Here’s a documentary on Joe DiMaggio by ESPN that aired in 1999 as part of the SportsCentury series. It’s obviously an abbreviated documentary, not going into a lot of depth, but it is still certainly worth a watch.
I can’t help but chuckle inwardly a little bit whenever a documentary or book declares itself “definitive” or something similar (really, can any biographical account ever truly be definitive?). Nevertheless, this documentary on Mickey Mantle is a good one, and a person can get a good solid overview of his life and career from it.
Even better, if you find yourself unable to get your hands on a copy, you can watch the film through YouTube.
This weekend I watched a short documentary produced by Major League Baseball, Pride and Perseverance: The Story of the Negro Leagues. While the time period covered in the documentary spans from Moses Fleetwood Walker playing major league ball in the 1880s on up to the induction of Negro League players into the Baseball Hall of Fame starting in 1971, the documentary focuses primarily on the story of the Negro Leagues.
Dave Winfield narrates the documentary, and it includes footage from Negro League games, as well as some Major League games. It also features interviews with Negro Leagues players, including Buck O’Neil, Bob Mitchell, Willie Mays, John “Mule” Miles, Cool Papa Bell, and Ted Radcliffe. The interviews highlight just how good many Negro Leagues players really were, especially compared to white Major Leaguers, and it’s a lot of fun to see how much these guys light up when they talk about the level of talent.
The documentary touches on the racial struggles faced by black players. For example, many players accepted the fact that they would have to go around to the backs of restaurants to get food, and it was not uncommon to sleep on the bus because the hotels in a given town would not give them rooms. Nevertheless, the players talk about how much fun they had traveling and playing ball. The eventual recruitment of Jackie Robinson by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier, of course, receives due attention.
Overall, Pride and Perseverance is a fantastic overview of the history of the Negro Leagues. For a documentary that runs less than an hour long, it manages to cram a lot of interesting information into the film. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Over the weekend, I watched the latest movie iteration of It, and it prompted my curiosity to do a search of the phrase “baseball horror.” I didn’t actually expect to find much, but much to my surprise, I found this little documentary (if you can call it that) that ALTER released earlier this year.
To be honest, I cannot say that I’m a particularly big fan of this short little spoof, though it does put forth a weirdly interesting theory. The video proposes that the death of Ray Chapman as a result of being beaned in the head by Carl Mays was actually a form of occult human sacrifice. The payoff of the sacrifice? The rise of the New York Yankees as a baseball empire.
While I do agree with the video’s assertion that baseball can be a form of religion for some folks, the whole occult/human sacrifice bit seems a bit far-fetched to me. But, here, you can judge for yourself.
I managed to watch PBS’s documentary on Ted Williams last night: American Masters – Ted Williams: “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” I found the documentary fascinating, even learning a couple things along the way.
The episode opens with Ted Williams’s return to civilian life after the Korean War. After seriously considering spending the rest of his life fishing after the war, Williams opted to return to baseball. Ted Williams, the documentary shows, was so obsessed with baseball, and especially with hitting, that his obsession permeated all aspects of his life. He also was infamous for his temper, often getting into it with reporters and refusing to tip his cap. These things combined made him, at times, a difficult man to get along with, even within his family.
The episode covered, briefly, some details of Williams’s youth, including his strained relationship with his parents. It also touches on many of the things you would expect a Ted Williams documentary to cover, including the 1941 season, his service in two wars, comparisons between him and Joe DiMaggio, and the final season — and at-bat — of his career.
Something I learned — which I was glad about, as I’m always happy to learn new things — was that Ted Williams was also quite the fisherman. According to the documentary, Williams is in two fishing halls of fame (which halls of fame was either not mentioned or I missed it). He was so meticulously detailed about this hobby that he would cut fish open to see what they ate in order to create baits that mimicked those foods. He would then keep a log to determine what worked and what did not work. It was the same kind of obsession and attention to detail that contributed to his success as a hitter.
