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June 2024
1min read


Arriving on dvd and video just in time to provide an antidote to World Series hype, The Rookie , written by Mike Rich, directed by John Lee Hancock, and starring Dennis Quaid, is the best film about baseball since Bull Durham . Released last spring, The Rookie sneaked up on a lot of critics and, without fanfare or much studio backing, became a word-of-mouth hit. Exactly how good it is wasn’t obvious at first to many critics, and it may not grab you right away, not until you realize how many baseball-movie clichés aren’t in it.

The Rookie is based on—and sticks fairly close to—the true story of Jim Morris, who blew out his arm as a 23-year-old prospect and made his major-league debut 12 years later with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, appearing just long enough to have, as ballplayers say, a “cup of coffee” in the 1999 season and a couple more the next year. The first half of the film, which young children will probably enjoy the most, is about how Morris, then a high school baseball coach, inspires his team to take its divisional championship. The relaxed no-nonsense approach Morris brings to his baseball coaching is reflected in Rich’s unpretentious treatment of the material (and through Quaid’s relaxed and engaging performance). This serves him even better in the second half of the film, when Morris, keeping a bet with his players, gives the major leagues a second chance.

Though The Rookie is clearly aimed at what is called the family market, it’s not the kind of film you can simply park the youngsters in front of. Kids have been served so much sugar-coated fantasy in sports-related movies that they may not comprehend why it means so much for Morris to simply make the team. Adults, who can be aware of the failure of their dreams nearly every time they look at their own children, will understand. By the time Morris actually appears outside the Texas Rangers’ home park, in Arlington, it’s as if he’s seeing a major-league ballpark for the first time. We’re so completely with him that it doesn’t matter that the game he gets to pitch in, in front of his family and hometown friends, is completely meaningless.

Rich and Hancock could have hoked up the story into a poor man’s version of The Natural , falsifying a real-life story the way Robert Redford desecrated Bernard Malamud’s novel. But there are no artificial sweeteners in this big-league coffee, and Morris’s achievement in just appearing in a major-league game offers more than satisfactory emotional payoff.

—Allen Barra

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