Things are about to get crazy around here. Starting with a coverage-palooza of the draft in two weeks and followed shortly by obsessive draft signing watches and an expected swift increase in all things connected to trade rumors, Bleacher Nation is about to become a rapidly updated clearinghouse of more Cub related information than you can shake a stick at. [Brett: You ain't kiddin'.]
This is the waiting time, the calm before that frenzy of activity arrives. And I can’t think a better way to fill some waiting hours than with a great book or movie. So for today’s This Week In The Minors we’ll take a relaxing survey of some of the best baseball novels and movies ever published. Next week we’ll kick off the draft coverage by checking in on the progress of the 2012 Cubs draft class, but today we’ll take it easy and wallow in some great pieces of fiction.
After we check in on each of the four active farm teams, of course. Starting with an Iowa team that has suddenly gotten surprisingly hot.
Iowa Cubs : 21-25
Here come the Cubs. This week Iowa took four of five from Las Vegas and to date have snagged the first two in their series against Oklahoma City. Suddenly Iowa is just four games under .500 and is within five games of first. Their home record is now a strong 14-8, but the home stand ends on Monday. If the Cubs can keep winning when they hit the road in Nashville, though, then every team in organization could be in positive territory a week from now.
Tennessee Smokies : 24-23
This was a rockier week for Smokies, but getting out of Chattanooga with a split is no small accomplishment these days. They dropped two of the first three against Huntsville at home, but there is still time to win that series. After that the Smokies hit the road for Birmingham, the team that leads the division by 5.5 games over the Smokies. Now would be a great time for this team to get hot.
Daytona Cubs : 24-23
And now the Cubs are in third and just 3.5 out of first. Daytona is 7-3 over their last ten, and some of the credit for that goes to the marked turn around of Javier Baez. Now that he is no longer striking out at a truly horrifying rate he is frequently contributing to a line up that has been able to post some large run totals. Suddenly Jorge Soler and Dustin Geiger have someone to help with the heavy lifting, and it is paying off with more Cub wins.
Kane County Cougars : 23-24
A seven game road trip did not go well for the Chiefs, but after Pierce Johnson pitched them to a huge win in Peoria on Friday night, Kane County was able to carry that momentum into a sweep of a doubleheader on Saturday. That left their record for the week at 3-4 and the season record just a game under .500. Unfortunately they remain a hefty seven games out of first. If Kane County is going to compete for the first half title, and they have the talent to do it, they are running of time in which to make a run.
The Best of Baseball Fiction
I have no idea how this movie continues to fly under the radar in discussions baseball movies, but that seems to be the case. It is easily the best baseball movie ever made.
This piece marks one of the rare cases in which a movie is almost as good as the novel (thanks in no small part to the acting of a youngish Robert De Niro). However, before you dive into either the book or the film for the first time, I highly recommend you pick up and read The Southpaw. This prequel to “Bang The Drum Slowly” is a good read in it’s own right, but it provides the backstory to the main character that makes that second book and the movie even better. I should also mention that, if you like those two books, Mark Harris penned two more baseball novels in that series.
But if you dive straight into the movie without waiting to read any of those books you are still going to find a highly enjoyable and under-appreciated piece of cinema.
The movie is a classic, and deserved so. The book is much, much better. However, this is one of the rare cases in which I think you are better off watching the move first. James Earl Jones is so iconic in this movie (probably his most famous roll outside of full body armor and a breathing mask) that his voice will echo in your head as you read the novel.
And the novel is dripping with Cub connections. The World’s Oldest Chicago Cub features prominently in the novel, as does the now famous tale of Moonlight Graham and his uncanny similarities to former Cub Adam Greenberg. Many baseball fans have watched the movie, but every fan should read the book.
This one is almost not fair. Perfect games are such highly emotional and absorbing events for any baseball fan that a film about paint drying could make this list if it was mixed in with scenes from a perfect game. And, in fact, other than the baseball scenes this movie is a little on the forgettable side.
I confess I have not yet read the novel. To be honest, I did not know it originated as a novel until I was doing my homework for this article. The movie, for me anyway, is the perfect one to play in the dead of winter. It has just enough baseball in it to make the endless wait for spring a bit more bearable. Given that Michael Shaara is a very good writer, I suspect the novel will be rapidly earning a place on my regular reading shelf just as soon as I get it ordered.
As baseball movies go this one has some terrible baseball. It doesn’t look accurate at all. But for non-baseball fans, though, it might be second only to “Bang The Drum Slowly” in terms of watchability.
Really, though, the baseball is secondary in both the book and the movie. It is the canvass on which is painted the imagery and pageantry that makes this story what it is. That said, if pageantry is what you’re in the mood for, it is tough to beat the home run that shatters the lights. And if you’re in the mood to dislike sportswriters, this movie provided you with a great target to hate on.
61*. Movie released in 2001.
Despite being about the Yankees, this one makes the list. As baseball movies go this one might have the most accurate baseball as well as the truest portrayal of live off the diamond, and I like it in part for that accuracy. I always wonder, when watching this, about the other pressures that exist in baseball. If chasing Babe Ruth‘s record can have that profound of an effect, what must the pressure on an entire organization be like as it runs down a championship a century in the making? Watching 61* always leaves me thinking about the Cubs and that long drought. Maybe that’s why I don’t watch it very often.
It Happens Every Spring. Movie released in 1949.
Probably the best baseball comedy I have ever seen. Good luck finding a copy of it, though. To call this movie obscure would be a profound understatement. The movie is based on a short story by Shriley W. Smith (also credited on the movie), but that is about as hard to find.
How to describe this… imagine “Back to the Future” had a baby with “The Natural”, but it was raised by “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, went to high school with Ferris Bueller, and joined Delta Tau Chi in college after which it settled down and got a job at “Dowton Abbey”. Oh, and it’s in black and white and filmed in that style that only existed as movie transitioned from stage to pure silver screen. Equal parts weird and sober with an underlying current of outright absurdity that is masked behind the unyielding gentlemanliness of the era, this is one of the most brainless and fun baseball movies I have ever stumbled across.
So kick back, relax, grab a book or pop in a movie, and enjoy the holiday weekend.