Great ideas, all. My proposal was for a film on Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians and later the Chicago White Sox: the greatest showman in baseball history. His accomplishments include sending Eddie Gaedel, a dwarf, to bat for his team, coming up with promotional ideas such as Ladies Day, and integrating the American League by signing Larry Doby to the Indians. Bill Murray has said that he's been itching for years to play Veeck on the screen. My other dream film would be a biopic of Effa Manley, the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the owner of the Brooklyn Eagles, who won one of the last Negro League World Series in 1946.
The problem with both of these stories, though, is that they don't feature Hollywood's standard ending for baseball movies: the Big Game, usually won with a home run. Sadly, 42 showcased this trope, finishing with Jackie Robinson winning the 1947 pennant for the Brooklyn Dodgers with a home run at the expense of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's not only bad history—it never happened—but Robinson's story hardly needed it to sustain our interest.
The home-run-that-wins-the-big-game cliché has ruined more than one great baseball tale. Probably the most respected of baseball novels, Barnard Malamud's The Natural, was turned into a 1984 Robert Redford film that is faithful to the story in virtually every respect but one: the ending. The point to the book is that character is fate. The central character, Roy Hobbs, has a fatal character flaw that nearly ends his major league career; having learned nothing from his tragedy, he fails again and strikes out. Failure in baseball is a metaphor for failure in life.
In the film version of The Natural, Redford's Roy hits a home run so monumental it smashes the lights on the stadium roof. It's as if a film on Custer's Last Stand was made with Custer winning at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Ron Shelton put it to me this way: "The 'Big Game' theme in baseball movies is bullshit. In real life there's always a game tomorrow."
Keeping that in mind, I'd like to suggest some great real-life baseball stories that have yet to be filmed, none of them ending with the Big Game. I'll even save Hollywood some time by doing my own casting.
Stepping Up: The Curt Flood Story
How a talented, intelligent, high-strung young man named Curt Flood (played by Anthony Mackie from The Hurt Locker) finally said "enough" to baseball's reserve clause, which bound a player to one team for life. With the help of head of the Players Association, Marvin Miller (David Straitharin) took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Flood knew he had little chance of winning, but made a hard stand on principle.
It's the story of defeat: Flood not only lost his court case, he also never played baseball again. But it's also the story of wider victory, as the close Supreme Court decision—5-3 against Flood with one abstention—caused the owners to grant concessions, which, within a few years, resulted in the removal of the reserve clause and the players winning their freedom. Denzel Washington could do a brilliant cameo as Jackie Robinson, the only player, retired or active, who came to the trial to support Flood.