Directed by Martin Davidson
Written by Michael Norell
When researching the list for the baseball marathon I am currently undergoing (at this point as a hopeful winter pastime as we await the Boys of Summer to return in Spring Training), Long Gone was a title that kept coming up as one of the better baseball movies out there. And yet, Long Gone, which originally aired on HBO as a television movie, has been one of the hardest movies to track down. Having never received a theatrical release, it doesn’t appear on Netflix, or available from my local library system. Instead I had to search the deep recesses of the internet to find a copy just to watch the darn movie so many people have said is an underseen gem. I can see why it’s underseen, but is Long Gone really a baseball gem?
More on the movie in a second, but William Peterson as Tampico Stogies manager Stud Cantrell certainly is a gem. Cantrell was a star prospect, but when he lost a Spring Training battle to Stan Musial for starting left fielder of the Saint Louis Cardinals, he ended up in the sleepy Florida town of Tampico as a minor league player/manager. Cantrell is a womanizer, but when Miss Strawberry Blossom, Dixie Lee Boxx (Virginia Madsen), sticks around longer than anticipated, Cantrell must balance a budding romance with a misfit team with a few star new additions (Dermot Mulroney and Larry Riley), who run into their own issues on and off the field.
Long Gone follows a standard baseball movie formula: a “missed opportunity” star player, last place team, surprise run for a chance at a pennant. So it’s plotting is not what sets this one apart. Rather it is the characters, the performances, and how they all come together that make Long Gone entertaining and a movie which rises above the sum of its rather traditional story. As mentioned above, Peterson is near perfect as Cantrell, pulling off bravado and a mixed sense of career disappointment, pride, and the hope of a big league dream come true. With Peterson leading the ship, the rest of the cast is allowed to fall in place behind him and provide good supporting turns.
Perhaps the most unexpected is Virginia Madsen and her rather eccentric Dixie Lee Boxx. When Miss Strawberry Blossom stays behind in Tampico despite Cantrell’s assumptions that she would be just another one night stand turns not only Cantrell, but the whole story on its head, leading Long Gone in a new, fresh direction. Cantrell is forced to realize that his time as a 20 something baseball star bachelor is soon fading, and he must reflect on not just his past, but what he might do with his future. This acute sense of foreboding, if you will, placed within the confines of a baseball comedy works much better than could have been expected.
Long Gone is not necessarily a movie with iconic moments, well renown star power, etc. There is no Robert Redford or Gary Cooper, no shooting the lights out with clout or “Wild Thing” fastballs to the backstop. There is no signature here. But Long Gone stands on its own as a solid baseball film start to finish, top to bottom, with a memorable central character, a team worth rooting for, and a surprising amount of depth for a made for television film that goes otherwise unheard of in terms of baseball movies, in large part due to the lack of distribution.