With the baseball playoffs in full swing, it's time to take a look at actors who have stepped up to the plate and taken on the challenge of portraying a real-life hardball legend. While there have been many great movies and portrayals about diamond life (Kevin Costner
in "Bull Durham
" springs to mind), a select few actors have hit the field in fact-based baseball films.
Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig
In the revered biopic "The Pride of the Yankees
," Cooper steps into the shoes of the Yankees icon and deftly handles all the off-the-field developments (diagnosis of ALS, "Luckiest Man Alive" speech, etc.). On the field, however, was another story. Cooper was right-handed and terrible at baseball, so to match Gehrig's left-handed swing; Cooper was shot righty and then ran to third after hitting the ball. Then, the film print was reversed to create the correct illusion.
John Goodman as Babe Ruth
Goodman didn't have to do much to be better than the original Babe, William Bendix, whose performance is considered to be one of the worst in sports film history. Goodman brought the requisite girth and better acting to 1992's "The Babe
," but unfortunately, the film was not a box-office success, perhaps due to some of the liberties taken with the material.
D.B. Sweeney and Ray Liotta as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
One of the most tragic figures in baseball has been immortalized on film in two very different performances. In John Sayles' fact-based "Eight Men Out
," Jackson is portrayed by Sweeney as a baseball-playing savant who eventually caves in to his teammates' desires to throw the World Series. In "Field Of Dreams
," Liotta stars as the ghostly legend who returns to Costner's farm. Liotta hit right-handed, creating controversy among baseball wonks because Jackson was a lefty.
Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle and Barry Pepper as Roger Maris
's underrated "61
*," about the home-run quest that enveloped the New York Yankees during the 1961 season, is greatly aided by two powerful performances from his leads. Jane as the brash, colorful Mantle and Pepper as the reticent, conflicted Maris. Pepper is aided by his uncanny resemblance to the eventual "winner" of the chase, while Jane, a baseball novice, actually does a good job in his on-field scenes at Mantle.
Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris
Yes, Quaid doesn't look much like Morris, the prospect-turned-teacher-turned-old player in "The Rookie
," and the facts have been given the Disney treatment, but there's no denying that the movie is a compelling piece of real-life fantasy anchored by a comeback performance from Quaid. The actor did most of the pitching (fast pitches were handled by a stunt double), and when it comes to delivering that emotional punch, no one does it better than Quaid.
Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb
Cobb was an ornery racist who was one of the game's best players, and it's this contradiction that's at the heart of Ron Shelton's "Cobb
." Jones fully embodies the crusty Cobb in both his playing days and as the bitter old man who is interviewed by a naïve reporter. The actor has many memorable performances in his CV, but this could be one of his most ignored, partially due to the reprehensible character he was playing. BTW, Jones filmed most of the movie in a cast after suffering a broken leg. The baseball scenes were saved for last.
Blair Underwood as Jackie Robinson
Robinson had already starred as himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story," but for a more nuanced performance, you have to turn to Underwood's work as the legendary trailblazer in "Soul of the Game
," which not only spotlights Robinson, but fellow Negro League stars Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Robinson may not be the star of this movie, but you get an idea from Underwood's composed, thoughtful portrayal of Robinson why it was he who was chosen to break the sport's color barrier.
Story by Elliott Smith
Starpulse contributing writer