I rarely get to mention this here, because so little of the show ever touches on baseball, but I have been a huge South Park fan for many, many years. The show tends to direct its satire more towards politics and popular culture, rather than sports, but the makers did include one episode in its ninth season that revolves around Little League baseball.
Many of the boys from South Park play on the town’s Little League team, and “The Losing Edge” opens in the last moments of the final game of the regular season. The parents of both teams sit in the stands, cheering their kids on. The South Park boys, meanwhile, are spread out of the field in their defensive positions, moaning about how much they despise baseball. Token yawns miserably at first base and Butters is singing in the outfield to a ladybug, completely oblivious to what is going on with the game. Meanwhile, in the stands, Stan’s father Randy Marsh is drunk and picking a fight with a dad from the other team, which causes Stan to squeeze his eyes in embarrassment, even though it seems evident this isn’t the first time this has happened.
The boys win the game and begin to celebrate that their season is finally over so that, “We can start having fun again!” Their enthusiasm is quickly shot down, however, when they learn that because they finished with the best record in the division, they are now going into the postseason. Discussing their bad luck over celebratory pizza, Stan points out that the finals are sudden death elimination, and the boys agree to deliberately lose a game while making it look like they are trying to win.
What the boys did not count on, however, is that every other Little League team in the area also hates the game and wants to lose as much as they do. Each game, therefore, becomes a competition not to win, but to play worse than the other guy. The South Park boys, it turns out, are too good at baseball, and keep advancing through the finals.
Randy Marsh, meanwhile, apparently takes his Little League dad brawls seriously. Every game sees Randy stripping off his shirt at some point as he hollers at another dad, ending with him bloody, bruised, and getting led by an officer to a police cruiser. As he’s handcuffed and getting dragged away, Randy yells at the police, “This is America!” Because apparently, in Randy’s mind, American freedom includes the right to fight whomever he wishes.
No matter how much they try, the South Park boys cannot manage to lose a game, and suddenly they find themselves qualifying for the Colorado state championship, to be played at Coors Field. To make matters worse, they learn that if they win this game, their entire season starts over on the national circuit. When the South Park team meets their opponents, a team from Denver, Randy also gets to meet the Denver team’s dad brawler, a large and imposing man in a bat costume known as “Bat Dad.”
Randy is so intimidated by the Bat Dad, he resolves not to attend the championship game at all. The championship game gets underway, and the South Park boys are aghast to discover that the Denver team have become experts at sucking. (As a side note, every time I watch this episode, I cannot help but wonder: if the Denver team truly excelled at sucking, wouldn’t they have been eliminated long ago?) Just as it is beginning to look like South Park is going to lose their entire summer to baseball, Randy Marsh shows up with a beverage tray full of beers, calling out, “Denver sucks!” Before long, he and the Bat Dad are in each other’s faces.
I love the social commentary this episode provides. Obviously, the plot around Randy and his brawls is a hilarious poke at all the Little League parents who take the competition a little too seriously at that level, as well as parents who just can’t seem to be civil in public and make it all about themselves. As for the boys, I love the comedy created by turning the goal of the game on its head. The teams involved engage in reverse trash talking, telling each other things like, “We’re going down! We’re gonna get creamed!” Their attitudes reflect the ridiculousness of how we sometimes force our kids to do things that they hate just because it’s the socially accepted thing to do. Rather than squeezing kids into a box of having to play a particular sport or instrument or do some other activity just because we think they should, parents would do well to listen to their kids and take a moment to consider what they want.
On November 7, 1973, Sylvia Pressler, a hearing examiner for the New Jersey Civil Rights Division, made a ruling that ultimately resulted in the admittance of girls into Little League Baseball, making the Garden State the first to allow girls to play on Little League teams. Prior to the decision, regulations had prohibited girls from participating with boys in the program.
I don’t know how it is that I’d never heard of this movie before, but I stumbled upon it at the library last week, and I’m glad I did. Based on a true story, The Perfect Game is about a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico who became the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series in 1957.
The movie begins when César Faz moves to Monterrey, Mexico after being let go by the St. Louis Cardinals from his job as a clubhouse attendant. César seems content to drink the rest of his life away, but then he meets a boy named Ángel Macías, a wannabe pitcher who is crazy about baseball. Ángel convinces César to first play catch with him, then later convinces him to help recruit and coach Monterrey’s first-ever Little League team.
The Monterrey Industrials become an impressive team, and before long, they find themselves traveling to Texas to play on the competitive stage. Upon their arrival in the United States, they are met with racism, a language barrier, and visa troubles. Even though they are physically smaller than any of the American teams, the Industrials pull off a series of victories that endear them to the media and to fans. With some outside help and support from a sports reporter, a groundskeeper, friends and family back home, and some other unexpected sources, the team wins its way to the Little League World Series championship game.
I could go into more detail about the plot, but with this particular film, I feel more inclined to discuss what I like about it. Throughout the movie, the boys who make up the Monterrey Industrials are complete reverent about baseball. They consider it to be a gift from God himself, and when Ángel stumbles upon the first real baseball he’s ever held, he is convinced it was dropped from the sky by God. Ángel, who has a rough relationship with his father, is even willing to put up with his father’s shame in order to pursue his passion for the game.
