(1988) dir. John Sayles
I’ve watched a lot of different kinds of movies with my kids from Godzilla to Buster Keaton to the latest Pixar offering. But this one was going to be a bit of a curveball, John Sayles’ 1988 film about the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal, a drama about professional baseball’s most blackest eye, a PG-rated film that I had never actually seen, so I didn’t know exactly how it would fly with the kids. The idea of watching it came up in conversation, in talking with the kids and their neighbors one day about the true events. And in talking it over, there was some interest, mainly from Felix and the older of the two neighbor girls, but I thought, “what the heck, I’ll give it a shot!”
Circumstances being what they became, it was only Felix and I watching the film. I had to stop and start it a lot to explain things to him. I don’t know if it was because being set a long time ago or the sound of the recording, but he was having a hard time making out some of the dialogue and was getting pretty confused during the film. Given, there are a lot of characters, a lot of goings-on to understand, for instance that the World Series champion and best group of ballplayers perhaps ever assembled for owner Charles Comiskey’s White Sox were so poorly paid and appreciated that they found men willing to “throw” a World Series for cash money. I mean, let’s face it, this actual event changed things forever and now it’s hard to look at ball players and pity their poverty.
So, the film, as a kids’ film, was a bit of a wash. But for me, I thought it was pretty darn good.
It features an excellent cast including John Cusack, David Straitharn, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, D.B. Sweeney, and numerous others also Studs Turkel and Sayles himself. And the story, perhaps for an ever-more passionate baseball fan, is hard to beat.
The film picks up with the White Sox as the round out the pennant, about the head into a World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. They are heavy favorites, but are poorly paid, and poorly handled by Comiskey, breaking promises on bonuses, serving them flat celebratory champagne instead, all the while living large and bragging big at the top of the game. Some keen gambling criminals with ties to larger mafia elements, find a willing group of players to “throw” the series for $10,000 a pop. They find a group of eight or so, including two of the three starting pitchers and the fix is in, signaling that fact by having the first starting pitcher hit the first batter in the first game of the series.
Sayles’ heart and perspective is with the players, from those who knew to those who didn’t know, from those who gladly participated to those to begrudgingly did so to those who actually refused, Cusack’s Buck Weaver and Sweeney’s Shoeless Joe Jackson being the two who played their best despite the teammates trying to lose it. Because in the end, the players were the dupes of Comiskey, of the mob, of the government regulators who came in to “clean up the whole mess”. They realized only a fraction of the money promised to them, despite the mobsters and gambling groups making out big time, and then, again at the whims of the power dealers, found “not guilty” were still barred from playing professional baseball for the rest of their lives.
Heck, I quite enjoyed this movie. I’m sorry that Felix did not. He might have done better with a documentary, perhaps Ken Burns’ documentary would do, long as it is. He’s interested in the facts. But I do have to say that this was definitely a fine drama by one of the pretty cool guys in American indie cinema from the 1980’s. I’m glad I saw it. And I certainly would recommend it to anyone who was halfway interested…unless they happen to be perhaps a little too unfamiliar with more adult dramas…