Archive for February, 2012

Chet’s Corner: A Look Back To See The Future

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The second the Glenlivet hit my lips there was no turning back.   I delved into a deep dark space that only Cub fans can find……..

Last night I decided to sit down and watch Clubhouse Confidential on the MLB Network.  I dig the show and usually they cover some interesting tidbits that add a little flavor to baseball outside of what you may get on a game telecast or a local newspaper.  They dig pretty deep and really much of the information is over-analysis, which I love.  The best part is the show runs only 30 minutes.   It’s as if the producers of the MLB Network know that most baseball fans have ADD or the attention span of a gnat, whichever wanes first I suppose.  Only on this very night the topic of young star pitchers headlined the show.  Even more to the point, they were talking about strategies to keep these young pitchers healthy.  The concept of innings limits and pitch counts came to the forefront and the two young pitchers being showcased were Matt Moore, the young phenom of the Tampa Bay Rays,  and of course Stephen Strasburg.

Did you know that Mark Prior logged over 230 innings in 2003?  All that even after missing 3 starts mid season because of the Giles collision….oh god the collision, do you remember the collision?  That’s when it all started!!!!  More Glen please!

I feel like Mark Prior has become the poster boy for young phenoms whose arms turn to mush, and apparently, so does the MLB Network.  The entire segment was flashes of Matt Moore, Stephen Strasburg and then of course the tragedy of Mark Prior!  They showed clips of the young Moore and then plastered across the screen that he will not be under an innings limit for the coming season.  Then they started in on Strasburg, who has a bevy of limits.  I don’t even think Stephen can shake more then 5 hands with his right arm this season per day….too many….might get hurt.  I am pretty sure that the word careful would be a gross understatement.  He reminds me of the fine china that sits in a cabinet, people look at it and say, “ooohhhh pretty” but never get to eat on it because , well,  it’s expensive and god forbid it gets chipped.

You know Tom Seaver drinks scotch, I bet he loves it….tickles his throat just so……

Tom Seaver jumps on the telecast and starts ranting about all the innings limits and pitch limits.  He starts into something that might turn into a “back in my day…” rant that your gramps would tell you.  He boasts on about how teams would try to figure out how to keep a guy in the game, not take him out.  You do have to wonder, how come they could figure this out back then but now we have tinker bells who hurt their arm when the wind blows out of the east?  Could you imagine telling Bob Gibson he was on an innings or pitch limit? Pretty sure you would need some forceps to find the rosin bag.

I bet they rubbed scotch on it, better yet they soaked a towel in single malt and wrapped it around their arm between innings.  That reminds me of the towel drill, Mark should have soaked that towel in scotch and sucked on it.   

The show of course gave us a look at Prior in his dominant stage and then a look at the disaster after.  He had tons of life on his fastball when he was going good……then it became flat and managed to gravitate towards the top of the zone, which in turn typically ended with the ball out on Wavleand avenue somewhere.  As if it isn’t enough to go through this in real time we now have it shown to us in highlight reels.  Here is how the best pitcher you had over the last 12 years went to crap, enjoy the walk down memory lane!  They then start comparing Prior to Strasburg and I tell you what, I hope you didn’t dump your paycheck on this guys rookie card.  The mechanics are almost identical.

Oh Good, it’s Mitch Williams to tell us about mechanics.  The only mechanics ”Wild Thing” was worried about back in the day were the ones used to curl that awesome mullet….and it was awesome.  I bet he put scotch in it……

The next thing we get on the show is Will Carroll from SI (AKA, the resident injury expert for every sport.)  I started following Will through Manningate last football season and then he became a useful tool on twitter passing along his injury news.  Will looks like an everyday average Joe, and kind of reminds me of Stinky from the movie Beautiful Girls, if you have seen it, you know what I mean.  He starts in on fatigue playing a major factor in injuries to pitchers.  So now we have a battle going on between fatigue and mechanics…..hmmmmm.

