From baseball to the big screen?
Now that home-run kings Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have become immortals of the green diamond, it can’t be long before they achieve eternal life on the silver screen. That’s been the sweet and immediate hereafter of a bat rack of sluggers from Babe Ruth to Reggie Jackson.
The Sultan swatted a then-record 60 dingers in 1927 — and the next year bounced around the backseat of Harold Lloyd’s runaway taxi in Speedy, a screwball silent comedy in which the Big Bambino is first glimpsed tossing out autographed baseballs at an orphanage. Teammate Lou Gehrig poked 49 homers in ’36; in ’38 the Iron Horse poked cows, pitched hay, and beaned baddies with billiard balls in Rawhide. And after clearing 115 fences between them in ’61, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle made two movies in ’62, the Little Leaguer’s fantasy Safe at Home! and That Touch of Mink, in which the M&M Boys share the dugout bench with Cary Grant and Doris Day.
If tradition holds, McGwire and Sosa will have their choice: a winking bit as the stock character known as Himself, like Reggie Jackson’s attempt at reginacide in ’88’s The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, or a sacrifice for the team, like Jackson’s corkless role as a batting coach in ’94’s Richie Rich. So it has always been. In Rawhide, Gehrig gives the quintessential long-ball performance, drifting across the screen, hands in his pockets, as if hoping someone will talk to him.
The bit of fluff that is That Touch of Mink boasts the best baseball banter. ”Hey, ump, shake your head,” razzes Day after a questionable strike call. ”Your eyeballs are stuck.”
When the ump starts jawing with her, Day asks Mantle if the pitch was a ball. ”It looked like it,” he says. The ump tosses him out of the game.
Day asks Maris. He says, ”It could have missed the corner.” He also gets tossed.
Day asks their Yankee teammate Yogi Berra. ”It’s a perfect strike,” he says diplomatically. ”The ump was right.”
”I don’t like sarcasm, Berra,” snaps the man in black. ”You’re out of the game, too.”
Some of baseball’s immortal sluggers never had a season big enough for the big screen. Career home-run leader Hank Aaron peaked in ’71 with 47 homers; in 1974 he broke Ruth’s all-time mark with homer 715; that same year he showed up on an episode of Happy Days. Ruth seems to hold the big-screen record, playing Himself in nine movies (and somebody named Babe Dugan in 1927’s Babe Comes Home), which should qualify him for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, if not the Baseball Hall of Fame. He also holds the unique distinction of having played a younger Himself in Pride of the Yankees, the 1942 Gehrig biopic.
The most sublime convergence of heavy hitting and Hollywood may have been the teaming of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. DiMaggio had a few words in ’51’s Angels in the Outfield, but his finest dialogue came off screen. Returning from a USO tour of Korea, Monroe told her husband: ”Oh, Joe, you’ve never heard such cheering.”
”Yes, I have,” was the Yankee Clipper’s clipped reply.