I'm generally very critical of sports films. They often make trivial the essentials of a sport -- practice and repetition, boring practice and painful repetition -- and excessively glorify the ephemeral and already exciting. I hate slow motion charges towards the camera. I hate orchestra-assisted celebrations and overacting, pensive coaches.
These film-making techniques are necessary for building emotions, but I feel they impede the gritty authenticity of athletics -- the pain, the struggle, and the regret. Most athletes -- nay, all athletes -- experience more losses than victories. Since there can be only one state champ, only one World Series winner, only one Super Bowl winner, the rest of the league must end their season in loss.
Disney's super Hollywood-ized movie The Rookie aught fall into my category of Hated Sports Films. Instead, it is one of my guilty pleasures. For those who have not yet seen The Rookie, it is about Jim Morris. A former first round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, Morris retired in 1989, at the age of 25, having never reached above Class A ball. Injuries consistently plagued Morris, so he called it a career and started teaching phys ed and building a family.
This is the story of so many pro athletes. I went to high school with a six-foot-six monster who got drafted in the 4th round by the Texas Rangers. Despite his impressive build and his scintillating fastball, he could not throw strikes. A summer or two ago, I saw him working as a bouncer for some tiny night club, much chubbier than I remembered him. Jim Morris's life took -- in fact -- the common turn. Very few players "put it together" and break into the majors.
Morris did not come close to the majors until he was 35 and sporting a nasty 'stache -- ten years after his retirement. The delay in his debut adds further incredulity to an already amazing story. In college, I went to school with Daniel Murphy and Gordie Gronkowski. Despite being arguably the best hitter on the JU Dolphins team and the crowd favorite, the indomitable Gordie got drafted in the 49th round, while the lesser-known and less-impressive second baseman, Murphy, went to the Mets in the 13th round.
Now, Murphy splits time between AAA and the majors while Gordie splits time between two different independent leagues. Though he dominates in both leagues, Gronkowski is now 27 and his hopes of reaching the majors are realistically gone. He can play independent ball for a few more years and then hopefully put his degree to use. His story is common. His baseball career never took the bend he expected, and now he has spent the last five years earning a pittance for definitively little reward.
To us, the career paths of these players are an interest, a story that intrigues but does not affect us. To these players, however, it is indeed their lives we observe. For as much as I want Yuniesky Betancourt to end his malpractice portfolio of a career, it is in fact more than just his career. It is likely the largest stake of his life. To these athletes, baseball is more than a game.
Morris pitched a full 15 major league innings before getting released and never had serious success against righties. For most observers of the sport, that's a failed career. But the truth is that Morris's story is one worthy of celebrating, one marked with only typical failure yet great success, a career both improbable and fantastic.
In Morris, we see more than an old athlete who got lucky. We see instances of our own lives. When outstanding obstacles present themselves, when the family finances look grim, when the doctor's report promises pain, or when our careers end overnight, we defer to these small heroes for inspiration, for assurance the impossible is in fact possible. And so, I do not mind the historical inaccuracies (such as the incorrect Devil Rays uniforms) or the excessively dramatic ending in The Rookie. His story of perseverance and uncommon effort is well worth celebrating.
Jim Morris, thanks for trying again and for believing in yourself.
Cue dramatic charge towards camera.