So maybe Prior broke down because of the weird set of “non-pitching” injuries that he incurred…..

  • 2002 (Sept) - Strained Hamstring running the bases….out for season
  • 2003 (Mid-season) – collision with Marcus Giles ……missed three starts
  • 2004 (Pre-Season) Achilles Tendon Injury….. missed 2 months
  • 2005 (May) Comeback liner in the throwing elbow…..1 month

Or maybe, just maybe, it was all the above.  One thing is for sure, at some point in time these young guns will have to pitch.  Durability is a part of sport, it is part of what makes a player great….even if it only lasts a season or two.

Time to buy more scotch………

 

 

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The Ending of An Era

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The Captain’s Done: Jason Varitek has decided to end his 15-year tenure with the Boston Red Sox, according to Fox Sports. Varitek holds the record for most games caught in a Red Sox uniform with 1,488. He caught no-hitters for Hideo Nomo, Derek Lowe, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester, and won two World Series rings. When the Sox made their World Series run in ’04, it was hard not to cheer for them. Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and Varitek were the stars of the show that year. It’s nice that at least one of them stayed out of the negative spotlight; Damon joined the dark side and Manny, well, he just kept being Manny.

My favorite memory of Varitek will always be the time he punched A-Rod with both hands. Both hands. I bet the pretty boy never saw it coming.

How Can You Take A Urine Collector Seriously? And how do you find yourself a job collecting urine samples of MLB players? It seems like a less than desirable job. The collector of Ryan Braun’s now infamous urine samples, Dino Laurenzi, Jr. is on the defensive. Dino said, “This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family. I have worked hard my entire life, have performed my job duties with integrity and professionalism, and have done so with respect to this matter and all other collections in which I have participated.” Apparently, he did follow protocol for storing samples when the local FedEx office was closed. Regardless of the situation, I still think Braun’s should have some kind of punishment. Getting off scot-free is a bit ridiculous, but I digress.

Another Normal Day in the Life of an ex-NFLer: Ben Patrick, former Arizona Cardinal’s tight end, saved some lives on his way to Colorado on Saturday. He and some pals were heading up into the mountains for the weekend when they came across an overturned van with people trapped inside. So, naturally, Ben just hopped on top of the van and pulled the occupants to safety. That’s a pretty selfless thing to do. Better add that to the resume.

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Was Albert Pujols Leaving the Cardinals Bad for the Cubs?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Coming into the season, the general view is that Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis to head to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was probably bad news for the Cardinals and good news for the rest of the National League Central.  After all, Albert Pujols was almost unarguably the best offensive player in baseball over the past decade.

I will avoid debate regarding the level of decrease the Cardinals will face in 2012 as a result of transitioning from Pujols at first base and Lance Berkman in right field to Berkman at first and Carlos Beltran in right field because I am honestly not very concerned with 2012.  I expect the Cubs to be bad in 2012, hovering in the 70-75 win area they have occupied the last two seasons.  In 2013, I expect the Cubs to “compete” in the NL Central in 2013, by which I mean that they will be within five or six games of first place at the All Star Break and finish around .500.  I expect the Cubs to actually be competitive with a legitimate shot to win the NL Central in 2014.

Let’s look at the landscape of the NL Central in 2014: the Brewers will probably have lost a significant amount of their starting rotation (including possibly Zack Greinke) and do not have the prospects or money to replace the players they are going to lose.  The Reds will almost certainly have lost Joey Votto sometime in the prior calendar year, and will probably be looking to rebuild around Devin Mesoraco.  I will believe the Pirates are going to put it all together when they actually put it all together.  And the Astros are further behind the Cubs, although they should be coming closer two years from now.

Now envision the contract Albert Pujols would have taken from the Cardinals had he been willing to give a hometown discount.  Let’s say he had been willing to take $22 million per year for eight years.  Between Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, the Cardinals would have $39 million, about 40% of their average payroll over the last several years, committed to two players who will be 34 years old in 2014.