The documentary includes interviews with Williams’s daughter, Claudia, and other family members, as well as with various baseball personalities: writers, historians, broadcasters, and former and current players. If there is a shortcoming, it is that the documentary seems to bounce around quite a bit, which made it feel somewhat scattered. I think part of this was due to the brevity of the show. One hour is hardly long enough to go into any real depth regarding any one man’s life, especially a man like Ted Williams.
I have had a couple of people share this with me, and it certainly seems worth sharing here. This coming Monday, July 23rd, PBS will be playing a documentary about Ted Williams. The film is part of the American Masters series being featured by PBS and is scheduled to air at 8 pm Central time on Monday. It looks fascinating, and I am looking forward to watching it.
The preview trailer is below, and more information about the documentary can be found here.
I have been listening to a biography of Elon Musk on audiobook, and it certainly caught my attention when the audiobook mentioned that Musk had sponsored a documentary called Baseball in the Time of Cholera. I don’t know whether Musk actually has any interest in baseball, but apparently he had visited the area of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, bringing with him gifts for an orphanage. The documentary was made shortly after.
I managed to find the documentary on YouTube. It’s only about half-an-hour long and certainly worth the watch. The cholera outbreak in Haiti began in 2010, and from what I’ve been able to tell online, continued until May 2017. I do have to caution, this documentary is a bit grim (the baseball helps to lighten things up slightly). Nonetheless, things like this are important to be aware of in our world.
The Eighth Inning of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns brings us into the 1960s. In this decade of the American Pastime, we find that it is being recognized less and less as such. Football has risen to prominence, and a lot of folks come to argue that football, not baseball, has now become the true national game. Additionally, the sixties were quite a stormy and unstable period in American history, filled with race riots, activism, anti-war protests, hippies, and Woodstock.
The game of baseball also finds itself experiencing some changes. In 1961, Babe Ruth’s single season home run record is threatened, then broken, by a man who is far from being a fan favorite. Roger Maris is described as moody and sullen, avoids talking to the press, and starts losing his hair as a result of the pressure he is under as he inadvertently finds himself chasing Ruth’s record.
Pitching sees a rise in dominance as the decade progresses, thanks to commissioner Ford Frick’s commandment that the strike zone be expanded to counter the explosion of home runs. Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson are among those who rise to preeminence from their positions on the mound. As pitching becomes the ruling force in the game, there comes a decline in home runs being hit. This, in turn, contributes to the decline in fan interest in the game.
This time period also sees changes as far as the growth of the league. The success and profitability of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the west brings the league to consider other ways in which to spread the game throughout the country. Four new teams were added to Major League Baseball. We see the birth of the California Angels, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins, then a newer Senators team moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers. The New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) also joined the National League. The Braves would move from Milwaukee to Atlanta and the Athletics moved to Oakland. After just one season, the Seattle Pilots left for Milwaukee and became the Brewers, and towards the end of the decade the Royals were established in Kansas City and the Expos in Montreal. (I’m sure I must be missing one or more others here, and for that, I apologize.)
At the beginning of the decade, Ebbets Field met its fate with a wrecking ball painted to resemble a baseball. Jackie Robinson, who had once played at Ebbets, now worked and fought for civil rights, and Branch Rickey, who was the force behind integration in Major League Baseball, passed away in 1965. The Polo Grounds became the home of the New York Metropolitans, led by the one and only Casey Stengel, now getting along in years. Suffices to say, the Mets weren’t very good in those early years. Eventually, Stengel would retire from baseball. After that, the same wrecking ball that took out Ebbets Field would also bring down the Polo Grounds. The Mets moved into Shea Stadium, and by the end of the decade transformed into the “Miracle Mets,” winning the 1969 World Series.
In this inning, we meet Pete Rose and see bits about Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Whitey Ford, Roberto Clemente, and many, many others. Sandy Koufax seemingly retires almost as quickly as he broke into the league and became the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. In Baltimore, Earl Weaver became manager of the Orioles. One of the greatest managers of all time, the Orioles became the dynasty of the decade under Weaver.
In this decade, we also meet Marvin Miller. Miller became the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966. The players loved having Miller speaking on their behalf, but baseball owners, unsurprisingly, hated having Miller around. He was a man who Red Barber would call “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”
By the end of the disc, we learn about Curt Flood’s battle against the reserve clause, which at this point is only just beginning. Flood learned that he was to be traded from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and in the face of the racism he knew he would face in Philadelphia, he decided to oppose the trade. This flew in the face of the entire history of baseball business.
