August 21, 2013

Little Big League (1994)
Starring Luke Edwards, Timothy Busfield, and Jason Robards

Comments:   Between the years 1993-1994, Hollywood released four movies that all involved little kids and baseball.  Three of them you have probably heard of before.  One of them you probably haven't.  And that is a shame.  Because in my opinion there is only one out of the four that I would consider a really good baseball movie.

That's right.  It's the story of the heroic underdog Minnesota Twins in Little Big League

First off, let's talk about the two big ones.  The ones that everyone knows.  Let's talk about Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield.  

Ah yes.  Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield.  

Two delightful and charming and well-loved family movies.  Both made for kids.  Both geared towards kids.  Both specifically designed for kids.

And I'm sorry.  But baseball movie or not, they are still just little kid movies.  I mean, both movies are fun, and they are both enjoyable and will put a smile on your face if you are into that sort of thing.  But I would barely even call either one of them "a baseball movie" if you come right down to it.  Let's put it this way.  If you are an adult baseball fan in the year 2013, and you are looking for a movie that is even slightly realistic about the game of baseball, I doubt you will have any interest at all in a movie like Rookie of the Year.

Well, I guess maybe unless you are a Cubs fan.  If that is the case, sorry, but I can't help you.

Yeah sure, what the F ever

So okay, Angels in the Outfield and Rookie of the Year.  Two kids movies that are cute, and which kinda sorta also include baseball.  Both fun for what they are.  But they aren't really baseball movies.

Then, of course, we come to the Sandlot.

The Sandlot

Now first off, I'm not going to sit here and badmouth The Sandlot.  You know why I'm not going to do that?  Well because it's simply one of the most beloved movies of its era.  I have met people who love The Sandlot so much that they will defend it with the fury of a Jihadi terrorist.  So no, I'm not going to say anything bad about The Sandlot.  Other than to say it is a PICKLE to call it a baseball movie since it is really just a movie about childhood, and it would be a PICKLE to lump it in with something like The Natural or Major League or Bull Durham.  And also I wish I could keep repeating PICKLE and overemphasizing it like the narrator always does in the movie.

And now on to the good one.  The one with actual baseball players in it.

And then we come to the one that I think is a legitimately good baseball movie.  I mean, forget kids movie.  Forget family movie.  Forget slapstick and fart jokes and feel-goodery.  I have always thought that Little Big League (which is by far the least well known out of these four) is not just a good movie, I have always thought it was actually a legit really good sports movie.  In fact I often tell people that among sports movies, it is in my all time top ten.

It might look like a silly little kids movie on the surface, but make no doubt about it, this one is different.  This movie is NOT only geared towards kids.  Little Big League was made by (and it stars) people who have actually been involved with professional baseball before.  And it shows.

Right down to the fact that it stars Timothy Busfield, who in real life played semi pro ball

And it features Brad Lesley and Leon Durham, who were real MLB baseball players in the 80's

It also stars Kevin Elster, who was an MLB shortstop in the 90's

Little Big League is the story of a 12 year old boy in Minneapolis named Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards).

And, well, for lack of a better description, Billy is a nerd.  He is a kid who can't really run, and he can't really jump.  In fact he isn't really all that athletic at all.  But he is smart.  He is super smart.  And because he is so smart, all he really does in life is check out books from the library so he can read about baseball.  He just sits around his room all day and he reads books about baseball.  He reads books about trivia.  He reads books about strategy.  He reads books about sports statistics.  

Basically, Billy Heywood is like every 12 year old little stats nerd you have ever known in your life.  Except Billy is smarter than them.

Billy in between reading his baseball books

Oh, did I mention that Billy's grandfather owns the Minnesota Twins?  I guess I forgot to mention that.  Billy's grandfather (Jason Robards) is one of the richest men in Minnesota, and he owns the Minnesota Twins.  So lucky little boy Billy gets to hang out at the Metrodome after school every day and he is friends with the players.

Billy's grandfather, who is so rich that he pisses on Jed Clampett.

Okay and this is where our story begins.

One day after school, Billy is on the way to the ballpark when he gets some crushing news from his mom.  It turns out that his grandfather has died.   Yep, good old Thomas Heywood, the beloved owner of the Minnesota Twins, has died.  It devastates everyone.

