Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Mr. Baseball.”
The Movie: “Mr. Baseball”
Starring: Tom Selleck, Ken Takakura, Aya Takanashi
Director: Fred Schepisi
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Jack Elliot, once a great baseball player, is forced to play in Japan where his brash, egotistical ways cause friction with his new teammates and friends.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 13 percent
Froemming: Last week, we saw Al Pacino give a powerhouse performance as an aging coach dealing with the new realities of the game and business that made him and he sacrificed everything for. Through murky storytelling and crazy cinematography, Oliver Stone sold us on a tale of the anxieties of growing old in a young man’s game.
This week, we get pretty much the same concept, only done less successfully as a Tom Selleck vehicle.
I chose “Mr. Baseball,” a movie that came out in the 90s, when baseball movies were all the rage. From kids playing in a sandlot, to a child becoming a pitching phenomena, to some little brat owning the Minnesota Twins, Tom Hanks coaching a women’s league, to Robert Deniro playing a deranged fan who stalks his favorite player, there was an endless supply of these flicks.
What set this movie out from the rest mentioned above?
This movie is probably one of the most forgettable baseball movies of all time. It is just an old white guy complaining about how another culture does things differently. It is basically “OK, Boomer: Sports Edition.”
Brown, as I secretly wish this movie was just about a Japanese baseball league without Magnum P.I. as the lead, what are your first thoughts?
Brown: Kudos to you, Froemming, for mentioning all these baseball movies and somehow avoiding half of Kevin Costner’s movies.
Froemming: Well, that is next week’s pick.
Brown: Dude, just take the compliment.
So I knew of “Mr. Baseball” but this is certainly not a movie I ever sought out. Honestly, the premise of the movie always made me think we would get some time-honored Asian racism out of a Hollywood film. We weren’t far removed from the decade that gave us Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles” and Takashi’s tricycle race in “Revenge of the Nerds.”
Hell, as far as baseball movies go, a year after this came out, we had Hiroshi Tanaka in “Major League 2.” His nickname: Kamikaze. Of (REDACTED) course.
Yet somehow, this movie actually is respectful of Japanese culture, which is a welcome sight.
Now, is the movie any good… we’ll get to it.
In the meantime, get us started, Froemming, while I work on the hole in my swing.
Froemming: We start off with a dream sequence, is usually a horrible way to start a movie unless you are David Lynch. We see our protagonist, Jack Elliot, striking out. He gets up to I think SIX STRIKES. Now, I am not knowledgeable about sports, but I knew there are limits to how many of these things players get. So even a dummy like myself knew something was off here.
Jack then wakes up in a childrens bed? With some woman after a night of drinking. This was somehow more odd than the dream I just saw.
And thus begins the first of many, many ass shots on Tom Selleck in this movie.
Brown: As the camera pulls out and we see what looks like a teenager’s room, how many alarms were going off in your head? Yeah, it turns out to be a college room with a lot of other women there for reasons. But, I know my brain was on DEFCON-5, if only because I don’t need to think of Tom Selleck as a pedo.
Froemming: The mustache does not help here. Also, was this the biopic of Jimmy Page?
Brown: Jimmy Page WISHES he could grow that mustache.
Honestly, my first thought, which you’ll appreciate, was that this was a biopic for the “Seinfeld” version of Keith Hernandez. I thought this only because I imagined every kiss Selleck planted on a woman had him pulling a “I’m Keith Hernandez.” Plus, Jack Elliot does look a little like Keith Hernandez.
Froemming: What’s next, they going to start driving him to the airport?
Now, we see Jack is a New York Yankee, as he goes to practice and sets someone’s shoes on fire, because of course he does. He is also downplaying the talents of an upstart, Ricky Davis (played by some guy named Frank Thomas, never heard of him).
Brown: Frank Thomas was probably a top-five favorite player for me in the ‘90s along with Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Kirby Puckett (before it turned out he was a garbage person).
Froemming: Fun fact, at a Twins game my cousin and I chanted “Rickey” at Henderson and he whipped a baseball at us in a rage. We were like 10.
