Another The Walking Dead premiere. Another all-time record. Sunday’s zombie drama return delivered a huge 16.1 million viewers and an even-more-stunning 8.2 rating among adults 18–49. —Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 14
The last eight years have produced the seven least-watched World Series on record. —New York Times, Sept. 28
Unfortunately, Tom Hanks was wrong when he declared, “There’s no crying in baseball!” in A League of Their Own. There’s a lot of crying in baseball today when fans become so bored that the TV ratings for Walking Dead far surpass those of a playoff game. Zombies over a playoff game! Unbelievable!
Perhaps it’s the off-the-field shenanigans, scandals, steroids and stupidity that have finally caught up with what used to believe was a game. Where fans once argued about player’s stats, batting, pitching, or fielding skills, they now compare humongous salaries. Is it any wonder that zombies are more attractive than overpaid stiffs sporting bats and gloves?
However, sobs of boredom will never match the wails of grief suffered by us Brooklyn Dodgers fans when our beloved bums were unceremoniously abducted from Ebbets Field, their native soil, and spirited off to Planet Hollywood. It was a double homicide in that it not only killed the spirit of New York City’s most vital borough for a couple of generations (at least until fixies, fedoras and artisanal mustaches came into vogue), the 1957 decision by Walter O’Malley to take the Dodgers west emphatically exposed the previously well-guarded secret that baseball was indeed a business more than sport. Many Brooklyn Dodger fans like myself lost interest in the old ball game. It appeared that central casting had had taken over and the Boys of Summer with names that suggested the gritty personality of the team—Duke, Campy, Ersk, Pee Wee, Jackie, Newk, Skoonj, etc. were gradually replaced by the Boys of Smog: Russel, Larker, Fairly, Davis, etc. Fine players all, mind you, but suggesting pâte de fois gras and chilled chardonnay rather than hot dog and cold beer.
Us Brooklyn fans aren’t alone in the malaise that has taken over sport. In countless articles and interviews, once avid baseball nuts have expressed a profound loss of interest in watching a game at home, let alone paying the outrageous price of admission at the ballpark (as shrinking game attendance continuously attests). Many have expressed similar accounts of falling into as much of a deep sleep during a high-scoring slugfest as in a drawn-out pitcher’s duel. In either case, the game is almost certain to take more than three hours, if not four.
Then how do you explain that these same fans contend they have watched the same baseball film again and again on Turner Classic Movies, rented DVDs, Netflix, etc. and have never dozed off in the process? Easy -- build a baseball movie and they will come! It's obvious that we prefer watching movie stars than baseball stars for the simple reason that they're more fun to watch, even those with negligible athletic ability. A farce like Take Me Out to the Ballgame with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin as O’Brien-to-Ryan-to Goldberg had more on-field enjoyment value than a game between current pennant contenders.
And when there’s a star like Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs swinging a bat and exploding light bulbs above the right field stands, well, it’s no contest. With this in mind, I herewith submit my votes for a Hollywood All-Star team that spare us the boredom of actual baseball zombies. What’s more, all of these films should end before the seventh-inning stretch of the actual World Series game you’re (probably) not watching.
As Abbott said to Costello: Who’s on first? That would be…
First Base: Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees
Second Base: Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42
Shortstop: Gene Kelly as Eddie O’Brien in Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Third Base: Rosie O’Donnell as Doris Murphy in A League of Their Own
Catcher: Robert De Niro as Bruce Pearson in Bang the Drum Slowly
Right Field: Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural
Center Field: Anthony Perkins as Jim Piersall in Fear Strikes Out
Left Field: Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams
James Stewart as Monty Stratton in The Monty Stratton Story
Charlie Sheen as “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn in Major League
Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh in Bull Durham
David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte in Eight Men Out
Tatum O’Neal as Amanda Whurlitzer in Bad News Bears
On the bench:
John Goodman as Babe Ruth in The Babe
Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own
Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes in Major League
Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb in Cobb
Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis in Bull Durham
John Cusack as Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out
Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball
Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle in Major League
Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham
Glenn Close as Harriet Bird in The Natural
Burt Lancaster as Dr. “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams
Robert Duvall as Max Mercy in The Natural
James Earl Jones as Terence Mann in Field of Dreams
Robert Prosky as The Judge in The Natural
Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42
Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn in Major League
Clifton James as Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out
Babe Ruth as Himself in Pride of the Yankees
Jackie Robinson as Himself in The Jackie Robinson Story
Crash Davis as Sam Crawford in Cobb
Nick Meglin is a writer living in North Carolina.