Instead, the Cardinals have only $24.75 million committed towards 2014: Holliday’s $17 million and Jaime Garcia for $7.75 million.  Add to that a front office that has been one of the consistently strongest in baseball and one of baseball’s highest rated farm system, and the Cardinals may be able to retool from a team that relies on older vets Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Chris Carpenter very quickly.

If there is one team that I truly despise, it is the Cardinals.  But they are also the team I most respect and fear.  If I see the Brewers five games behind the Cubs in mid-August, I am pretty confident the Cubs will maintain the gap.  If I see the Cardinals five games back, I get nervous.  The Cardinals are the Yankees of the National League.  They are the team that turns other team’s has beens into Cy Young award winners.  They are the team that drafts a pudgy third baseman in the thirteenth round of the draft and winds up with Albert Pujols.

I would have loved to see the Cardinals bogged down in massive contracts to two aging veterans through the majority of the decade.  But while having to fight it out with a Cardinals team that has all of its pieces in tact may be more difficult, it is equally true that it will mean more to also beat a Cardinals team at full strength instead of feasting on the eventually inevitable husks of two aging former superstars if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are able to build a team that reaches the promised land.

**I wrote everything above here on Sunday evening, but thought an update was necessary due to the news that Yadier Molina is about to sign a 5 year, $70-$75 million contract extension with the Cardinals.  Molina has been one of the best catchers in baseball over the last five seasons, including probably being the best defensive catcher in baseball over that period.  While I would generally avoid a contract that pays a catcher big dollars through the season where he will turn 35, the Molina brothers have done a good job of being able to stay behind the plate into their mid-30s.  

And if the Cardinals had signed Albert Pujols this offseason, there is almost no conceivable way they would have been able to keep Yadier Molina after 2012.

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Morning News: Thousands of Words (Mostly in Pictures)

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Burning Rubber  Opening up with NASCAR news might not be a great way to hold your attention this morning, but I think this falls into the must-see category, so bear with me.  After more than twenty-four hours of rain delays, the Daytona 500 got rolling around 7:00pm EST last night.  Several wrecks and delays held up the progress of the race, but things got really out of control when Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his car and slammed into a track-drying trailer full of jet engine fuel.  Click here for a few more details and some crazy GIFs of the fiery crash.  Fun fact: apparently they used laundry detergent to smother the fire.

Red Sox Nation is Now a Dry County  In the wake of the late-season collapse that cost Terry Francona his job and paved the way for the Cubs to hire Theo Epstein, the Red Sox recently announced a ban on clubhouse drinking.  Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and other players admitted to drinking beer during games when they weren’t playing, and faced significant criticism after their flame-out to end the season.  The Boston front office and new manger Bobby Valentine decided to remove any further in-game temptation from this year’s team with their own small-scale prohibition.  Francona’s not impressed and said yesterday that he thinks it’s nothing more than a PR move.  No word yet on which player will step up Al Capone-style to corner the illicit booze market with moonshine and toilet wine, but it won’t be Jason Varitek, who plans to announce his retirement Thursday.

Keeping the Kings  A big congratulations to the city of Sacramento.  Less than a year ago it looked almost certain that the Kings would leave northern California, most likely for Anaheim.  But a last minute agreement between the Maloof brothers who own the team, the city, and the NBA has forged a deal to build a new stadium that will keep the Kings in Sacramento for the foreseeable future.  After the Sonics were so unceremoniously stolen from Seattle, I’m glad to see a different ending to a similar story for Kings fans–and I don’t even like basketball.

Cubs Roundup  Spring Training is almost in full swing, so you can expect daily reports like this one from Tribune malcontent beat writer Paul Sullivan.  In short, Kerry Wood had a rough day, first getting eliminated from the Cubs bunting championship by manager Dale Sveum, and then hitting Starlin Castro on the wrist during live BP (Castro’s fine).  Sullivan also put together a photo montage covering the aftermath of the accidental plunking.  Also, Cubs DH LF Alfonso Soriano doesn’t like the rumors of the team’s attempts to trade him this past offseason.  Someone needs to remind Soriano that he’ll make his guaranteed $54M no matter whose lineup he’s crippling.

