Transactions And The Movies: The Babe

In my recent column about how teams replace sudden losses, I wrote that I had some problems with that movie. I figured this would be a relatively uncontroversial statement, but loyal reader Ernesto Figueroa wrote:

Hello! I would love to read more about your problems with the film The Babe starring John Goodman. I really enjoyed the film & want to know more about your criticisms.

Ernesto, I'm glad you asked. I even went back and re-watched. Simply put, I found the writing and directing to be nearly cartoonish, with characters assigned one face that they were required to keep on throughout. I would blame the actors, but when even people like James Cromwell and John Goodman are guilty of it, it pretty much has to be the direction. And Goodman's Ruth magically goes from a child who speaks like he is five until age 30 to a wise old man from 31 through the end of the film.

But this is a baseball site, not Roger Ebert's site. So I will point out the shocking baseball transgressions in the film.

1. John Goodman is morbidly obese from the start. He looks nothing like young Ruth, and his difficulty getting around the bases, during years when Ruth registered double figures in stolen bases, is absurd.

2. Babe Ruth, and you'd think a bio pic would take the time to find this out, was first and foremost a pitcher for many, many years. Yet somehow, we aren't treated to him on the mound until the 34th minute of the film.

3. John Goodman's swing never comes close to the sweetness of the Babe's. Every one of his "home run swings" looks like a foul ball into the first-base stands. He lunges after the ball, swings above it, yet somehow the ball lands over the Forbes Field wall.

4. With the Boston Braves, Goodman is portrayed as a man spitting up blood (he didn't get throat cancer until more than a decade later) who has a runner run out his home runs (against baseball rules, never happened, and the one thing a slowing slugger actually can do is a home run trot). He isn't late-career Babe Ruth; he is late-movie Charles Foster Kane.

I could go on. But look, I am an MLB Trade Rumors writer, so my passion is for transactions. And I think this isn't a small nitpick: the movie, an hour and forty nine minutes long, gives the better part of a minute, thirty seconds to the biggest transaction in baseball history: Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

The deal that spawned decades of misery in Boston, championships and a new stadium in New York, and a legendary career was quite complicated. Ruth wanted a bigger payday, and no wonder – he'd just hit 29 home runs, setting the all-time mark, and posted an OPS+ of 216. He asked for a $10K raise. Boston owner Harry Frazee balked.

The White Sox offered him Shoeless Joe Jackson for Ruth, arguably a poorer long-term asset than the $125K in cash and $300K loan he received from the Yankees. (Jackson was banned from baseball after the 1920 season for his role in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.)

So let's see: two of baseball's most legendary franchises, with a third at the periphery, two of the biggest stars of the era… and it merits about a minute of screen time?

The film wasn't exactly overstuffed with material that couldn't be cut. Maybe leave out one of the six car rides Ruth took with a gang of children. Or, I don't know, one of the two- TWO- scenes at parties where Ruth makes a partygoer pull his finger, with predictable results. Would it surprise you to know both of these scenes lasted longer than the Ruth-to-the-Yankees business?

As for the circumstances that sent Ruth to Boston after the 1934 season, that turned out to be a solid decision for the Yankees. Ruth had just posted a 160 OPS+, though he played in just 125 games at age 39. But Ruth wanted to manage the team, and the Yankees simply didn't think he was ready to be a Major League skipper. Ruth asked for his release, and signed as a free agent with the Braves. In an interesting sidenote, Ruth's 118 OPS+ with Boston would have ranked him above every New York outfielder other than George Selkirk in 1935. And his salary wasn't nearly the $80K it was at his peak; Boston agreed to pay him just $35K.

Ruth to the Braves is explained in greater detail in the film than Ruth to the Yankees, though Yankees owner Colonel Jake Ruppert is as cartoonishly a villain as one can be. Also, Ruth's second wife is given much of the exposition of the situation, but delivers it with an impassioned plea. Somehow, she's very passionate about the business effect Ruth had on baseball approximately 15 years before.

The final scenes, which involve Ruth happening to walk by as the Braves' owner explains, in unnecessarily hostile detail, to no one in particular, why Ruth is just a parlor trick instead of a manager-in-waiting, are particularly slow. The final scene, where a boy Ruth once visited in the hospital in a different city returns to give Ruth back his ball in Pittburgh, takes stretch to a whole new level.

Still, all this could be forgiven if we had one strong five-minute scene with Boston owner Harry Frazee and Ruppert negotiating the deal.  Alas, it is not to be. Thus, from a transaction standpoint, I rate The Babe as Designated For Assignment.

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27 Responses to Transactions And The Movies: The Babe Leave a Reply

  1. BobbyAyala 4 years ago

    So, I hear the Pirates designated John Bowker today.

  2. JLaw 4 years ago

    haha… this movie made me want to scream. i was so disappointed in what could have been a potentially amazing movie about a character so important to the game but i was offended at the portrayal of him.

    • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

      agreed, I feel the same way about the untouchables.

      • 0bsessions 4 years ago

        I liked the Untouchables. Then again, everything I know about Al Capone, I learned from a mix of Wikipedia and Boardwalk Empire (Both of which happened about eight to ten years after I last saw Untouchables).

        • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

          Al Capone is such an interesting character in history… they’ve made movies about farrr less interesting characters, yet the best they can do for Al capone is a horrible portrayal of him by De Niro( I love deniro, but c’mon) and a movie more about bringing him down, then his rise to the top.

          Capone was one of the biggest philantropists of his time while still being a ruthless killer…but they’ll make 4 scream movies, go figure

          • 0bsessions 4 years ago

            You should really check out Boardwalk Empire. It’s primarily about the Atlantic City bootlegging of the 20’s, but Capone plays a reasonably sizable role (It jumps around between NJ, NY and Chicago a whole lot). The first season ended on kind of a fizzle, but by and large it was great.

            ETA: Season 2, last I heard, is going to focus heavily on Capone’s rise in Chicago. He was introduced early in season 1 and a good chunk of it was him heading out to Chicago with another main character and establishing connections out there.

          • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

            I’ve watched it a few times, but I hate Steve Buschemi as a main actor, with a passion to a point where I can’t watch the show..

            However if they plan to focus more on Capone and Chicago I’ll definetely check it out.. One aspect I love about the show is the actresses they get.. I mean they obviously did a casting call for woman who’s boobs look 1920 ish.. tell me you don’t see a difference in the knockers?

          • 0bsessions 4 years ago

            Now, I’m not saying Capone will be the main focus, just for clarification, just that that’s supposed to be a prevalent plot point. Thompson’s still certainly the main character and most of the focus will be on him, I assume.

            That said, I love Buscemi and I think he’s great on that show and you’re a terrible person for disagreeing. Probably a Canadian thing. I assume you hate puppies and freedom too?

          • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

            I have dual citizenship, so you just insulted an american. TERRORIST!!!

            haha no but seriously, I like steve buschemi as the crazy guy with the messed up eyes in mr deeds, or the weird guy who shoots Eric to save Billy Madison, or the homeless guy in Big Daddy..

            but he is NO leading actor.

          • 0bsessions 4 years ago

            Dual Citizen is just a fancy way of saying spy.

          • No offense, but if your only point of reference is Sandler movies, you’re hardly an authority on what a leading actor should be…

          • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

            regardless if he does other roles or not, he diminishes his quality by accepting idiotic parts in stupid movies. didn’t think that was difficult to understand

          • ellisburks 4 years ago

            Canadians love puppies! I especially enjoy them BBQ’d.

          • The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wasn’t bad, but it was more about a specific event then the life of Capone. A main reason why there aren’t many films about Al Capone is because there is a lot about Al Capone that remains unknown.

  3. maqman 4 years ago

    I like John Goodman but the movie looks like it was lifted from a comic book. William Bendix’s version of Babe wasn’t much better as I recall. There was enough material from his life to make at least a decent film and possibly a great one but it’s going to take a better writer, director and actors than have made an attempt so far.

  4. 0bsessions 4 years ago

    Can you guys just change the site to “MLB Rumors” with “And occasional editorials for funsies” to stifle the people who whine whenever someone puts up an article like this?

    While, yes, I come here for rumors, a fun read like this (Especially when it’s behind a break anyway) is nice from time to time, especially in season when the actual rumor mill is rather slow.

    • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

      no no only trade rumours.

      People who use a free website with great content have every right to complain if any of said content ventures too far away from the norm.

      • 0bsessions 4 years ago

        Touche. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to send E-Mail complaints to Facebook about the lack of privacy on a website specifically designed for sharing all my information.

    • bluejaysstatsgeek 4 years ago

      There could also be a Not MLBTR forum, the way Fangraphs has a “Notgraphs”, for the non-TR material that many of us like, buit we would agree is off-topic.

  5. rundmc1981 4 years ago

    Nice write-up. Though I have fond memories of the film, I also do of “The Sandlot” because of its associations with baseball. However, it’s hard really to rank this film up there because of the cartoonish portrayal of baseball’s most famous icon. While a biopic like “Cobb” (Ty Cobb as played by Tommy Lee Jones), in my opinion, portrayed an infamous baseball figure in too harsh of a light, Goodman’s Babe didn’t take it serious enough. I would be interested in seeing his story, perhaps another perspective, done again sometime. Ruth’s needs a proper film, much like “The Pride of the Yankees” is for Gehrig — in which the real Babe Ruth makes an appearance. Notice you don’t hear many people talking about how we need another Gehrig film.

    • 0bsessions 4 years ago

      Not having a sentimental appreciation for the Sandlot is the base definition of evil.

      • Agreed, talking bad about that movie will get you banned from this site For-e-ver, For-e-ver, For-e-ver.

        • FP_Santangelo_Fan_Club 4 years ago

          I don’t care much for Sandlot. It’s a good movie, but Bad News Bears completely overshadows it.

  6. Author Robert Creamer’s biography “Babe” is still the best telling of Ruth’s story. I re-read it every few years, I like it so much. It recounts his baseball achievements well and in perspective, but still manages to paint a complex picture of a complicated man. Doesn’t shy away from his bad side, but still manages to make you love him all the more.

  7. J H 4 years ago

    Excessive squinting by Goodman in the role, always annoyed me.

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