Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Home Alone), Rookie of the Year stars Thomas Ian Nicholas as Henry Rowengartner, a Chicago-area youngster whose love for the Cubs is rivaled only by his ineptitude on the Little League field. Henry juggles baseball, school, and helping out with the chores for his mom, Mary (Amy Morton), whose new boyfriend Jack (Bruce Altman) is a real piece of work (more on him later). When Henry breaks his arm on the schoolyard and his tendons heal incorrectly, he discovers that he can now throw a baseball upwards of one hundred miles per hour. This gets the attention of desperate Cubs GM Larry Fisher (Dan Hedaya), who immediately signs Henry as the team’s new closer. Will Henry energize the Cubs’ dwindling attendance and get the team to the Postseason? Will Mary and the washed-up flamethrower Chet “Rocket” Steadman (Gary Busey) get it on? Will anyone — and I mean anyone — read the MLB’s rules about child labor?
Adam: It baffles me that this is the only movie Daniel Stern ever directed. Whether you like Rookie of the Year or not, I think it’s hard to deny how polished and well-paced the movie is. How did this not lead to a Jon Favreau-level directorial career for Stern? I wonder what happened. Did he just not want to direct anymore? Was there a big “Ron Howard” assist needed by a more seasoned filmmaker during production?
Despite being about the Chicago Cubs (my crosstown rival who I was raised to dislike and/or ignore since birth) and starring Thomas Ian Nicholas (who I met at a convention and was a total bag, complaining about his book controversy while I stood there waiting to pay him to sign something and expecting a fan interaction), I have always liked Rookie of the Year. A lot. Is it the best baseball movie? No. Is it the one I’m most eager to watch if I’m in the mood for a baseball movie? Yes. It survives my trepidations. I saw it at the dollar theater in its original release and loved it then, it became a sleepover movie and cable staple over the years and every time I revisit it as an adult I am impressed by its pacing and ability to remain as funny as it is. Even more than as a kids movie, Rookie of the Year works for me as a straight-up comedy because it has a lot of jokes and broad characters and they are almost all (at least once or twice) saying something amusing or doing something so dumb that I have to shake my head and grin. It somehow takes a premise that is entirely unbelievable and treats it in a way that is completely aware of its ridiculousness and yet blissfully unaware of it, too. You mention the child labor thing. I could go on and on about the real-world baseball inaccuracies (visible injuries from players who remain in games, the financial operations of running a baseball team being day-to-day adventures, GM’s shouting at players THEY SIGNED that they are bums, the kid never getting ejected from a game even with all his bullshit on the base paths and trick plays, every pitcher on the mound stopping the game cold to have conversations with opposing players/their dugout/people in the stands, etc.) but that’s what makes talking about this movie with other baseball fans so much fun. I’m not gonna lie: that abominable closing freeze-frame aside, this movie makes me very happy.
Outside of all that, it’s such a stellar baseball movie. We’re likely going to go on and on about all the insane breaches of baseball protocol the movie indulges in, but it’s important for everyone to remember that we LOVE the way Rookie of the Year approaches the game because — speaking for myself, here — it’s exactly how twelve year-old me would play it! This is a case of a movie taking acceptable breaks from reality in order to embrace the novelty of its world. That world is skewed, almost science fiction, in a lot of ways. But, like Bull Durham (to which you favorably compared this movie on Twitter), it’s all about what it means to love baseball. That makes all the difference.
But! I digress. We have a lot to get to. What do you want to talk about first?
Rob: Busey is great as Steadman, and I love what you said about the way the movie intertwines their careers. One of the things I really appreciate is that (aside from the on-field bullshittery we’ll cover later on) Henry is never rude or disrespectful to the players or the game. He’s not cocky or ungrateful. He’s not Bryce-fucking-Harper. His arc isn’t about maturity or manhood (again, compare him with Tim Robbins in Bull Durham). He’s friendly and congenial, brave and vulnerable. He idolizes these guys. He knows he didn’t “earn” his talent, so he never lets it go to his head. He understands that he is just lucky to be there, which makes his interactions with Steadman (his hero) that much more meaningful.
I should point out that I’ve always had a strange bond with Thomas Ian Nicholas, if only because I kind of resembled him as a kid. He felt like my Movie Star Doppelganger. Most of the ‘90s kid heroes had a Macaulay Culkin vibe, so it was nice to feel represented. He’s really good in this movie, and I’m really bummed that he was such an ass to you, Adam.
Adam: Two moments of hers I love are when Henry goes out to the mound for the first time and she just blurts out “He is so cute” and when Henry is batting for the first time and one of her customers makes an off-hand comment that triggers her maternally and she threatens the guy with shears. It’s so funny.
This whole cast...I mean, c’mon. It’s so good that I almost forgot that John Candy is the depressed announcer. How great is Dan Hedaya in this as the GM? I still don’t understand how he’s able to just sell a player for $25M as opposed to releasing or trading him or why he’s a hot dog vendor at the end of the film maybe forever (?) as punishment, but his scenes are great. Bruce Altman does a good job as Henry’s scuzzy manager. He’s a fun character to hate with his awful ‘90s silk dress shirts, dumb cigars and gifting of necklaces to Henry’s mom even though they’ve been dating for three weeks. What is he? 15 years old? That’s not how grown-up dating works.