VFTB Bidness  The Boys of Spring blog is giving awards to other Cubs blogs, and View From the Bleachers has been nominated in several categories, including the fan favorite category, called The Ryno.  We’re not gonna win it, but you can head over here and limit the scale of our public humiliation.  Or just click over and have a laugh at our utter lack of popularity in that particular corner of the Interweb. Also, don’t forget to enter the VFTB NCAA bracket contest. See details here.

Finally, Cubs pirate pitcher Jeff Samardzija has a new headshot, and it’s a doozy.  Enjoy.

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Who Am I?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Who Am I? is a feature here at VFTB designed to give some of the focus back to those who make the site a success: YOU! We’ll tell you a bit about one of our regulars and you guess who it is. We’ll be back later in the day with the answer.

(This is the final installment of Who Am I? for now. We’re going to actually be able to talk about real live baseball very soon so we’re clearing the decks in preparation for that! I do have a waiting list of folks who’ve already indicated they’d like to be included in case our beloved Cubbies are completely out of it and we’re bored by mid-May. So, if you’d like to be placed on the Who Am I? waiting list, let me know at lizzie@viewfromthebleachers.com … the more the merrier!)

Who Am I?

  • I’ve only been in the Chicago area since 2000, so I’m a fairly new (but no less enthusiastic) Cubs fan. I usually go to Wrigley once a year on my birthday. I’ve been a baseball fan since childhood.
  • I thought Hendry was ok and I have high hopes for Theo, though I don’t expect miracles. I do not expect the Cubs to contend in 2012.
  • I found VFTB through a Google search about four or five years ago, and was drawn to it because of the civility. My favorite part of the site is the conversation among the readers. It’s great to see people of such varied backgrounds coming together solely due to the shared love of a team.
  • I find Carlos Zambrano to be ultra-annoying, and I was sad to see Aramis Ramirez leave (even though I thought he needed a kick in the rear sometimes).
  • I favor a combination of stats and gut.
  • If I was to dine with Seymour he’d have the answer to a question he and Doc Raker have been asking for years.

Who Am I?

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How A Six Fingered Man Led to the Beginning of VFTB

Monday, February 27th, 2012

VFTB is here today because of the extra finger of former Cub, Antonio Alfonseca

I was told that I have to tell the story of how I owe it all to Antonio Alfonseca. He is the reason VFTB is here today. I warned then that it’s not very interesting story, and I’ll warn again just in case you didn’t hear it the first tine. Still here? Alright, here’s how it happened. In 2003, I was incredibly into the season, for obvious reasons. I remember watching on the couch in October as the Cubs were just five outs away. I remember actually turning to my wife, who for some reason was on the couch next to me doing homework that the Cubs were just five outs away. We all know what happened after that. I went into a week  of mourning after that and finally decided to end it by searching for a picture of Alfonseca’s six fingers. I wanted to be that sick person that gawked and gaped over the traffic accident. Instead, what I found was a Cub blog no longer in existence. Blogging was still in the infant stages at that point. For the next few days I began to read what this writer had to say about the team and thought to myself “I can do that.” The rest is history. I started the blog on Blogger and it’s been all downhill since then. I’ve been fired up and burned out by Cubs baseball since then, but I’ve always enjoyed logging on each day and seeing the community we’ve built. You guys make this fun to do each and every day.

