Friday, May 19, 2006

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME

New York Press
By C.J. SULLIVAN & DAVE HOLLANDER

HOLLANDER: C.J., I know in the past we’ve had our differences. But I want to thank you for taking me to the Mets-Diamondbacks game last Wednesday night out at Shea. It was more than a game. It was our détente. As soon as Pedro threw the first pitch you made the bridge-building gesture of sharing the roast beef hero you deftly smuggled in. It was delicious. Soon after, I was impressed when you caught a projectile promotional T-shirt and magnanimously handed it to the young lad sitting next to me. The boy grinned from ear to ear.

You and I talked of many things that night. We found common ground. Initially you said you found the New Yorker piece on Oriana Fallaci “boring” but then were swayed by my appreciation for it. (Slyly, you pilfered my magazine on the subway ride home. I forgive you.) We discussed the joy of language, parsing the definition of “ne per ultra.” And, we both shared great regret over the planned, imminent demise of the dirty but sturdy historical playground that is today’s Shea Stadium.

Even when I was recognized by an NYU Sports Manage-ment student sitting behind us who said he enjoyed my guest lecture this fall and complimented me profusely on my new book, you seemed genuinely happy for me. None of your usual bitterness, envy or self-loathing rose up.

All this good-will was set against the backdrop of a classic contest of division leaders. Pedro, mixing guile and precision, pitched eight scoreless innings, outlasting the equally effective young D-backs ace, Brandon Webb, who is the National League flavor of the month at 8-0. Incredibly, Pedro endured his seventh straight outing where he pitched more than well enough to win but got no run support. The Mets hot-shot rookie prospect, right fielder Lastings Milledge, almost left an unsightly “colacino” (meaning “water mark left by a drinking glass,” as we learned from Mets DiamondVision “word of the game”) in his second big league game when a routine fly ball bounced off his glove in the second inning. He later made amends. In the 6th inning the Mets rookie gunned down a runner advancing from 1st base to 3rd base on single to right field, possibly saving the game. I’d not seen a throw so accurate and powerful since Roberto Clemente.

In the bottom of the 13th inning, the Mets prevailed 1-0. As the game entered extra innings, it was unspoken between us that we would not leave until the game ended, whenever it ended. Perhaps we didn’t want it to end. Just for a night, it there was no HOLLANDER vs. SULLIVAN. It was just two guys enjoying a helluva ballgame.


SULLIVAN: Yes, putting aside our respective egos was a relief, and to just sit in the foggy, night air in Queens watching a pitcher’s duel was a delight. Amazingly—and that is a word fit for the 2006 Mets—most of the crowd stayed on until the 13th inning. That game was played the way baseball should be played: quick and efficient. A 13-inning game was over by 10:30pm—not bad.

This Met team is a joy to watch. They have fun playing baseball. Pedro goofing around in the dugout like Bill Murray in that stupid basketball cartoon movie. Lastings playing with the pleasure only a 21-year-old man can feel. He is the new “Natural.” Wright and Reyes starting their own Rock and Salsa tribute band on the left side of the infield. They are like the cast of “Major League,” finally coming together to win some games and have a few laughs.

The Mets have a joie de vivre when it comes to the diamond. They play with a

sweet abandon and you just feel like they have a shot to win every game—they won’t, but they stay in it until the end and have good humor doing it.


HOLLANDER: Good humor was in abundance that night, wasn’t it? I particularly enjoyed the old geezer a few seats below us who converted the aluminum Budweiser bottles that piled up beside him into a percussive cheering instrument. His clatter drew the attention of Shea Stadium’s “Cow Bell Man,” who stopped by to duel with the old man, much to the aural displeasure of our immediate seating area.

Indeed, baseball is full of characters. Maybe that’s why it’s the subject of so many films. And because this is the NY Press Film Issue, let me state clearly and definitively here that Bull Durham is NOT the greatest baseball movie ever made. Eight Men Out, 61* and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings finish higher on the list in my book. But the greatest baseball movie also happens to be the greatest sports film of all time: The Bad News Bears (1976) directed by Michael Ritchie, with Walter Matthau as Butterminker, Tatum O’Neal as Samantha and characters like Tanner, Lupus, Englebert and Kelly Leek (who is surely a baseball icon). Watch it again. It still holds up today. What a masterpiece. Next game, I’ll bring the sandwich.


SULLIVAN: You are still stuck
on that Bad News Bear train. You saw it at 11 and never forgot it.
It is a decent movie but not the greatest baseball movie ever made. The best baseball flick is the 1976 Richard Pryor flick, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars. That movie showed what it is really like on the fringes of baseball. That Pryor’s character was claiming Cuban heritage so that he could play in the major leagues is a sad reminder of baseball’s color line.

Bingo Long shows that if Barry Bonds’ record of 715 home runs is to be shunned, so should Babe Ruth’s 714 as he did not compete with ALL the best baseball players of his era. The black guys like Josh Gibson were left to the curb in the Negro Leagues, so we will never know who was

the greatest hitter of that era, since the best players were not allowed to compete with each other.

Someone should do a movie on Bobby and Barry Bonds. Dad had a drinking problem but was a good player. Willie Mays was Barry’s godfather. Barry and Dad had a close relationship as cancer took Bobby Bonds off this mortal coil. It has everything you need for a good drama. I like Barry Bond’s combative nature and how he will not bow to anyone. Did he cheat? I don’t know. Maybe. But he was a Hall of Famer before the home runs, so I don’t really care.