Although when they read his will, well lo and behold, guess who he left his most prized possession to?  That's right, in his will, Thomas Heywood has pulled a little fast one and surprised everyone.  The day that he died, he left his beloved baseball team, the Twins, to his grandson who loves baseball more than anything in the world.

That's right.  12 year old Billy Heywood is now the surprise owner of the Minnesota Twins.

The world's youngest MLB owner

Now obviously this situation isn't all that realistic.  I mean, it COULD happen, technically, although it's not very likely.  I doubt you are ever going to see a 12 year old MLB owner in your life.  But what happens the rest of the movie is awfully realistic.  I mean, if a kid DID become the owner of a major league baseball team, and if he DID later become the manager too, there is a pretty good chance that most of the situations presented would play out pretty close to the way that they do in the movie.

First off, Billy is mad because the manager yells at the players too much.  So Billy suggests less yelling.  And the manager quits.

Then Billy and his advisors discuss what they are going to do about hiring a new manager.  There isn't an MLB manager out there who is willing to work for a 12 year old.  They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

In a move of desperation, and also a last ditch attempt to draw fans to the park, Billy announces that he is going to be the Twins' new interim manager

Uh, seriously?

And really, that is your movie.  Billy takes over as the Twins' new manager, and the players revolt.  Because naturally (and realistically) no professional ballplayer wants to take orders from a 12 year old.  Even if, you know, they have known him since he was a baby and they are all pretty much all friends with him.

Naturally, no one listens to Boy Manager and the team implodes

I don't want to give the rest of the movie away, but this is what I have always loved about Little Big League.  This is why I think it is so much better than most kids/sports movies.

After a few games of his team just completely ignoring and undermining him, Billy is smart and he can see the writing on the wall.  He knows that no Major League Baseball team will ever respect having a kid manager.  It just isn't going to happen.  That isn't the way the real world works, and Billy knows it.  

So he calls a team meeting and he basically makes them an offer.  He says give me a few weeks, guys.  Just give me a few weeks to see how I can do.  If I fail and fall completely on my face, fine.  I will step down.  And I won't complain about it.  But just give me a few weeks and listen to me and maybe I can help us win.

So they do.  And they do.

And the last 90 minutes of this movie are awfully good.

Billy and his team once they realize he knows what he is talking about

There are so many great things about this movie.  And so many little baseball details hidden in there.  I mean, I already mentioned that half of the people in the movie are actual legit baseball players.  Right down to the fact that Ken Griffey Jr and Randy Johnson show up as the villains of the evil Mariners.  And we even get a Mickey Tettleton (the catcher for the Detroit Tigers) cameo!  What other movie out there has a Mickey Tettleton cameo?

Randy Johnson will mess you up

Chilling with Ken Griffey Jr. between takes

This movie is just an amazing little time capsule of who the big stars were of baseball in the mid 90's.  They are all here.  You will see Rafael Palmeiro.  You will see Ivan Rodriguez.  You will see Paul O'Neill.  You will see Carlos Baerga.  And again, Mickey Tettleton.  Fucking Mickey Tettleton!  

Like a much more handsome Paul Newman

There is even a scene in the movie where Billy has to explain to his assistant coach why bunting is a waste of time, and how it is statistically a bad idea to bunt in almost every scenario.  And if THAT isn't a scene that was written by a baseball nerd, I don't know what is.  That scene alone (and the later one where Billy has to cut his favorite player and it doesn't go well) are two of the most realistic scenes I have ever seen depicted in any baseball movie.  It is also true.  Bunts are almost always a poor strategy at the major league level.  Go do the research, Billy is right.

Oh Billy also gets his face cleaned by his mom on the Jumbotron

Again I don't want to rave about what a realistic and awesome baseball movie this is, because it is really best to just discover it for yourself.  However there are two things I wanted to point out before I sign off.  I wanted to point out two of the stars of the movie, and how perfect they are.

The first is Timothy Busfield, as first baseman Lou Collins

Timothy Busfield is an actor you might not know, but he has been in a bunch of stuff over the years.  I know him best from Field of Dreams (hey, another baseball movie!), and of course that makes sense because like I said, he is a legitimately good baseball player in real life.  He played semi pro ball for years, and it shows when you are watching the movie.  In fact between this and Major League, it would be hard to pick which movie had more actors who could pass themselves off as being legitimate baseball players.