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to address one of the problems I see with the site. I try not to moderate what goes on in the comment section, and for the most part we’ve seen a very tame community develop as a result. My one problem is the arguing that goes on when we discuss stats vs scouts. It’s the age old debate on which is the better way to evaluate the game that is played. People take it so personal and get very upset at the other side’s viewpoints. That said, I’d like to ask that we all agree that the stats people are never going to agree with the scouts and the scouts will never agree with the stats. That means Jedi is never going to see eye to eye with Norm on how to look at players….which is fine. What isn’t fine is how old it’s getting seeing the name calling and arguing as if the other side will come around. I’d like to ask that if you like stats, debate stats with the stat people. If you like scouts, leave the stats people alone. If you like Scouts, then debate that with the scouts people, with stats people staying out of the discussion. In other words, ignore the people who don’t evaluate talent the same way you do….please.

It’s not much of a Morning news post, but then again it wasn’t supposed to be. Since I feel bad with no news at all to this point, I’ll leave you with this.

Moneyball was completely shutout at the Oscar’s on Sunday night. If you’ve not seen the film yet, go do yourself a favor and rent it. You will not be disappointed.

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How Well Do Advanced Defensive Statistics Correlate?

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

by John Dewan

We’ve put a lot of effort into improving defensive metrics in recent years, but how much progress have we really made? In the introduction to The Fielding Bible—Volume III, I said:

“For hitters, we might be at the 85-90 percent mark of being able to measure offense. We have a lot of good tools like OPS (on-base plus slugging), Runs Created, Wins Above Replacement. For pitchers, we are not quite as far along. Maybe we’re at the 75 percent level of understanding pitcher effectiveness with our numerical tools like ERA, Batting Average on Balls in Play, and Opponent OPS. For defense, ten years ago we were probably around the 10th percentile. Now with three volumes of The Fielding Bible under our belts, plus the work of many other excellent sabermetricians, we are probably in the 60-70 percent range.”

In our book, The Fielding Bible—Volume III, we put our newest defensive analytics to the test. If our statistics are measuring something meaningful, we would expect them to correlate well from year to year. In other words, since Evan Longoria topped all third basemen with 20 Defensive Runs Saved in 2010, we would expect him to remain one of the league’s top defenders at the position in subsequent seasons. (Longoria saved an estimated 22 runs in the field in 2011, also a league-leading total.)

To measure the consistency of our Defensive Runs Saved numbers, we calculated what we’ll call Even/Odd Year Correlations. We added each fielder’s Runs Saved totals from 2006, 2008, and 2010 and compared to the subtotal from 2007, 2009, and 2011, with the requirement that the fielder have amassed at least 667 innings in both subsets. We would expect the players with higher totals in even years to also have high totals in odd years, while players with low totals in even years should also tend to have low totals in odd years.

By calculating the correlation coefficient of the even and odd year totals, we can measure just how consistent our statistics are. Correlation coefficients range from -1.0 to 1.0 and show relationships between two sets of numbers. A correlation coefficient of 1.0 represents a perfectly predictable relationship. For instance, if every fielder had the same number of Runs Saved in both even and odd seasons, that would produce a correlation of 1.0. On the other hand, a correlation coefficient of zero means that there is no measurable relationship, while a correlation coefficient of -1.0 signifies an inverse relationship between the sets of numbers.

Defensive Runs Saved produced an Even/Odd Year Correlation of .59. This high, positive correlation value indicates a strong relationship between even and odd season totals and a good consistency in measuring fielders’ value. But, how does this compare to traditional hitting and pitching statistics?

Even/Odd Year Correlation Coefficients for Commonly Cited Statistics

Statistic

Correlation

Batting Average

.56

ERA

.51

Defensive Runs Saved

.59

As you can see, both batting average and ERA also produce high positive Even/Odd Year correlations, though Defensive Runs Saved correlates better than both. (We used a minimum of 150 innings or 500 at bats in both subtotals for pitching and hitting statistics, respectively, although the correlations didn’t change much when we adjusted the minimum cutoffs in either direction.)

Comparing our defensive analytics to batting average and ERA, which have been the staples of analytics in baseball for the first 100 years of its existence, we find that our Defensive Runs Saved system is a better way to measure defense than are batting average to measure offense and ERA to measure pitching.