In spite of how his career with the St. Louis Cardinals ended, César Faz also continues to show a love for the game. Twice he accidentally stands up a girl who has invited him for dinner. César is deeply interested in the girl, but he gets so caught up in coaching the team that he constantly loses track of time.
Beyond baseball, and sometimes even on the diamond, the movie tackles the issue of racism in the United States, against Hispanics and African-Americans both. It also highlights the kindness of people, even in the midst of a turbulent time. We see everyone from a diner waitress to the Secretary of State stepping in on this team’s behalf to help them on their journey through Little League baseball.
Overall, the movie has moments that are just so real. We see struggles with alcoholism, a strained father-son relationship, a death in a family, a clash of cultural differences, a love interest, harsh working conditions, and the juxtaposition of leading a practical life versus chasing one’s passions. I wouldn’t call The Perfect Game the best baseball movie I’ve seen (I hesitate to go that far with any movie, really), but it ranks pretty high on the list.
I was in Little League. I was on first base-I stole third base. I ran straight across the diamond. Earlier in the week, I learned the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I argue with the umpire that second base was out of my way.
The other baseball-related activity from my New York trip was a viewing of the movie The Bad News Bears (1976 version), which, believe it or not, I had never seen before. I had heard of it, of course, though I really only had a vague notion of what the movie was about.
Walter Matthau (“Hey, Mr. Wilson!”) plays Morris Buttermaker, a former minor league ballplayer turned alcoholic who has been drafted to coach a team of misfit little leaguers. The season does not start out well for the Bears. In their first game against the appropriately-named Yankees, the Bears do not even record an out, and Buttermaker finally opts to forfeit on the team’s behalf.
Buttermaker eventually comes around and realizes he needs to do something more than just drink beer in order to help the team, and so he recruits 11-year-old girl pitcher Amanda as well as town bad boy Kelly Leak to play outfield. As is the case in any kids sports movie like this, the addition of these two players is exactly the boost the Bears need to start winning. Next thing we know, they are playing in the championship game.
Naturally, there are other hiccups along the way. Being the daughter of Buttermaker’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda drops hints continuously that she would like to see her mother and her coach get back together. Kelly’s reputation does little to earn him any friends, especially not when Buttermaker encourages him to become a ball hog to try to ensure the Bears make it to the championship. We even see some conflict on the opposing team’s side of the ball, as the Yankees pitcher finally decides he’s had enough of the pressure his coach and father has been putting on him.
The Bad News Bears is definitely a comedy, though not quite your typical kids movie comedy. It’s got an additional edge of profanity and crudeness to it that would make hardcore Disney parents freak out. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who wouldn’t be quite so appreciative of this aspect of it, and understandably so, if you’ve got small children. As an adult with a slightly twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for realism, however, I certainly enjoyed it.
Slowly, but surely, I have been continuing my trek through The Simpsons, and I am up to the show’s eighteenth season. In this season, the show highlights the ridiculous levels to which some fans take their obsession even with little league baseball.
The episode starts with Bart Simpson, shortstop for the Springfield Isotots (awesome little league name, by the way), catching a fly ball for the final out of a game, thus earning his team a spot in the championship game. Proud mom Marge Simpson goes out the next day to buy a new dress to wear to the game, bragging to the sales lady about what a star her son is on the field.
The championship game brings a matchup of Springfield against Shelbyville, and Springfield find themselves leading 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Shelbyville, however, has the bases loaded. When their batter hits the ball that could win or lose the game, it heads towards Bart. He drops an easily caught pop up and repeatedly fails to pick it up, kicking it around the field, allowing all four runners to score and giving Shelbyville the victory.
The entire crowd turns on Bart and starts throwing beer at him, but the humiliation doesn’t end there. Bart’s error even makes it into the newspapers, and the town continues to rail on him for losing the game. Bart’s sister Lisa tries to cheer him up by taking to see an old baseball star (Joe La Boot) who dropped a critical fly ball once and still went on to be rich and famous. Unfortunately, it only makes Bart feel worse, even causing a rare burst of tears, after La Boot learns who he is and makes everyone in the building boo Bart yet again.
The next morning Springfield wakes up to find that a self-deprecatory Bart has spray-painted “I HATE BART SIMPSON” all over town. The townspeople gather under the water tower, where Bart is found painting the message yet again. Driven by taunts from the crowd, Bart lets go of the rope he dangles from, in an attempt to commit suicide. La Boot, feeling remorseful, tries to catch him, but trips and misses.
Bart survives the fall, but ends up in the hospital. Still unrelenting, the crowd now starts booing outside of Bart’s hospital window. Finally, Marge snaps, and she storms outside to confront the crowd, telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for treating a child in such a cruel, abusive manner. Furthermore, she calls everybody hypocrites since they themselves probably had similar experiences when they were younger and haven’t gone on to accomplish anything of substance.
Finally, the crowd shows a bit of remorse. Lisa suggests replaying the game (unofficially, but without Bart knowing) to give Bart another opportunity and to help bring his self-esteem back up, and the crowd agrees. Bart is told the game is getting replayed due to the umpire using a non-regulation brush to clean the plate in the first attempt. After 78 tries (with a variety of reasons made up as to why that final inning needed to be replayed), Bart finally catches the ball, “winning” the game.
Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.