I think my favorite feature of this disc comes in all the arguments defending baseball. In spite of George Carlin’s comedy routine that makes baseball seem like a slow, sissy sport, baseball continues to be referred to as America’s National Pastime for good reason. Sure, football is faster and perhaps more suitable to the 30-second attention span that now dominates our culture (though, more recently, football also seems to be declining in popularity). But baseball’s place in the American psyche runs deep, and in a lot of ways, it is the very nature of its leisurely pace that makes it so appealing.
The Seventh Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns takes us into the 1950s in America. Subtitled “The Capital of Baseball,” this installment of the documentary revolves primarily around New York City and the three teams who dominated the baseball world during this decade: the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. For ten straight years (1947-1956) a local team always played in the World Series, and a local team won nearly all of them as well.
It was certainly a great decade for the Yankees under manager Casey Stengel. With Mickey Mantle in the outfield and Yogi Berra behind the plate, the Yankees were as dominant as ever. The way Roger Angell describes the atmosphere in New York during this period, where everything seemed to revolve around baseball, makes me wish this type of world would come back into existence. “Stengelese” became a thing, though I like how the discussion also revolves around Stengel’s baseball intelligence. Similarly, while Yogi Berra remains most commonly known for “Yogi-isms,” he was also a phenomenal ballplayer. After all, you don’t get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame just for speaking amusing phrases.
Jackie Robinson, released from his three-year vow of silence with Branch Rickey, began lashing out against those who slighted him. It’s an understandable reaction, especially considering how long he had to go without answering the racism he faced. His play just grew better with his anger, leading the Dodgers to some great seasons, including a World Series championship in 1955.
We get to watch the Giants’ Bobby Thomson’s ever-popular “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” during the 1951 playoffs against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was an event that ignited a tremendous amount of excitement not only at the Polo Grounds, but also in fans’ homes as the game was televised across the country. I always get a kick out of hearing Russ Hodges’s excited screaming, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
A good portion of the disc was devoted to Mickey Mantle, who essentially took Joe DiMaggio’s place with the Yankees. The attention he receives is well-deserved, as is the attention to his struggles with injury and his tendency to stay up all night partying. Given how well he was able to play in spite of being hurt much of the time, one can’t help but wonder what Mantle would have accomplished had he been healthy. Sadly, we’ll never know. Mantle himself doesn’t even touch on the subject in his own discussions of his playing days on the documentary.
While the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 was undeniably a great thing for baseball, it did have an unfortunate downside. Attendance at Negro Leagues games fell as black fans flocked to watch Robinson and those who followed him play in the major leagues. On the positive side, players including Willie Mays, Curt Flood, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron became stars in Robinson’s wake. We get to watch Willie Mays make “The Catch,” a play that seemed impossible until he pulled it off.
The other unfortunate events, besides the end of the Negro Leagues, that we see during this decade involved the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to the west coast. In the case of the Dodgers, the move took place in 1957, not long after the team finally managed to win a World Series, which made the move all the more heartbreaking for its fans. The Dodgers’ last ever World Series in 1956 saw them lose to the Yankees in a Series that involved Don Larsen’s perfect game. These moves were great news for Californians, of course, but Dodgers and Giants fans left behind in New York found themselves at a loss. Brooklyn and the Giants weren’t the only teams that moved during this period. The Philadelphia A’s moved to Kansas City, and the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles.
The subtitle for this Inning, “The Capital of Baseball,” proved itself undeniably fitting. We love to think of baseball as a game and a pastime, but in the case of professional leagues especially, it is first and foremost a business. Bill Veeck’s promotional stunt of sending Eddie Gaedel to the plate is one of many displays of the importance of commercialism in baseball. It makes for a hard reality check when your league is forced to fold or your favorite team moves to an entirely new city, and in the present day, we experience a number of miniature heartbreaks any time an impactful player becomes a free agent and moves on to other teams.