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Customer Review

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Field of stolen dreams, February 15, 2003
This review is from: Eight Men Out [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This saga, based on the Eliot Asinof book about the scandal involving eight Chicago White Sox players who sold the 1919 World Series is quite simply the best baseball movie ever made.
Everything clicks, starting with a blue-sky-and-white-clouds ragtime score that accompanies the opening credits, speeding up to follow the two Chicago urchins who run through the South Side to see the pennant-clinching ballgame at Comiskey Park. The older one, Pee Wee, is a newsboy who earned the money for the tickets by hawking newspapers; the younger one, Bucky, wins the audience's heart by the plaintive way in which he announces, "We're going to see the Sox!"
What they witness sets the tone for the rest of the movie. As they make their way to their bleacher seats, two guys sitting in front of them are making book on the outcome. Something causes them and the rest of the crowd to leap to their feet and cheer - the taller adults blocking the view of the smaller boys. And the tone has been set: the adult world, particularly the shadier side of it, will intrude upon their boyish faith in the Sox.
Pee Wee will ultimately approach Shoeless Joe Jackson and plead "Say it ain't so, Joe", though he's too tough and worldly to say it with tears in his eyes, as legend would have it.
The score takes on a more sinister tone when the camera shows two men in dark suits discussing cryptically the approachability of various players. When they focus on ... first baseman Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker), Gandil swings and ticks a ball into the stands, causing the crowd to appropriately yell "Foul!" in an engaging bit of symbolism.
Gandil was indeed one of the ringleaders behind the plot to fix the Series. As the Asinof books points out, it was actually the players who approached the gamblers, but Hollywood can be forgiven for this lapse. As Sleepy Bill Burns (Christopher Lloyd) and Billy Maharg (Richard Edson) scrutinize the players, we are also introduced to Shoeless Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney) answering taunts from teammates and fans about his illiteracy the only way he knows how - by whacking a triple. Yes, from the left-hand side of home plate, unlike in "Field of Dreams" which mistakenly portrays him as RIGHT-handed.
There's a wonderful scene in which Shoeless Joe is exercising his batting eye by staring at a candle - one eye at a time - until he temporarily loses his sight. Some mothers might blanch, but his shadier teammates interrupt when they enter and cause him to reluctantly agree to participate in the "fix". Yet remarkably, he then goes back to exercising his batting eye, though this would now appear to be a barren exercise. In fact, though [a lot of money] is delivered to him, the movie doesn't make clear that Jackson might not have lived up to his end of the bargain. He was the leading hitter of the World Series, with a .375 average.
Charlie Sheen's Hap Felsch is surprisingly understated, but John Cusack steals much of the show as third baseman Buck Weaver, who goes along with the fix but finds that his competitive spirit won't allow him to participate in it. The scene in Weaver makes a sensational stop of a ground ball headed for extra bases (which could not have been accomplished with less than his best effort) and pegs a perfect throw to an amazed Gandil (who has no choice but to catch it) is priceless.
And the stark contrast between the Sox's smooth execution of championship baseball on the field, despite sharp divisions in the dugout, is symbolized by the picture-perfect double-play completed by second baseman Eddie Collins (Bill Irwin), shortstop Swede Risberg (Don Harvey) and Gandil. Party animals Gandil and Risberg then jog off the field, verbally scrapping with the straight-living "college boy" Collins about his lack of nightlife.
The only major historical flaw occurs when honest rookie pitcher Dickie Kerr (Jace Alexander) reassures aging manager "Kid" Gleason (John Mahoney) of his integrity by remarking that as a youngster, he saw Gleason throw a no-hitter. As Kerr was born in 1893 and Gleason pitched his last game in 1895, Kerr surely could not retain such a memory.
The villainous gamblers also include Michael Lerner's portrayal of mobster Arnold Rothstein, Michael Mantell's rendition of Rothstein's right-hand man, Abe Attell, and Kevin Tighe's thick Irish-accented Sport Sullivan. But the true villain of the piece is skinflint Sox owner, Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), whose royal treatment of an adoring press contrasts sharply with his stingy treatment of the ballplayers bringing him glory, particularly pitching ace Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn). The "fix" would not have taken place if it were not for Comiskey's miserliness.
But flawed character is not a bar to Hall of Fame membership, and Comiskey is a member because of his record as a manager and executive. This movie was made in 1988 but is of particular relevance now that Pete Rose seems ready to confess his own association with professional gamblers, in exchange for forgiveness and Hall of Fame membership.
Might it not be time to revisit the issue of Shoeless Joe, who had the third highest lifetime batting average in the history of the game when expelled for his role in the fix at the age of 31? He was STILL getting better, but has also been shut out of the Hall of Fame. Unlike Jackson, Rose is not believed to have staked his fortune AGAINST his team, but Rose is a shrewd man deserving of far less sympathy.
If Comiskey can't be kept OUT of the Hall of Fame, it's still disconcerting that he's a member and Shoeless Joe isn't. The movie's wistful close should make its viewers wonder whether it would be fitting to replace Comiskey's plaque with one made for Shoeless Joe and place Comiskey's plaque in an isolated corner where it is likely to gather dust.
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