Christian Fuentes, sports journalist for Metro Puerto Rico
Hey, check it out! We write about things besides the NBA. This topic isn’t exactly a hot one. It’s more like a general one, so to speak. It’s one that can come up at any time and a debate can be had just about always. If you’re a sports fan and a movie fan, then it’s almost inevitable that you might gravitate to sports movies. In this case, I’m discussing baseball. So many to choose from: From classic favorites like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Major League, The Sandlot, The Pride of the Yankees, to more contemporary choices like Moneyball, Trouble With the Curve, 42, and others. My favorite baseball movie is a hidden gem. Not even released in theaters, it was a TV movie. Specifically, an HBO TV movie. Buried beneath many of these terrific films was the Billy Crystal directed 61*, which first aired in 2001…my choice as favorite baseball movie.
This isn’t exactly a star-studded film. It features a who’s who of what I like to call “face actors”. You know, the ones who you don’t know by name, but you’ve seen the face. Here’s an example: It stars Barry Pepper (that guy from Saving Private Ryan), Thomas Jane (the star of HBO’s Hung), Anthony Michael Hall (the nerd from all those overheard from John Hughes movies), Chris Bauer (the cop from Trueblood), Christopher McDonald (Ward Cleaver in the 90s movie Leave It To Beaver), Renée Taylor (Fran Drescher’s mom in The Nanny), Peter Jacobson (the big ears, big nose doctor from House), and Jennifer Crystal Foley (the wife of Dr. Nose Ears in House).
Now, I’m a Yankee fan (it’s not a good time to be bragging about it), so this film speaks to me a little bit more than the general public. The movie 61* tells the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as they chase babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961. We see how it takes a toll emotionally on Maris, who was of humble beginnings, while Mantle, who relished in all the fame and attention, ate it all up to a fault. It also shows how people cared so much about that record and who they were rooting for, that Maris it made people choose sides. Even then Commissioner Ford Frick, who was pretty adamant about not wanting Babe Ruth’s record broken! Something that I enjoy about that movie is how it shows ballplayers to be normal people. And really, they are. They just do something that regular people can’t do. But these men have lives and families off the field, which is something we don’t see.
I’m not saying it’s a must-watch, but it’s certainly worth a look. It’s well acted and the action/sports scenes are the best I’ve seen. The storytelling is stellar and the details of the times of 1961 are a gem to behold. Not bad for a TV movie.
If you’re curious, check out the trailer here.