn’t write it.)

So, without further ado, here is the Best Scene Ever From a Baseball Movie:

Have a nice and safe Memorial Day weekend.

Best Scenes From Baseball Movies: Part 2

Last Friday, as you probably remember, I embedded my third favorite scene from a baseball movie on this blog.  Tom Hanks’, “There’s No Crying in Baseball,” is an all-time classic.

Today, I offer you my second favorite scene from a baseball movie.  It is delivered by Kevin Costner’s character, Crash Davis, in the movie, “Bull Durham.”  The language is a bit strong, I suppose, but the sentiments are pure baseball.  The quality of the video, by the way, is mediocre, but it was the best I could find.

Next Friday, come back and view my Number #1 favorite scene from a baseball movie.  Meanwhile, have a good weekend.

So, without further ado, enjoy the video-clip below.

Best Scenes from Baseball Movies

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of baseball movies.  As I’ve been viewing them, I have been remembering with great pleasure which scenes from these movies are my all time favorites.  So, of course, I decided to turn this subject into a blog post.

Today, I am posting a youtube clip of my third favorite baseball movie scene of all time.  Next week, I’ll post a clip of my second favorite, and the week after that you’ll get to view my number one favorite scene ever from a baseball movie.

I’d like to hear from you about which baseball movie scenes are your favorites.

So here comes my Number #3 Favorite Baseball Movie Scene of All Time:

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