Directed by Harmon Jones
Despite the fact that the titular character is actually found playing and managing a sandlot game just beyond the right field bleachers of Whacker Stadium, home of the fictitious Bison,The Kid From Left Field exhibits a good deal of what makes baseball films so entertaining to me. For one, it brings about the sense of wonder and youthfulness of the game. For another, it examines what makes for good baseball and good baseball players. So often these films will explore what it means to have baseball be a profession, a job, and one with a mean boss who is demanding performance. In reality that’s what baseball is to major leaguers, a job. However, the romanticism of the games allows me to at least fantasize that these big league ball players have it better than the rest of us, getting to play a child’s game day in and day out. Part of what I love about baseball above other sports is the players ability to goof around. I think there are more characters in the game of baseball than any other sport, by a wide margin (re: Munenori Kawasaki). If you disagree, I understand, as we all have our favorite sports, but The Kid From Left Field loosens us up and allows us to be entertained, instead of presenting some tedious job for the players.
In many ways, it is the original version of Little Big League, a film I love and which is featured later in this same marathon (and no, this is not the Gary Coleman made for television remake of the same name either). The film takes a kid, Christy (Billy Chapin), named after famous pitcher Christy Mathewson, and places him as the manager of a struggling major league baseball team. With the help of his old man, Larry (Dan Dailey), a former player himself, Christy is able to coach up the team and turn the season around, making a push for the pennant against the American League juggernaut New York Yankees. Having a kid as a manager does suspend disbelief at times, having his baseball strategy revelations seem all too simple to even the casual fan of the game. He isn’t revolutionary, but he is endearing, and a lot of that has to do with the relationship he has with his father. The dynamic created not only between Christy and Larry, but also the inclusion of the fading star Pete Haines (Lloyd Bridges) really brings the human factor of the game to the surface of the film, examining the limited opportunities of a man in baseball, and the consequences of blowing your chance.
All the performances are great, right down the line. I prefer Dailey here to his previous Harmon Jones directed role in The Pride of St. Louis. He presents a broken spirit, all the while saving face for his son Christy to see a great role model in his father, who blew his chance in the big leagues and now struggles to maintain a job as a peanut vendor at the ballpark. Bridges is good as well, and especially opposite Anne Bancroft as his love interest, who is pushing him out of baseball as she sees his talent and opportunities diminishing. In many ways, the film becomes a very light, fun affair that shows us what it would be like if a wiz kid managed a major league team and made it fun again, but Jones’ film also works as a character study of both Cooper and Haines, and what it means to be at the end of your playing career and the precipice of a new chance in the game of baseball, or even in the game of life. After The Pride of St. Louis, Harmon Jones has really surprised me with The Kid From Left Field, which may well turn out to be one of the great surprises of this marathon.