Of course, we now have more advanced measures of hitting and pitching performance. Let’s see how well a few other statistics correlate between even and odd seasons.

Even/Odd Year Correlation Coefficients for Additional Statistics

Statistic

Correlation

Home Runs

.83

OPS

.69

Pitcher Strikeouts per 9 Innings

.88

Pitcher Walks per 9 Innings

.79

Opponent OPS

.61

Home runs correlate at .83, indicating a very strong correlation between even and odd seasons. OPS correlates at .69, and Opponent OPS, which for me is the most important pitching statistic, correlates at .61.

We are at the point where our defensive analytics are nearly as reliable as offensive and pitching analytics. Just looking at the single best statistic in each: OPS is .69, Opponent OPS is .61, Defensive Runs Saved is .59. We’ve come a long way.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com

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GO: Baseball Books

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

For those of us always looking for a good read, tell us about some of your favorite baseball books (fiction or non!)

 

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The Best Baseball Movie You’ve Never Heard Of

Friday, February 24th, 2012

It’s not easy to make a good baseball movie.  The relatively slow pace of the game rarely matches up well with the fast-paced rhythms of most modern films.  Don’t get me wrong–baseball movies are plenty exciting for baseball fans.  But for the casual observer, there’s not a lot of drama in a routine fly balls and deep pitch counts.  As a sport, baseball has more in common with a novel than the film based on that novel.

That’s why so many classic baseball movies aren’t entirely about baseball.  They spend a substantial amount of screen time (if not the majority of it) focused on off-the-field subplots to compensate for the supposed tedium of the in-game action.  Bull Durham wastes a bunch of time on an unnecessary (and unpleasant) love triangle.  The Sandlot yanks the storyline away from the field at the midpoint, and only makes it back for a short epilogue.  Every time the baseball action picks up in For the Love of the Game, the lovely Kelly Preston goes on another angry crying jag.  And Field of Dreams–considered by many to be the best baseball movie ever–is  really just a mid-life crisis fairy tale that uses baseball as an awkward plot device.*

*Sorry guys, it’s true.

Other beloved baseball movies keep the action closer to the field, but stretch the viewer’s suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point.  A League of Their Own is a good example–the film is certainly about baseball (with a side order of Girl Power), but it suffers from several glaring breaks with reality.  It’s a real struggle to believe even for two hours that Rosie O’Donnell can play an effective third base.  That Madonna can cover all the ground in center field.  That Lori Petty is a woman.

Major League, Rookie of the Year, The Scout, Angels in the Outfield, Ed, and even (gasp) The Natural all suffer from a similar loose grip on reality that at least partially spoils the believability of the on-the-field portions of the film.  I’m not saying baseball must only be depicted in the most accurate and reverent way possible–I’m too much of a Naked Gun fan to ever argue for that.  But it’s rare to find a movie that unapologetically focuses on baseball and takes it seriously.

Which brings me to what might be the best baseball movie you’ve never heard of: Pastime. 

Released in 1990, Pastime is the story of two ballplayers whose lives and careers briefly intersect in the minor leagues in 1957.  It had a limited theatrical run**, but it did make an impact at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award in 1991 (under it’s original title, One Cup of Coffee).  It also earned five Independent Spirit Award nominations the following year.

**Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of first seeing this film as a child during it’s abbreviated theatrical run because the producer/director is friends with my father.  However, there’s no incentive for me to endorse the movie–in fact, he doesn’t even know I’m writing this post.  But if our casual association makes you think I can’t write an unbiased review, well… sorry.

