All right, it is “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review sports movies. Why? Because it is summer (or close enough to it), and I associate summertime with sports. And for the second installment of this theme for the month, I picked “The Sandlot.”
The Movie: “The Sandlot” (1993)
Starring: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Art LaFleur
Director: David M. Evans
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A new kid in town is taken under the wing of a young baseball prodigy and his team in this coming of age movie set in the summer of 1962. Together, they get themselves into many adventures involving rival teams, lifeguards, and a vicious dog.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 59 percent
Froemming: OK, this is the second installment of “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN. This week, I picked a film about friendship that doesn’t involve magic pants, but does involve a giant angry dog who eats baseballs. Yes, I picked “The Sandlot.” In fact, this movie is what really inspired me to decide on doing a sports-themed month with our reviews, because though I loved this film as a child, I really wanted to knock it down a peg. But before that, Brown how has this movie held up for you?
Brown: Oh, this film absolutely holds up. But then again, it’s a movie that was made in the 90s that is supposed to portray the 60s, so the idea of making sure a movie set in the 60s made in the 90s holds up in 2016 hurt my brain.
Speaking of hurting my brain, I’ll jump right in, where we see a character (who turns out to be our narrator/lead in Scotty Smalls) walk into a baseball stadium wearing a sport coat and a baseball cap. We’ll touch on it at the end my gripe with this, but right away I’m reminded of my favorite sports trope: A ball cap with a suit and tie is the dorkiest look in human existence.
Froemming: Yup, we have older Scotty narrating his favorite summer ever, which was pretty much a ripoff of “The Wonder Years” in how this movie is presented. Also, I think the fact Smalls’ life peaked when he was 11 explains the suit and tie/ballcap combo. It has been downhill ever since for him.
Brown: He talks about his slew of friends, specifically Benny Rodriguez, and how they got him out of the “biggest pickle of his life.” So, we are whisked away to the summer of
‘69 1962 into west coast suburbia in California. Which, when I saw the movie again looked awfully idyllic. Then I saw why: The movie was filmed in Utah. That was probably modern-day Utah.
Froemming: We are introduced to young Scotty, an awkward kid who seems like engineering is in his future because he has toys where he builds robots. But, it isn’t. He is having trouble making new friends in this new town he and his family moved to. We learn that his father passed away, and his mom married Denis Leary. And after watching “Rescue Me,” I was imagining his character, Bill, to be a raging alcoholic who sees ghosts. It added a much darker dynamic to this film for me.
Brown: We can’t get past the parents without mentioning the mom is Karen Allen, who was Harrison Ford’s love interest in the first “Indiana Jones” movie. SO initially, my mind was blown thinking that Scotty Smalls’ dad was Indy. Then I looked it up and Indiana Jones’ son would probably be in his 30s or 40s in the 1960s. So, theory blown.
As for Denis Leary, this movie was five months removed from his first comedy album release “No Cure For Cancer.” So it’s very jarring to see him be the proper step-dad.
Froemming: Karen Allen was also in “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” A film I watched about 20 minutes of before I shut it off.
So Scotty wants to learn how to play baseball. Bill is a baseball fanatic who collects sports memorabilia. You’d think this household would be nothing but sports talk. Nope. Bill is always too busy to teach Scotty how to throw a ball, and Scotty somehow never learned anything about a sport he clearly wants to play. This is evident when he meets up with the sandlot kids and he has no idea who Babe Ruth is. I did not buy this premise at all. It sets us up to believe that Bill’s obsession with Ruth never trickled down to his step-son. Either the kid never listens or Bill hates his step-son.
Brown: I really don’t get Scotty’s excuse for never playing catch. I was in teeball before kindergarten and played Little League all through elementary school. He just finished fifth grade.
And it’s not like Scotty just meets up with the kids in the sandlot. Rather, he watches them in the bushes at the warning track. He’s a trench coat away from being a flasher.
Then when he finally emerges, he gets laughed at for missing a fly ball. But hey, give the kid credit because with a little bit of goading from Benny, he’s back at the sandlot the next day. Benny’s happy to have him (he’s the ninth guy, they have a full baseball team now!) but the other guys… not so much.
Froemming: Rewatching this movie reminded me how terrible little kids are to one another. How I survived this “Lord of the Flies” mentality as a little kid will remain a mystery. Because this is exactly how my classmates and I treated each other. But, with Benny’s help, Scotty finally is able to catch a ball during a game (this is after Bill whacked his step-son in the face with a baseball when he decides to teach the boy how to play catch. I’m guessing he was drunk and was seeing ghosts of his past haunting him. I venture into dark places sometimes watching these movies).
But we have the other kids here. I don’t remember all their names, but I remember Squints because he has glasses and probably became a sex offender later in life, and Ham because it wouldn’t be a goofball comedy if you didn’t call the fat kid something like “Ham.”
Brown: Save for Benny, the rest of the kids are terrible. A new kid tries to join their team and they are going on about how much of a jerk Smalls is for wanting to make friends. You even hear Yeah-Yeah (one of the sandlot kids) say “What a jerk” about Smalls. NO, you’re the jerk, Yeah-Yeah.
