URI professor hits a homerun for movie
& baseball fans with Reel Baseball
KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 28, 2003 -- With the baseball season upon us, theres a book bound to be a hit with baseball fans and movie buffs. "Often the two are the same," notes Steve Wood of Wakefield, professor and chair of the University of Rhode Islands Communication Studies Department whose just-released book Reel Baseball examines the cultural intersection between film and baseball.
The two American pastimes, baseball and films, have more in common than peanuts and popcorn. Both seem to have grown up together and play a role on how we view ourselves as an ever-shifting culture, starting with Thomas Edison capturing a baseball game on film in 1898. How many people can think of Lou Gehrig and not think of Gary Coopers portrayal of the famous slugger in The Pride of the Yankees? Remember when national baseball games were for whites only? First Jackie Robinson broke the color line and then played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story.
Reel Baseball, however, goes beyond such classic baseball films as Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, and Bull Durham. Wood argues that by also exploring Hollywoods use of baseball themes, jargon, plots, characters, dialogue and settings in non-baseball films, we can better understand ourselves, our society, and our lifestyles.
Remember Steve McQueen bouncing the baseball against the wall in solitary confinement in The Great Escape? Or Robin Williams teaching the locals baseball with a melon substituting for a ball in Good Morning Vietnam? In case you dont get the picture or want a fuller view, click on Reel Baseballs filmography at www.reelbaseball.net, which chronicles nearly 400 films that depict baseball in big and little ways. You may even know of a film thats not included and become a Reel Baseball scout by submitting your film.
URIs Wood co-edited the book with J. David Pincus, another academician who has held university positions in the communications and business departments in California and Arkansas. The pair also wrote three chapters, all of the introductions, conducted all the interviews, and wrote the final analysis.
Reel Baseball is organized into four sections with essays on baseball films, Babe Ruth, non-baseball films, and a final section of interviews with a post-game analysis. The essays are written by baseball-loving scholars in various disciplines and cover such topics as the link between myth and baseball, the use of baseball symbols, the role of family, and baseball as a facilitator of violence.
The final reel of the book includes edited interviews with people who have worked on baseball films, including director Penny Marshall, actors Kevin Costner and Jim Belushi, and broadcaster Vin Scully. All of the unedited interviews have been presented to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Director Penny Marshall has a real passion for baseball," says the URI professor. "Marshall always tries to shoot her films near a stadium, even if she cant work baseball into the film, so that she can attend games. James Belushis films use baseball fairly consistently and they are usually focused on his beloved Chicago Cubs."
A fan of the Dodgers, Woods favorite memory of the game came when he watched Sandy Koufax pitch a perfect game. "It doesnt get any better than that," he said.
Everyone wants to know, "what is the best baseball movie ever made?" Wood suggests that Cannery Row is his favorite baseball movie, although others would probably not include it on their eligibility list (co-author, David Pincus selection is a more traditional choice, Field of Dreams.) " To the surprise of many people, baseball is an integral element of Cannery Row," he says. "When Steinbeck wrote the novel he never mentioned baseball. The movie version, however, uses baseball from beginning to end to shape the characters. I guess Hollywood thought they knew better than Steinbeck."
There are many untold stories about baseball that have yet to make it to the silver screen. The baseball movie that should be made, says Wood, is The Pete Rose Story. Not since Babe Ruth has there been a player who loved baseball more, performed so well, and was so flawed off the field."
Wood and Pincus will have a book signing at the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Cooperstown Symposium on American Culture in June. The symposium has been an annual event since 1989 with the purpose of inviting scholars from around the world to discuss the impact of baseball on American culture.