Busfield taking one deep

So why do I bring up Timothy Busfield?  Well because it's fun to point out that the movie that most people know him from (and you might not even realize it was him) is Revenge of the Nerds.  That's right, one of All Star first baseman Lou Collins' first roles was as Poindexter in Revenge of the Nerds.

This man played semi pro baseball

The other actor I wanted to spotlight in Little Big League is Jonathan Silverman, who cracks me up pretty much every single time he talks as smart ass relief pitcher Jim Bowers.  Who is seemingly the only person in all of baseball who realizes how funny it is that his boss is a kid.

Jonathan Silverman, who steals most of the movie.  And who I wish had been in more stuff.

And so there you have it.  Little Big League.  A really good baseball movie that is surprisingly gritty and serious and realistic at times, especially when you go into it thinking it will be just a cute little kids movie.  Sure, there are kid moments in it.  And sure, there is almost no swearing in it, which gives away the fact that it is technically a family movie.  But man, this is so much better than Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield that they really shouldn't even be considered to be the same genre.  This is one of those baseball movies that any baseball fan will love.  All the details are right in it.

Right down to the fact that Billy starts referring to himself in the third person along the way

And after he gets ejected from a game, his mother grounds him for swearing

Oh, before I sign off I should tell you how I first heard of this movie.  This is a pretty funny story.

It was 1994, and like I said, this was the year of the LITTLE KIDS PLAYING BASEBALL movie.  These movies were everywhere.  And naturally, because a movie like this will always have a stupid premise, you would think they were all dumb.

Well one day that summer I was listening to a Seattle Mariners game on the radio, and the Mariners announcer (Rick Rizzs) came on and he started to talk about all the baseball movies that had come out recently.  And, naturally, he reviewed most of them exactly like you would expect him to review them.  Angels in the Outfield?  Meh.  Rookie of  the Year?  Meh.  The Sandlot?  Kids movie.

And then he paused.

"But there is one of them," he said, "that I saw the other day, and I thought it was really good.  Have you guys heard about this?"

He and the other announcers started raving about how good Little Big League was.

Now, if you are a Mariners fan, obviously you will know why Rizzs and the other guys were big fans of Little Big League.  They loved it because the Mariners were the big scary villains of the movie!  Trust me, the Mariners have -never- been the big scary villains in a movie before.  Usually they are treated as a joke, like in The Naked Gun.  The announcers were just tickled because in Little Big League it wasn't the Yankees for a change.  For some odd reason, in this one the bad guys were the Mariners.

So that was my introduction to Little Big League.  This was the movie that for some inexplicable reason featured Ken Griffey Jr as the scariest villain in baseball.  He was the Lex Luthor.  And among the four kid baseball movies that came out between 1993 and 1994, it was "the good one."

It also had the most dancing

Why has Little Big League been so completely overlooked over the years?  Why does it only have 23 user reviews on the Internet Movie Database, when Angels in the Outfield has nearly double that?  Who knows.  Let's just put a stop to that and get some publicity for this one.  Because this is really the best movie of the four.  In fact (sorry Sandlot fans) I don't even think that it's close.

Oh yeah and 22 of the 23 reviews on the IMDB rate it "good" or "great."  You rarely see a movie with that kind of a track record around there.  Give Little Big League a chance.  You will like it.

A Bill Heywood must be allowed to see Night Nurses From Jersey

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Little Big League:

Surprisingly, the best baseball ever, and I've seen them all - 11 October 2009
We got this movie on videotape for the kids, but it just blew me away. Here we are in 2009, and Lou Pinella, Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. -- all of whom are in this movie -- are still part of the game. That's just luck, but the dialog in this film is outstanding. It is far more than a kids' movie. Sure, there are scenes where a so-called ''adult'' film would have relied on profanity (Jerry Johnson letting his 12-year-old manager know that he didn't like being cut, no matter how much the kid liked his baseball card) but the message is clear.

When the kid asks pitcher Mike McGreevy how much a free agent who can't throw strikes is worth, or when he puts down his hot-headed reliever by asking if he thinks the team doesn't have anybody else who can get people out, it's priceless. Or how's this from his bench coach, about Johnson's slump: "Kid, don't you think there's a problem when you get that excited over a seeing-eye single?" or (from the angry reliever): "I've been looking over some film, and you were right about my mechanics, so I ... guess you're not a rat boy.''