Froemming: Well, Jack’s troubles are not just about a guy replacing him at first base. Turns out, because this former MVP and World Series champion is having a rough year, he has been traded. Not to another MLB club, but overseas to Japan. I don’t know, would someone with Elliot’s bonafides have this happen to him, Brown? I really do not know the sporting world’s politics enough to know if this is a realistic scenario.
Brown: Wait, a guy with tickets behind home plate to the NC Dinos knows nothing about baseball?!
Froemming: This is not Korean baseball.
Brown: The game is the same.
And to answer your question: If Jack wanted to keep playing but no MLB team wanted him, sure, Japan would be an option. However, the Yankees trading his contract to the Chunichi Dragons, that wouldn’t happen. The realistic scenario would be the Yankees releasing Jack, then he signs with the Dragons if there was no interest in America.
But, that doesn’t make for an interesting movie plot.
Froemming: It doesn’t make for an interesting answer to my question.
Brown: I scoffed a little bit when, before finding out he’s going to Japan that Jack makes a dig at Cleveland and how much Cleveland sucks. He’s not wrong, but I wonder if that was some dig at the “Major League” franchise.
Instead, Jack heads to Japan and (I’m guessing; the movie never says) to the city of Nagoya, the home of the Chunichi Dragons. At one point, Jack says this city is like Cleveland.
… How is a Japanese city ANYTHING like Cleveland, you insensitive prick? Do the rivers in Nagoya also catch on fire?
Froemming: Maybe Jack has only been to two cities in his life: New York and Cleveland? I mean, that would not make sense for a ballplayer, but that is the best answer I got.
Jack arrives in Japan drunk, I know this because he tells this to his translator Yoji Nishimura. This poor son-of-a-bitch has landed quite the job: Being Tom Selleck’s handler in a country where women’s panties are found in vending machines. I bring this up only because of the Jimmy Page incident at the beginning of the move. And also, it is (REDACTED) weird.
Now, he is rushed into his very first press conference, where he is annoyed by being asked questions by the media and gives flippant answers that poor Yoji has to give an old PR spin to so the team doesn’t look like they hired a huge jackass.
There is only so much one man can do with that task I guess.
Brown: Then there’s the typical fish-out-of-water montage, where Jack is dealing with Japanese customs, like not wearing shoes in the dugout, Japanese rooms being extremely small compared to America, toilets being basically on the ground and so forth. There’s even a point where Jack is flipping through TV channels and comes across a Japanese-dubbed “Knight Rider,” which probably helps that show make more sense.
But, there is someone there to help Jack get acclimated to Japan: Pedro Cerrano!
Wait, shit. Wrong baseball movie. Dude’s name is Max “Hammer” Dubois, who is played by Dennis Haysbert. Honestly, this took me out of the movie for a few minutes while I debated the downfall of Cerrano’s career that ended up with him being a Japanese slugger.
Froemming: I just thought he was in Japan to sell Allstate Insurance.
Yeah, and like you mentioned earlier, when it comes to the fish-out-of-water situations, we are laughing at Jack, not with him. So, good on the movie for not making an entire culture the butt of a joke.
Jack also has an uphill battle with his new coach, Uchiyama, who is a straight-laced, by-the-books kind of guy. He is not impressed with Jack’s not wanting to — do anything? Yeah, Jack does not want to train or exercise, he just wants to drink beer and smoke cigars. Which I mean, is America in a nutshell.
Brown: Well, in his first practice, Jack is destroying the ball. That is until one of the pitchers throws a shuuto, which breaks away from Jack’s left-handed swing. The shuuto is kind of a mythical pitch until you realize it’s pretty much a two-seam fastball.
Froemming: Oh God, here we go with the baseball jargon.
Brown: Stuff like this is why Forum pays me the big bucks, my friend.
But yeah, Jack ignores his new coach’s advice because he’s your typical arrogant gaijin (Japanese for foreigner).
It’s here where it dawned on me: This movie is a PG-13 “Eastbound and Down.” All this movie needed was Jack coming to the plate to Rick Derringer’s “Real American.”
