Sports Movies: A Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

I thought I would start adding a recurring post that reviews and talks about Sports Movies. This came by request of my sister who wanted to know the accuracy of Field of Dreams. I am a movie aficionado, I have been watching the classics from the beginning. Still to this day there is nothing, in my opinion, to beat a great cinematic experience (except maybe a compelling book). By that take, I am also a movie snob.

I will break down these sports movies in 3 ways; first, a general over view of the movie from a story and cinematic take; second, accuracy in history and sports; third, what the movie left out of the story.

Let’s begin with a Field of Dreams.

A quick overview of the movie:

The son of a want-to-be baseball player leaves his New York lifestyle to become a corn farmer in Iowa. A voice tells him “If you build it he will come,” which leads him to build a baseball field, meet random people and finally come to terms with his relationship with his father.

My review:

This is a classic, the themes of family and faith seem so outside of normal Hollywood filmmaking it keeps the film relevant. Kevin Costner (of which I have a running joke never does a good movie) is helped by an amazing supporting cast. His wife, played by Amy Madigan, is the most likable character in the movie. Her energy and charisma are a highlight in the film. James Earl Jones who plays the bitter writer, Terence Mann is brilliant. Seriously, as I was watching this again for this post I do not understand how he is not a bigger star. He is superb. The acting and writing is great throughout the movie including, Burt Lancaster.

The biggest problem in the story is the climax. Here, Costner’s character is supposedly trying to decide if he is going to sell his farm to his brother-in-law (played by Timothy Busfield– one of my favorite characters in The West Wing). However, there is no real tension at this moment, no one actually believes he’s going to sell the farm. Also, the “injury” that happens to the daughter is so contrived as to make the tension there slack.

However, the interactions with the old ball players, the conversations and the nostalgia, is glorious. Burt Lancaster steals every scene he is in and his story line the most interesting and compelling.

This is a must-see movie, not just for sports fans but for movie fans. It stands up to time, making it a classic.

Accuracy:

Joe JacksonMost of the movies historical sports references is in regard to the shamed White Sox (“Black Sox”) of 1919. It focuses mainly on “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who is the protagonist of the story. Most of the references to him are correct, he took money but there is no evidence he threw the series. He was an illiterate man who struggled the rest of his life when he was thrown from baseball. He was a great ballplayer, the best on the team. He was banned from professional baseball after the scandal.

The reference to Ty Cobb is also accurate, Cobb was a deeply disliked player during his time.Moonlight Graham

Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was an actual baseball player who only got one inning in the major leagues. He did go on to become a medical doctor as the movie portrays.

Beyond the Movie:

This movie is very sympathetic to the Black Sox, especially Joe Jackson. A much better movie on the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox is Eight Men Out.

The 1910s was plagued with cheating and throwing games. According to Bill James “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” at least 22 men were thrown out or suspended from baseball because of cheating. The 1919 World Series was and is a serious blot on the history of baseball. The Commissioner’s actions, of expelling everyone who knew about the throw, set a serious tone for American Athletics. All other American sports have benefited from the reaction to the 1919 scandal. We live in a sporting world where we general believe the results on the field are genuine and not purchased by the highest bidder. We have a general faith in our athletes to play their best and let the results play out. This is not universal, but we can trace this trust to the throwing out of Joe Jackson and his teammates in 1920.Black Sox

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