Rob: He’s the absolute worst. I also wanted to shout out Albert Hall as Cubs manager Sal Martinella. One of the running gags is his willful (?) mispronunciation of Henry’s last name, and I wrote each of them down:
I think the first is my favorite, if only because it’s the most phonetically playful. Name your favorite in the comments!
Adam: Had to interject: I’m partial to Gardenhoser, with Runamucker a close second. Sorry, continue.
Rob: Anyway, we might as well get into the logistics of an actual twelve year-old kid playing in the MLB. A friendly disclaimer: Adam and I love this movie. These quibbles and inconsistencies do not invalidate the joy we feel watching it. Quite the opposite, actually. This is purely an academic exercise.
1. High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
2. College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
3. Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed
Considering how crucial it is to the plot (and the fact that the movie doesn’t offer some hand-wave explanation that insults our intelligence), I’ll let that one slide. Henry also goes right to The Show, skipping the Minor Leagues entirely. Given the severity of the Cubs’ attendance crisis, I’ll let that slide, as well.
On the other hand, Henry’s late-movie “floater” pitch is totally legal. I couldn't find anything in the rules that says a pitcher can’t throw underhand (pitcher Chris Hayes made it all the way to Triple-A throwing an underhand “rise ball”), and many MLB hurlers have made use of the “eephus” pitch, a low-velocity junker meant to throw the batter off-balance.
However, there are a few things I just can’t abide: Henry throws his first in-game pitch on his first day, never once throwing a bullpen session, working with a bench coach on signs, or warming up his arm. As Adam and I discussed over text, he’d need Tommy John surgery after one inning! Brickma brings up care and conditioning only AFTER his first game! That’s just bad (not to mention dangerous) coaching.
Adam: And how does throwing 100 mph equate to being able to pitch? That’s some Slamma Jamma logic right there.
It’s also bullshit that Steadman blames Henry for distracting him when he gives up that home run. Dude’s a veteran. He should have learned how to tune out hecklers years ago. No wonder you’re getting cut, man. That being said, Henry was being an absolute douchenozzle on the basepaths after drawing a walk in his first at-bat, so much so that he gets the next hitter plunked in the back. This is a common retaliatory measure, and the Dodger pitcher was well within his rights to do it. Henry needs to think about the team next time.
Adam: Not always, but Henry can be a real asshole in-game. He makes a mockery of a late-season game with the division on the line. Why wouldn’t the Cubs take him out and put in a different reliever instead of relying on hidden ball tricks and games of chicken? Again, I love this movie. Don’t get it twisted.
A few questions and topics I want to make sure we address:
1) Do you think after Henry struck out Barry Bonds, that's when Bonds realized he needed to look into illegal steroids?
2) Is this not the best film score ever? Bill Conti brings it, no matter if it’s Rocky or Masters of the Universe or Rookie of the Year. That opening credits theme gives me chills despite seeing so many children led into a life of Cubs fandom that will give them no happiness and only entitlement.
3) Is the kid playing Henry’s friend George deliberately imitating Jim Belushi or is it a coincidence? I say this not as a criticism. It’s the scallions that go perfectly on top of this movie’s omelet.
4) Why do they have a boat? They’re kids. Was I deprived and I’m just realizing it?
5) How long do you think the kid couples lasted? Clark and Edith got married for sure. Like, for sure those two got married.
1. Oohhhh. Sick Bonds Burn. I’ve hated the Giants since the 2010 NLCS. I approve of this shade.
2. I love this score. While ROTY did shoot at Wrigley Field (according to Wikipedia, at least), it’s the score that gives the movie its real scale and wonder. It’s terrific.
3. I was telling you earlier that you have to do a “‘90s Movie Best Friends” column, and George had better be on it. His delivery of “Did he say funky buttloving?” is classic.
4. The boat subplot (and the tension aroused because of it) is the only beat in the film that feels false to me. Like, your friend is pitching for the Cubs, asshole. He’s shooting a Pepsi commercial after getting his first (!) save. Your jalopy can wait.
5. I’ll leave most of the romantic speculation to you, but I just want to know if Chet asks Henry to call him “Dad” or if he lets him call him “Rocket.”
I have another page of notes, but this column is already punishingly long. I’ll end by saying I’m Mark Ahn on Rookie of the Year and that I demand a Blu-ray release as soon as possible.
Rob: It’s your turn, my dude.
Adam: Let’s hit the beach since summer is here (?) and kick off our series on the Jaws franchise with yours and my favorite movie, the original 1975 classic Jaws from the legend himself Steven Spielberg. It’s going to be a big franchise summer at Reserved Seating. Should I tell them? I’ll tell them. Our Pacino series is going All Coppola with reviews of The Godfather trilogy starting in June.
Rob: Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women. Until next time…
Adam: These seats are reserved. We’re holding them with our city hands that we’ve used to count money our whole lives.