Baseball


IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH

IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH. 20th Century-Fox, 1942. Lloyd Nolan, Carole Landis, Sara Allgood, William Frawley, Robert Armstrong, Jane Darwell, George Holmes, Scotty Beckett, with Vivian Blaine in her uncredited debut. Director: Ray McCarey.

   From Wikipedia: “Flatbush Avenue is the main thoroughfare through the Borough of Brooklyn.” And if you’re of a certain age, what do you think of first when someone mentions Brooklyn? Baseball, of course, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

   They apparently didn’t get the rights to use the team’s name in this movie, since the team that Lloyd Nolan’s character is the manager of is called only the “Brooklyn team,” or simply “Brooklyn” for short, but the team is the Dodgers, all right, no doubt about it. Nolan plays Frank “Butterfingers” Maguire to perfection. He fits the uniform as if he born to do so.

IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH

   But how did he get the nickname Butterfingers? It turns out he was run out of town as a shortstop several years ago, having committed an crucial error in the field that cost the team the pennant. Against all the advice she’s been given, including that of the general manager (played by William Frawley, who looks exactly the same here as he did in the 1950s playing Lucy’s landlord and neighbor, Fred Mertz), the elderly lady owner (Sara Allgood) brings him back to manage the team.

   Upon which point the lady owner ups and dies, leaving the ownership of the team in the hands of relatives, including society dish Kathryn Baker, played of course by pretty dark-haired Carole Landis. None of the new owners know anything about baseball, nor do they care to know, so it’s up to Nolan not only to guide the team, but to persuade Kate to spring real money for some real players.

   Persuasion turns to romance, and new players mean a run for the pennant. Can Nolan escape his history of buckling under pressure to be successful at doing both? Well, if Real Life baseball manager Leo Durocher could marry movie star Laraine Day, also back in the 1940s, anything’s possible in Category 1, and as for Category 2, nothing that happens in a sports-oriented comedy could be more surprising than what happens in Real Life.

   A fun if slightly fanciful movie, and of course I could watch the always charming Carole Landis in anything, even as the owner of a baseball team who ends up watching the final game of the season in the dugout.

Note: Two more short clips from this movie can be found here.

IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH

I watched more baseball on TV last night than I have all year. It was the last day of the regular season, and I can’t remember when there were more unknowns for the playoffs on the day of Game 162 — who was playing whom and where — than yesterday.

There were actually three games I was switching back and forth between. Mostly I was watching Boston play Baltimore, but at the end of each half inning, I went down two channels to see how Tampa Bay was faring against the Yankees. Whenever both games were playing commercials — more often than you’d think — I flipped over to one of the ESPN channels to watch Atlanta play the Phillies.

Two of the games went into extra innings, and one was decided in the ninth in a stunning comeback against the second best reliever in baseball. All three were epics that fans will remember for a long time, with dramatic home runs and fielding plays galore, but what I kept thinking of is how much the other 161 games matter too.

Two of the teams, Boston and Atlanta failed badly down the stretch, and I mean badly, relinquishing leads in the standings next to impossible to lose, or so you’d think. If this had been fiction, no one would have believed it. It’s why when the sports pulps died, they stayed dead.

My team, Detroit, is still in the running. They play the Yankees on Friday night. If I had to cheer on a National League team, it would be Arizona, managed and coached by two of my favorite former players, Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell.

Both played for Detroit, of course.

   I’ve been a baseball fan since 1952. Not too coincidentally I’ve also been a Detroit Tigers fan since 1952 — I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The team was awful, but I was ten years old and that didn’t matter to me. Whenever they won, I remember running up to my dad when he came home from work — they played baseball in the daytime then — and telling him, “The Tigers won! The Tigers won!”

   I wasn’t very athletic when I was ten. Later on I could play fairly well. But the game of baseball — any sport — has a way of humbling you whenever you think you’re good or even really good. What I discovered, though, back in 1952 were record books. All kinds of numbers for every player on every team and I think I memorized every one of them for the previous year and from then on until Major League Baseball expanded and there were too many teams that were simply too far away and if Detroit didn’t play them, then the numbers started not to mean so much.

   There was a fellow on that 1952 team, a team that was in last place all season long, named Virgil Trucks, and even though he had a win-loss record of something like 5 and 22 that season, he pitched two no-hitters. I remember listening to both of them on the radio (no TV back then) but maybe that’s memory speaking, and I only think I listened to them. Maybe one, maybe neither, but I remember listening, and to me that’s all that matters.

   Earlier tonight, or really late yesterday, a pitcher for Detroit named Armando Galarraga was almost a hero, and I think he is, since he pitched a perfect game (not a single opposing batter reaching base for any reason) in which he got 28 outs, one over the legal limit of 27.

   He knows he pitched a perfect game, the whole world does — the parts of the world where baseball has any meaning to the people that live there. But in the record books he threw a one-hitter. The very last man he faced in what would have been perfection, 27 batters up, 27 batters down, was called safe by the umpire, a fellow whose life-long career has been umpiring, a fellow nobody ever heard of until now, a fellow named Jim Joyce.

   And Jim Joyce missed it. He called the batter safe at first base, but he was out. All of the replays showed it, and Armando Galarraga had to face one more batter. He could have lost control, lost his temper, but he didn’t. He stayed cool, got the next batter out and won the game. In the long run, in baseball terms, that’s the goal. To win the game.

   When he saw the replay after the game, Jim Joyce was distraught. He knew he blew it. He apologized profusely, but the game was over. It was too late. It was in the record books.

   When that last batter came up, Jim Joyce knew the situation. He’s a baseball fan himself, he has to be. He called the play at first base the way he saw it. He could have taken the easy way out and called the batter out. No one would have blamed him, even if the replay had shown the batter safe. He didn’t shade the truth. He was honest, and he called it the way he saw it. He’s a man of integrity. An honest man.

   An honest man who apologized when he discovered he was wrong. A man who probably won’t sleep well again for a long time, but what he did was the job he was paid to do.

   When he shows up for work tomorrow, and I hope he can, as he’s in for an ordeal of media coverage that you won’t believe, but whenever he does, the fans in the stadium ought to give him a standing ovation. I know they won’t but if I were there, I’d give him a standing ovation of one person. Me.