Also, this NEEDS to be mentioned. Tom Selleck actually says the term “Mustache rides.” And it’s magical coming from one of the universe’s premiere mustaches.
Froemming: He says this to his future love interest, Hiroko. Which gives all of us hope I guess.
Hiroko is another handler of Jack’s. She invites him to dinner, where he thinks it is a date and it turns out it is a business meeting. In his contract, he is forced to do commercials for the team. Which is different than having personal endorsements where he gets all the money in the States. She drops this info while they eat fancy Japanese steak, which I think you have had, Brown.
Brown: They have kobe beef in this movie. About a year ago, I spent $140 on an A5 wagyu steak. Holy (REDACTED), it was good. It was the most tender, flavor-melting piece of meat that has ever touched my tongue. It’s like meat butter, man. I will say, that was a lot of that rich steak to eat; Jack is going to get sick later.
Froemming: Look at Mr. Moneybags here with his Japanese steak!
Brown: You say that because you never had it. Go back to eating your Trump steaks, you commoner.
… *sigh* This (REDACTED) grifter runs our country. AND he eats steaks well done with ketchup like a monster.
Froemming: I’ll stick with Arby’s Meat Mountain, thank you very much.
Anyway, Jack is forced to do commercials. He seemed on the verge of saying “slave” in this scene, which I am glad they did not go that route.
So we see him film a commercial, where he is more demanding of the director than Daniel Day Lewis. He won’t hit his marks, demands the marks be moved so he doesn’t have to. Frankly, he is a whiny little turd here.
But he is also like this on the field. He is cocky, mouths off to everyone, doesn’t follow the rules. He is a lot like “Steamin” Willie Beamen, only not as young and talented. He doesn’t pick up after his equipment and doesn’t shower before hitting the bath, forcing everyone else to sit in a tepid pool of his own filth.
Brown: Jack performs well early but hits a slump. And really, it was a matter of time. Teams will get scouting reports on you in due time and well, dude can’t hit the shuuto. Plus, when you watch the in-game action, Jack swings and runs like an old man. Yeah, the character is supposed to be in his late 30s, but at this time, Tom Selleck was 47 (!!) years old. And when he has to do anything physical, he looks it.
I will give credit to Selleck for playing a cocky out-of-his-prime ball player in every other point in the movie extremely well.
Froemming: The man is charismatic as hell. I’ll give him that.
Brown: Oh, for sure.
Jack needs to get out of his funk. How does he do this, you ask? By practicing harder, listening to his coaches and fixing the apparent hole in his swing?
Nope! He does it by sleeping with Hiroko, who finally gives into his mustachioed advances.
… And even that doesn’t work. And it all comes to a head when, after getting plunked during an at-bat, Jack starts a bench-clearing brawl that eventually leads to Yoji getting knocked out. Because of Jack’s antics and the team’s struggles, the Dragons’ owners inform Coach Uchiyama that he will be replaced.
Froemming: Not only that, Jack is suspended indefinitely. So, Hiroko for reasons takes Jack to meet her family, where he finds out his skipper is also her father.
Brown: I’ll just go ahead, do this review a favor and insert this here.
Froemming: How does he deal with that? By acting like a child. But they soldier on to what is one of the most disgusting sounding dinner scenes I have seen on film.
A group of people LOUDLY slurping noodles. And Jack, seeing all this loud slurping, goes for it and takes it up a notch. Which was not needed. Not for me. Not…for me.
Brown: Actually, I’m with you there, man. I know it’s considered polite in Japanese culture, but I’ve yelled at people for chewing with their mouth open. This isn’t any different.
At this point, I wondered what actual growth Jack had experienced up to this point. We’re about an hour into the movie here and Jack is still the same entitled, dickish man-child he was when he came to Japan. You have a girlfriend in the country, you’ve been with the team for a good, long while… how have you learned nothing, Jack?
But it’s when Jack and Coach Uchiyama have a heart-to-heart that they start seeing eye-to-eye. See, Uchiyama was the one who wanted Jack with the Dragons; management had their eyes on a player from Boston. But Uchiyama still believed that Jack had a spark left in him… which has since bitten him in the ass, hard.
