I love “Eight Men Out” for the Dixieland music and vintage suits and funky hotel lobbies and ball parks – also for the loving look at the game even in a dirty time, the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Well, I guess all times are dirty. Baseball currently has two separate scandals hanging over it. One involves Pete Rose, who bet on games while managing, and then lied about it. I am conflicted about Rose, a total knucklehead who gave me a great amount of enjoyment as writer and fan.
I think Pete played honest, although we all knew he had a major gambling jones and ultimately broke the major rule of baseball – No Gambling. I wish Rose the player were eligible for the Hall of Fame – but I don’t know I would make that decision if I were commissioner.
Then there is the whole steroid generation, when the union fought testing, for reasons I am sure the union leaders understood. No player identified or suspected as a steroid user has later been voted into the Hall by the writers. Some come back as coaches and guests at old-timers’ games and some just vanish with bloated home-run and strikeout totals.
Now Alex Rodriguez, the ghost of scandals past, is haunting Yankee camp, yawning his way through first-base practice. What a chump. But the Yankees and baseball are legally stuck with him, no doubt hoping he breaks a leg taking grounders, and the insurance kicks in.
What are we going to do with all those specters? A friend of mine says baseball writers of the past generation will never vote for suspected users because of guilty consciences for not breaking the story. Fair enough. I do not vote because the Times does not want its writers making news; I also never had proof of anything, except what my eyes told me about body sizes, and what common sense said about union stonewalling.
Apparently, some writers did suspect some White Sox players were throwing the 1919 World Series. I love “Eight Men Out” because I am a huge John Sayles fan but also because I was there when they were filming it – in Indianapolis, an old ballpark – and also because I wrote about how D.B. Sweeney learned to hit left-handed to portray Shoeless Joe Jackson.
I love the movie for the portrayal of a cheapskate owner and a hanging judge turned commissioner who channeled eight players of varying guilt into a lifetime ban. I love the image of the great David Strathairn as a pitcher, Ed Cicotte, who is cheated out of a bonus, and John Cusack as a tormented infielder, Buck Weaver, who plays it straight, but will not squeal. The gamblers and thugs and cynical sportswriters and innocent wives are all part of a beautiful American period piece.
Today, would Shoeless Joe Jackson (.375 in that Series) and Buck Weaver (.324) be included along with the core fixers? I do not feel any sympathy for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and A-Rod, great players who got in deep, as far as I can see.
But the game goes on. I helped myself to a seasonal preview in “Eight Men Out” – dirt, grass, finger signals, wood on ball, clunk of ball on an outfield fence, and a Dixieland band. Hang in there.