During one of the sandlot games, Benny hits a home run. Smalls shows no reservations about getting the ball over the wall but the rest of the group freaks out. On that other side of the wall, the Beast dwells. To bring Smalls up to speed, we get a camp out.
Froemming: I got to say, that treehouse of theirs is pretty damn nice. I was just baffled as to why it was built in the sandlot (who owns the property?) and why was it built right by the Beast’s Den.
But Scotty has made friends and his helicopter mom can relax (seriously, she hovered over him demanding if he made friends early on).
Well, Smalls shows up for the camp out and Ham is cooking smores. This leads to a “who’s on first” back-and-forth between Ham and Scotty. Which leads to the classic line “you’re killing me Smalls!” No Ham, those marshmallows and chocolate are what’s killing you.
Brown: There is something really, really off about Ham for me. That kid just finished fifth grade and he has HUMONGOUS bags under his eyes. I’m legit concerned about his health, namely his sleep cycle.
We get a tale about the genesis of the Beast, where the junkyard owner fed him whole sides of beef and would routinely attack and devour burglars. At one point, Squints says that 173 to 175 burglars have gone missing. If I’m in that town, I’m less concerned about the people missing than I am about how 173 to 175 burglars are just waltzing around.
Froemming: This genesis I still enjoy for its brilliant way of showing how kids blow things out of proportion with urban legends. But since the dog growls loudly and looks menacing, they buy Squints’ tale.
OK, so I am going to talk about Squints here, because dear lord he is a little pervert. After this, they go to the community swimming pool. All the boys have a crush on the lifeguard, Wendy, but since she is in high school she has no interest in a bunch of little kids. Squints decides he has had enough of — what? — and decides to take things into his own hands by pretending to drown. Wendy sees the dumb kid float to the bottom of the pool and jumps in to rescue him. After she pulls him from the water, she gives him mouth-to-mouth to get him breathing again, which is a trick for him to kiss her.
One: He is not holding his breath that long, Wendy, I could see the little creep breathing.
Two: After she realizes he faked all of this to kiss her, she gives him a flirty smile after booting them from the pool. This really creeped me out.
Brown: I thought they overreacted to Squints’ plan. Yes, he kissed Wendy Peffercorn, but you’re banning him from the pool for the entire summer? That’s, like, a week tops.
Here’s something I want to touch on: Benny’s obsession with baseball. We go into a scene at one point where they play under the fireworks on the Fourth of July (BTW, fireworks will not light up the night sky enough to play baseball), and he wants to play while it’s 90-plus degrees (resulting in said pool scene).
If Benny is so hell-bent to play baseball, why isn’t he playing with an actual team and not a rag-tag bunch of kids from the neighborhood? How are you supposed to get better if you’re playing against the same eight kids? That kind of logic is used by tennis players who think they’re great because they hit the ball against a wall.
Froemming: It is not like an actual team wasn’t interested. We see a team mock Benny for playing with the sandlot kids, which results in a game between the two teams. The sandlot kids win. Sorry, once again I don’t buy that for a second. We see the sandlot kids playing a continuous game where they never keep score and so on. There is no way they are any good.
Also, when the rival team shows up on bikes to make fun of Benny and the others, I had to chuckle because while it is not a direct reference, it did remind me of the rivalry in “Anchorman” between Ron Burgundy and Wes Mantooth.
Brown: Benny not playing on a real team is more an indictment on his parents than him. Then again, between Bill and how these kids run around in the heat all day with no adult supervision, this town is chock-full of absentee parents.
Let’s get to our main part of the story: The Babe Ruth ball. One game gets shortened because Benny belts another home run to the Beast. But Scotty has a ball, and it just happens to be signed by Babe Ruth, in Bill’s trophy room. You know guys… instead of mocking Smalls for not knowing who Babe Ruth was earlier, maybe someone could have filled him in on why playing with an autographed Babe Ruth baseball is a horrible idea…
Froemming: At this point, I think I came to the conclusion that Scotty is doomed to a life of being clueless. Sure, grab a ball that is obviously important to your stepfather. Sure, you are baffled as to why it is autographed by a “girl.” Scotty, read a damn book, magazine, anything on the sport you claim to love.
Brown: The one reason I would accept is Smalls’ judgement is clouded because he, and his friends, did drown a carnival in vomit after trying some chewing tobacco in a song that has sullied the song “Tequila” for the rest of time.
Froemming: This scene and the pie eating contest scene in “Stand By Me” have haunted me since I was a kid. I still get nauseated thinking about them.
So, Smalls grabs the ball and heads back to the sandlot. And he belts it over the fence and into the territory of the Beast. And when he explains why he has to get the ball back, he is rightfully mocked by the rest of the gang. Scotty, you are a poser and now you are in a “giant pickle.” And I hated hearing the narrator (who sounded suspiciously like Bob Costas) keep using that term.
Brown: Two minutes after this scene, this movie should have ended. The kids, namely Smalls, should have sucked up his pride, knocked on the door and asked for the ball back. I’d get it if the ball shattered a window or something, but that wasn’t the case. But because childhood whimsy, we have to think of about 20 minutes of schemes to try to get the ball back.