Finally feeling wanted by this hardass coach, Jack actually starts trying. He’s running stairs and doing sit-ups. He’s actually listening to advice. And he actually apologizes to the team and wants to build a “chopstick of friendship.” He meant bridge; we needed a translation joke in this movie because of course we did.
Froemming: With all this training, Jack is also telling the skipper that he needs to let the players play, and go against his coaching and go by instinct at times. This sounds like horrible advice.
Brown: Also, the idea that, in Japanese culture, you can chew out your boss while drunk and face no consequences… we NEED that in America, Froemming.
Froemming: Well, Jack and the team are doing well now. And with this, they become contenders for the Central League pennant. And now riding high on his success, his agent (with the horrifying 1990s ponytail of middle-aged men) calls him one day and says an American team wants him now.
This seems like a lot of trading and team jumping in a year. From a Yankee to a Dragon to what I think is the Dodgers, it has been a weird year for old Jack.
Brown: Nowhere close to a record, though. In 2018, Oliver Drake played for five teams in one year. And 13 players have played for four teams in one year.
With the news about the Dodgers scout, Jack is understandably excited. He’s getting a chance back at the majors and gets to go back to his home country.
However, Hiroko is understandably upset by this. She didn’t want to be some baseball player’s fling and when the offer comes to come to America with Jack, she doesn’t want to be there just to be his girlfriend. She has her own life and career in Japan.
Holy shit, is this the most progressive ‘90s movie we’ve watched on the JOE-DOWN?
Froemming: Maybe? We’ve watched a lot of them.
Well, also on the line for the big game against the Yomiuri Giants, Jack is looking like he is going to break his skipper’s own home run record of seven games, seven home runs in a row. And so, during the game, the Giants just walk Jack out of spite.
I appreciated that.
But they forego this tactic when bases are loaded, it is 6-5 in whatever inning, and Jack is up. This is his moment to beat the record and win the game. But he follows the skipper’s advice and bunts, the most boring thing in all of baseball.
Brown: No, skipper told him to swing away, which is against what management would want him to do. Also, the owners are (REDACTED) morons: Who calls for a bunt when you’re down one with two outs in the bottom of the ninth?
Froemming: Donald Trump?
Brown: There are so many problems with this final sequence (the play starts at 4:30).
So it’s an 0-2 count after a strike and a foul tip. If Jack’s bunt goes foul, he’s out and the game’s over.
Also, Jack is an aging veteran with a bum knee. If he lays down a bunt, he has to try and stay safe so that requires a lot of speed and athleticism. Late 30s Jack doesn’t have that. Dude’s as fast as I am.
Regardless, the bunt is laid down and Jack finds himself in a foot race with the pitcher that is looking for the force out at first base. And it’s here where Jack RUNS OFF THE BASEPATH and CLEARLY pushes the pitcher so he can’t reach the base for the out and lets both the game-tying and the game-winning run reach home.
… Jack pulled an Alex Rodriguez.
And like A-Rod, Jack should ABSOLUTELY be called out due to runner interference.
Yes, an interference call is at the umpire’s discretion but there is NO (REDACTED) WAY Jack is getting that call. We’re told throughout the movie that gaijin don’t get calls from umpires in this league… how the hell is Jack not gonna be called out here?
This ending is a miscarriage of justice on par with Rudy being offsides.
Froemming: So the Dragons win via cheating. And with that, Jack is back in the U.S., where he is now a coach because he is too old to be playing this game. And Hiroko is in the stands, but taking business calls on her Zack Morris-style cellphone.
What a weird ending to this movie.
Brown, let’s slide into recommendations while knocking the ball out of someone’s hand.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: I mean, it is not terrible but not really memorable. If you want to watch a baseball movie, it is not a bad choice. It’s not a great one either.
Brown: Yeah, I really enjoyed this one. “Major League” is way better but this movie has some laughs and is an entertaining experience. And really, how are we not going to endorse something with Tom Selleck’s mustache?