Primum non nocere
When I first heard Billy Crystal commenting on the baseball movie The Natural, I had no idea what the game meant to him. I was not aware that his father had been a pitcher for St. Johns, or that the two of them had spent a lot of time together over baseball. It is a game that father's can teach to their sons, and for men, having something solid like that is a great help in life. We often are uncomfortable just sitting together. Having something to do, whether it be fishing or baseball, gives us an opportunity to spend time together, and that's an important thing. At fifty-four years of age Billy's father died suddenly of a heart attack. Billy was fifteen years old at the time. The young man went on to become a very good ball player. His senior year he captained his high school baseball team and earned a scholarship to play for Marshall University. Midway through his freshmen year the program was placed on probation, and Billy came back. He returned to New York, studied the theater, met the girl who would become his wife and began to work in the improv theater. Then it was on to Morty the Mime ("Mime is money", or so Billy's Morty would claim), SOAP, Saturday Night Live and all that we have come to know of Billy Crystal the entertainer. All the while the formative experiences for Billy go back to those times spent with his dad, learning the game of baseball and watching the play at Yankee Stadium. As Roy Hobbs would say "My dad wanted me to be a baseball player." That was true for Billy as well. It is still a part of him today, and his 61* captures the magic and romance of bygone days and of boyhood heroes, now seen more clearly through the eyes of a man. When he was young, his father brought Billy to baseball. Now it is baseball that brings Billy back... back to the younger days of a small boy in an enormous stadium, of hot dogs and mustard, of baseballs and towering home runs, and of long summer days spent with his father. I hope you will join me in watching Billy's fine tribute to Mickey Mantle, to Roger Maris, to their chase to break Babe Ruth's home run record, to the 1961 Yankees, and most of all, to his dad... Jack Crystal.
I really enjoyed this. You gotta love a story about people who can keep their friendship intact when it is challenged in so many ways, including the literal attacks on the relationship from the outside world. (Pretty sad illustration of what the media can do to an individual if damaging him suits their purposes -- and here it was simply trying to outdo each other on how sensationally they could feed the narrative of the "rivalry" between the ball players.)The cast was wonderful! Thomas Jane was a thoroughly engaging Mickey Mantle; a man boyishly exuberant and charismatic enough to charm the world in spite of irresponsible behavior. And in Barry Pepper's Roger Maris -- quiet, sensitive, and very human -- we can see what a contrast he was to the gregarious Mantle -- and how negatively the press manipulated his image. ( Jennifer Crystal Foley was wonderful as Maris' loving, supportive young wife.) Asterisk or no, Maris triumphed on the ball field, in spite of the cruel pressures, the hostile fans, and the loneliness of being separated from his wife and children. It's a great story, and all the better for being true. Of course, the other great story here is the one about the making of the movie. The special feature with Billy Crystal and others involved in the film-making was terrific, taking you backstage with the magician who creates the images and illusions that make the story he is telling as true to the people and places involved as artifice allows. And I loved just seeing how much Crystal loves baseball, and how much he loved bringing this chapter of baseball history to life.