Friday Flicks: Sandlot Cinema #4 – The Babe

8 05 2015

Continuing with the Babe Ruth theme (I’ll have a post on the Babe Friday, Saturday and Sunday)!  Friday Flicks means it’s time to do a movie!  This is my first movie to post about that isn’t part of the Major League series.  I watched this movie about 2 months ago when it was on MLB network.

The Babe DVD case

Here’s the obligatory statement – if you haven’t seen the movie: SPOILER ALERT!

Movie/Studio: “The Babe”, Finnegan-Pinchuck (distributed by Universal), 1992

Director: Arthur Hiller

  • John Goodman – Babe Ruth
  • Kelly McGillis – Claire Hodgson Ruth
  • Trini Alvarado – Helen Woodford Ruth
  • Bruce Boxleitner – Joe Dugan
  • Peter Donat – Harry Frazee
  • Joseph Ragano – Miller Huggins
  • Michael McGrady – Lou Gehrig

Plot:  This Babe Ruth biography is much more about his life than his baseball career – starting in 1902 when his father sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  Ruth’s ability to hit a baseball is discovered by the school’s Brother Matthias, and the film flashes forward 12 years to Ruth’s first game with the Boston Red Sox.  Babe gains instant fame for his home run prowess, meets and marries his first wife, Helen Woodford.  But Ruth is immature and unready for the instant stardom; he buys Helen a farm and numerous animals to apologize for his multiple transgressions.

Financial troubles force Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to sell Ruth’s contract to the Yankees for $125,000.  Ruth loves New York and becomes a baseball hero there.  He promises – and then delivers – on hitting 2 home runs for a sick boy named Johnny Sylvester while leading the Yankees to a World Series victory.  But the move puts a strain on his marriage, and Helen divorces him for his constant womanizing.  After attacking manager Miller Huggins, Babe is suspended whilst Lou Gehrig is breaking out as the Yankees’ new star.  When he comes back, Ruth loses control after an incident with an umpire and the Yankee Stadium fans.  His old flame, Claire Hodgson, helps him get back on his feet, and the two get married.  Back in form, he and Gehrig battle for the 1927 home run race, with Ruth smacking a new record 60 long balls.

5 years later, he is aging but still powerful, and he calls his shot in the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field.  Ruth’s biggest ambition is to be a manager, but Ruppert only offers him to manage in the minors in Newark.  Babe asks for his release, and he signs on with the Boston Braves.  Old and washed up, he overhears the owner saying he’ll never let Babe manage.  The Bambino hits 3 homers in Pittsburgh, including belting a ball completely out of Forbes Field, before walking off the diamond forever.  In the dugout, a grown-up Johnny Sylvester approaches him to thank him, and gives him the baseball he signed a decade ago.  As the babe walks away, Johnny calls out “You’re the best… you’re the best there’s ever been”.

Big League Players in the Movie:  

There aren’t any former of current players acting in the movie, but there are obviously a number of players portrayed.

  • Starting with Ruth himself (Goodman).
  • I already mentioned Gehrig (McGrady) and Yankee manager Miller Huggins (Ragano) above.
  • Joe Dugan (Boxleitner) is played as Ruth’s teammate in Boston and New York.  This is one of the many inaccuracies in the film; Dugan was only Ruth’s teammate with the Yankees.  He did play a year in Boston, but that was in 1922, after Ruth had been in New York for 2 seasons.
  • Guy Bush (Richard Tyson) is in the movie twice.  He’s shown heckling Ruth from the Cubs dugout when the Babe calls his shot, and he is the Pittsburgh pitcher who gives up Ruth’s 3 homers at the end of the game.  This is mostly accurate – he was on the 1932 Cubs and would have been on the dugout heckling Ruth.  He also gave up the final 2 homers of Ruth’s career when he was with the Pirates, though Red Lucas actually gave up the first homer to Ruth in that game.
  • Bill Carrigan (Danny Goldring) was Ruth’s first manager – and also was the team’s catcher – with the Red Sox.
  • Ping Bodie (Ralph Marrero), who was Ruth’s first roommate when traded to the Yankees.
  • Bill McKechnie (Thom C. Simmons), who was Babe’s manager with the Braves in 1935.  The portrayal here is a little off as well.  By 1935, McKechnie was 48 years old and an established manager with 2 pennants and a World Series title to his credit.  The film implies he’s new; Ruth tells him not to steal on the Pirate catcher to imply Ruth would be a good manager.
  • There are a number of others portrayed, including Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Herb Pennock, Earle Combs, Ernie Shore, and Jack Warhop.