Froemming: OK, we see Smalls working his engineering wonder in these events. The kid is obviously good at that sort of thing. Yet, (and I’m jumping ahead here) he becomes a MLB sports announcer as an adult. Talk about someone who had potential in an area he is pretty good at and subsequently aimed for mediocrity. That really bothered me with this movie. Smalls’ life peaked that summer, and he could never escape it. He literally lives in the shadow of a friend who aspired to greatness by announcing his games.
Anyway, yeah they come up with all sorts of schemes to trick the Beast, and they all fail.
Brown: Tread lightly on making fun of him for being a radio guy, man. You’re getting awfully close to my choice of career.
Aside from Smalls’ step-dad obviously killing him where he stands, shouldn’t the rest of the parents in this group be upset? Example: They try to use suction to get the ball back by using three vacuum cleaners. Unless Karen Allen is clinically obsessed with cleaning, it means a couple other kids got their family’s vacuum. The Beast not only chews up the vacuum tubes, they short-circuit and explode. This is no longer Smalls’ problem. They’re all in trouble.
Oh, wait, I already established this: This is a town of absentee parents.
Froemming: OK, I’m starting to suspect you and I had very different childhoods because I never had parents watching my every move. I did a lot of dumb crap like these kids growing up, though I never blew up three vacuum cleaners. I probably came close though.
After their plans go up in smoke, Benny remembers a vision he had the night before where an creepy old Italian man pops out of his closet — just like Mr. Clean and a migrant worker did on “Fuller House” — who tells him he is Babe Ruth. And he gives him advice. This gives Benny the courage to risk his life, enter the den of the Beast and get the ball back.
And he does, but the Beast frees himself from his chains and chases Benny all over town, demanding the prized ball to be returned to his lair.
Brown: Benny has the edge, after all: He has PF Flyers. The second greatest pair of shoes to exist behind Joe Brown’s Shoes on Twitter (yeah, someone made a parody account of me).
In another example of something that could have made this movie SOOOO much shorter, just throw the ball over the fence, Benny! You don’t need to run across town and perform every comedy chase trope ever, right down to a cake toppling over.
I will say, I did like the tension of the scene, starting with a Benny/Beast Mexican standoff and the Beast leaping through a screen like he was Francis from “Manhunter.”
Froemming: Well, after all this zaniness, Smalls and Benny decided to do the unthinkable: Knock on the door of the owner of the Beast to get the ball back. And hey-ho, it works. We meet Mr. Mertle, a old blind man who was once a promising baseball star in the pros. Even better, he is played by James Earl Jones. Jones makes every movie he is in better.
Brown: The king of Zamunda says what I’ve been saying for this entire review: “Why didn’t you just knock?” Thank you, Lord Vader!
We see that Mr. Mertle was a former baseball player, presumably in the Negro League, and was friends with Babe Ruth in the 1930s (he calls him George, after all, which was Ruth’s real first name). And because he just has it lying around, Mertle gives Smalls and Benny a ball with the autographs from the New York Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row” which includes Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others. That is a substantially more valuable baseball than the Babe Ruth ball.
All Mertle asks in return is for Smalls and Benny to come by once a week and talk baseball with him. What a charmed life you all lead, guys.
Froemming: Yup, but Bill was still angry about the original ball. I wouldn’t trust anything around that kid ever again. He plays fast and loose with prized possessions.
Then we get the cliche ending where older Smalls talks about how the kids moved away, and how they were never replaced on the team. My favorite was the kid who “really got into the 60s” and was never seen again. He obviously started a cult.
Brown: We need to figure out the fate of Bertram. Was he a Dead Head? Did he get drafted? Is he a Hell’s Angel? Did he go to Altamont? There are things that need to be explored.
Froemming: Well, we do know what happens to Squints. He married Wendy. And probably is on a sex offender list. That kid was a creep.
And we also know what happened to Smalls and Benny. Benny made it to the Dodgers, and Smalls became a sportscaster who is somehow more nerdy than when he was as a kid.
Brown: And to go back to the beginning, when Smalls walked into the stadium wearing a Dodgers hat, he’s clearly a homer radio guy. Homer radio guys are insufferable.
Now, this is where time was not great to the movie: The Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the most iconic radio voices of all time in Vin Scully. Hell, Vin Scully is still calling Dodgers games (he’s calling it quits after this season, which is his 67th year). Are we to believe that this twerp in a trout hat took over for Vin Scully?! Nope. Just, nope.
Froemming: I don’t know about you, but I think it is time to climb over Mr. Mertle’s fence and head to recommendations.
Would You Recommend?
Froemming: Absolutely. This was one of my favorite sports movies growing up, and it has held up pretty well. Sure, I ripped on it a lot here, but it is still a fun little movie.
Brown: For as much as I nitpicked this movie (because that’s what we do here on the JOE-DOWN, after all), everyone should watch this movie. It’s a good kids film that is enjoyable to adults as well. There’s classic lines I still hear all the time (heck, I heard, ‘You’re killing me, Smalls’ hours before this review). And it really holds up two decades later. I still don’t want Denis Leary as my dad, though.