The film stars William Russ*** as veteran pitcher Roy Dean Bream, reliever for the Tri City Steamers.  At forty-one years old, Bream is a baseball lifer holding onto his last playing days in the central California D League.  His best baseball is long behind him, but his knowledge and his youthful exuberance for the game still make him an asset to his team–at least in the mind of his manager, Clyde Bigby, played by Noble Willingham.****  Bream doesn’t fit in well with the rest of his teammates, who cover the usual stock ballplayer character types–the preening infielder, the hot-headed starter, etc.  Pressuring Bigby to unload the aging pitcher is frustrated team owner Peter LaPorte, played by the always entertaining Jeffery Tambor.*****  In a great sequence early in the film, Tambor struggles to juggle all the roles of a small town minor league baseball executive–general manager, in-game announcer, and hot dog vendor.

***Russ is most famous for his roles as the loving, supportive father on the long-running ABC series Boy Meets World, and the racist dad in American History X.  What can I say–the dude is versatile.

****Willingham is a long-time character actor who has made a career out of playing lovable, crusty old authority figures.  Walker, Texas Ranger fans will immediately recognize him as retired Ranger and saloon owner C.D. Parker.  Everyone else… well, they need to watch more Walker.

*****Tambor has enjoyed a lengthy career playing many memorable characters–none more so than perpetual butt-of-the-joke Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show, and George Sr., the incarcerated patriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  I am a big Jeffery Tambor fan, and this movie might be where it all started.

You get the sense early on that the Steamers are the kind of team where talent and potential go to die.  Each man knows his future hinges on playing his way out of town, and the tension and frustration of not being promoted is palpable.  The D League in 1957 would be similar to Rookie league today–an entry level no one wants to linger in for too long.  Hanging on to the fringes of professional baseball, you’re competing against your opponents and your teammates to advance up the ladder.

Into this tinderbox of frustration and unfulfilled potential comes seventeen year-old flamethrower Tyrone Debray, played by Glenn Plummer.******  Literally fresh off the bus, Debray shows up with the kind of self-evident talent will soon be his ticket out of town.  As the youngest man and the only black player on his team, Tyrone wears his intimidation and shyness on his face and in his posture.

******Plummer is another face you might recognize.  In my household, he’ll always be know for this role and for his brief appearance in Speed.  He was the guy whose car was commandeered, damaged, and ultimately totaled by Keanu Reeves.  “You… you broke my car.”

Where Roy Dean’s age separates him from the rest of the Steamers, Tyrone’s race also makes him an outsider.  As loners on the fringes of the team, they form a fast friendship that becomes the heart of the film.  Roy Dean has someone to listen to his stories of past success and glory, and all the baseball wisdom and experience he’s accumulated finally finds an outlet.  Tyrone gets an unexpected friend and mentor, building up the confidence he sorely lacks.  While their career trajectories are heading in opposite directions, it’s clear they share a consuming love for baseball and a deep appreciation for the ability to play the game for a living.  As Roy Dean points out, “Some guys have to get up every morning and go to work in an office.”

If nothing else, stick around long enough for the scene where Roy Dean tells a wide-eyed Tyrone about his short stint in the majors–”just a cup of coffee”–pitching for the Cubs against Stan Musial.  Russ tells the story like he’s told it a thousand times before, and his words have all the wrinkled and ragged qualities of the newspaper clipping Roy Dean keeps as proof of his major league career.

And if none of that grabs you, this might: Pastime is a visual holiday for baseball historians.  The background of many scenes is littered with Hall of Fame ballplayers.  Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew, Don Newcombe, Bill Mazeroski, Duke Snider, and Bob Feller all make blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos.  Also, the final scene of the film was the last thing shot in old Comiskey Park on the day before it was torn down.

I can’t promise you that Pastime will be the best baseball movie you’ve ever seen.  It doesn’t reach for the manufactured emotional highs of some of the films mentioned above–there are no magic bats or mystical cornfields here.  It’s not trying to sweep you off your feet.  It’s a quiet story about the real life triumphs and tragedies of baseball, grounded in a reality that will feel instantly familiar.  And in that regard at least, it’s a home run.

Pastime is available on Netflix Instant View and for purchase here.

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