Baseball card connection:  There were no baseball cards shown within the movie (at least not that I noticed) – but there are 2 different cards related to this movie.  The first is a card inserted in a sheet in Topps magazine at the time the movie came out.

1991 Topps Magazine The Babe John Goodman

There also was a very cool card of Goodman released in 2003 by Upper Deck.  Based on a promo photo from the movie (which was in turn based on a very famous Babe Ruth photo) – this card is signed by Goodman.

2003 UD Yankee Signature Pride of NY John Goodman Auto

Best quote:  “But the game doesn’t love you anymore.” – Claire Ruth, pleading with the Babe to walk away at the end of his career when he hopes to hang on to be a manager.  At its core, this film is more about how Ruth dealt with fame than it is about how he impacted baseball.  This quote captures it well.

There are a couple of other good quotes that deal more with Ruth’s mindset for hitting home runs – most notably when he points out that he deserves to make more money than the president – because he had a better year.

Best song:  “Here Come the Bostons” – A barbershop quartet called the Chiefs of Staff portrayed 4 members of the Royal Rooters, an early Boston fan club of the Red Sox.  They filled in as extras in the movie and can be seen singing right after Babe’s first homer in a Boston uniform.  They recorded this song, which was sung by the original Royal Rooters.  Sounds like a good idea for a future “Diamond Ditty” post…

Chiefs of Staff with John Goodman

Other Notable facts:

  • There are quite a few historical inaccuracies.  Most are fairly harmless and were probably done to make the story flow better.  But to me the most egregious is in the 3-homer game at the end of the movie.  When Ruth played for the Braves in 1935, he is shown having a designated runner at first base.  Upon hitting the third homer, Ruth waives him off to circle the bases himself.  Obviously MLB has never had anything resembling a designated runner, and it frankly makes the movie look kind of cheap.
  • Ruth also did not retire immediately after hitting his 3rd homer in Pittsburgh – though I must admit, doing so does create a cool way to end the film and tie everything in with his unfulfilled dream to be a manager.
  • The other inaccuracies primarily deal with timing.  Most notably, Ruth’s love life is all jumbled up.  He did get married early in his tenure with the Red Sox, but he never actually got divorced from Helen Ruth.  Only after Helen died in a house fire – which was in 1929, 5 years earlier than in the movie – did he marry Claire Hodgson.  Additionally, he didn’t meet Claire until his time with the Yankees, whereas the movie has him meet her early in his time in Boston.
  • The film barely even mentions his time and success as a pitcher with the Red Sox.
  • The movie grossed a disappointing $17.5 million domestically at the box office, opening at #5 behind Basic Instinct, Beethoven, Sleepwalkers, and another sports movie – White Men Can’t Jump.  It’s the 24th highest grossing baseball movie of all-time – though it would be 2 or 3 slots higher if you adjusted for inflation.

My opinion:  “The Babe” got mixed reviews and was a borderline flop financially.  Most of the criticism I read focused on the tone of the film being too sad.  I agree for the most part – the sadness present throughout the film reminds me of Dennis Quaid’s “Everybody’s All-American”.  For most of the movie, Ruth comes across as either a jackass or a buffoon.  From everything I’ve read about the Bambino, this is way too negative for a guy who was wholeheartedly a good guy (but a serial philanderer during his first marriage) and intelligent (but uneducated).  I think a good movie about Babe Ruth would show the negative side of his story, but this one was so focused on that negative that it glosses over the many redeeming qualities Ruth had and kind of misses how transcendent the man was.

As a baseball fan who is very familiar with Ruth’s career – I wish they would have gotten some more of the history right.  The timeline differences with his personal life were OK – but the decisions made like ignoring his time as an ace pitcher and moving too quickly over the historic home runs would have made the movie more enjoyable.

That said – it’s a good movie overall and one I enjoyed watching.  I thought Goodman was very good in it, and as an actor he is certainly capable of showing more of Ruth’s lighter side if the script and direction had given him the chance.  McGillis is also good as Claire Ruth – I think they could have done a bit more to show how much she turned his life around.  All in all – I’d recommend watching the movie to any baseball fan.  While it’s more depressing than I would have liked, the story itself is poignant and Goodman is very good.

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