Despite what might seem like an absurd premise, I have never seen a more realistic baseball movie, and I am a member of SABR and a baseball fan of more than 50 years. The Twins are still wearing the uniforms in this film, and until today (10/11/09) were still playing in the same stadium.

It pays homage to the franchise's history by calling the team's GM "Goslin'' -- a Hall of Famer from the Twins' days as the Senators.

Get this movie. Even the music is good. You will not regret it.

Very underrated. One of the best of the 90's baseball movies - 27 May 2002
I remember that I didn't want to see this movie at the theater (or as a rental for that matter) because of the marketing of the movie and what I thought would be a dumb story. However, I was pleasantly surprised. For what it was worth, it was a pretty good movie. Yeah, the story-line was not believable and it was cheesy at times, but the basis behind the story was pretty solid, it had some pretty good lines, and it was pretty entertaining the whole way through. Word of warning, though - Don't let Randy Johnson scare you. That guy had to have fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every single branch on the way down, THEN bounced and hit every single branch on the way up. Plus he's called the 'Big Unit'; scary!

Highly recommended for true baseball fans - 2 December 2005
If you're a baseball fan, this is a must see. Billy Heywood is a 12 year old baseball nut that inherits the Minnesota Twins when his grandfather dies. After firing the manager, Billy appoints himself as the new bench boss of the Twins. Sounds completely implausible, I know. I avoiding watching this for years because of the train wreck known as Rookie of the Year. They have nothing in common.

The writing in this movie is superb. Not only does the script manage to capture what it was like to be a 12 year old, but there was clearly an intelligent baseball fan responsible for much of the movie's dialogue. It's so nice to watch a baseball movie that assumes I might actually understand baseball strategy and appreciate the game's history.

However, what truly sets this movie apart are the baseball scenes. Clearly, the extras are (or were) professional baseball players. Even those with speaking parts can all play (or fake it well enough). There's also numerous cameos from a slew of major league baseball players (circa 1994).

Terrific supporting performances by Jonathan Silverman, Jason Robards, Timonth Busfield and the two kids who play Billy's best friends. The actor who plays Billy (Luke Edwards) could have been a bit more polished, but maybe that added to the charm. Well worth your time.

It's really more than just a kids movie... - 4 December 2001
I really think this movie was done exceptionally well. The humor wasn't just the standard nose-picking, mud-throwing, loud-farting jokes that are so standard in kids movies. This movie was actually well written! I laughed the whole way through it, it's really too bad it gets put in the same class with movies like Rookie of the Year and The Big Green. It's so much more sophisticated (strange word to use to describe a kids movie...I know) as far as the writing style and humor goes than any of those other movies were. I really think that adults may enjoy this movie more than kids, because kids may not get all the jokes. It's disappointing that it will never be seen by so many because of the type of movie that it is and the way it was marketed.

Awesome Movie - 25 August 2006
Luke Edwards is incredible as Billy Heywood. I cannot believe how many people don't know about this movie. It has a bit of everything and has some big laughs as well as a very touching and a story the general audience can relate to. You don't have to be into baseball to like the movie! Bowers is hilarious as the relief pitcher and the road trip sequence in the hotel is also unreal. I loved the riddle in the movie too, "A cowboy rides into town on Friday, leaves three days later on Friday, how did he do it?" If you haven't seen this movie do so. If you love baseball this is an absolute must...

A childhood classic - 7 January 2011
Little Big League was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Growing up in Minnesota I thought it was the coolest thing that there was a movie about our Twins, and a good movie at that. Being a baseball player is every kids' dream, and owning one would be the next best thing. This movie, unlike some sports films, accurately shows the game of baseball and what it is like on and off the field. The acting is fairly good and the characters and story line are not one dimensional and boring like some kid's movies. It is humorous but can be very serious at times. Watching it makes me feel young again and reminds me of my love for baseball. Little Big League is a movie that both kids and adults can enjoy.


* My favorite scene in Little Big League:
The scene where Billy has to cut his favorite player (Jerry Johnson), and Jerry flips out and goes madass on him.  Well that's not a scene you would see in most movies like this.  That is the type of scene that makes Little Big League special.  That is exactly how a confrontation like that would play out in real life, and it doesn't try to sugarcoat it.

Little Big League at the IMDB

Little Big League at Wikipedia

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