Little Big League (1994)

Directed by Andrew Scheinman
Written by Gregory K. Pincus  and Adam Scheinman

Arguably since A League of Their Own, this baseball marathon has been on a pretty light run, featuring a number of comedies, often with family entertainment as the key target audience. Little Big League continues that trend, even in the face of the MLB Players Strike of 1994. Beginning in early August, the players strike follows right on the heels of the release of Little Big League, which hit theaters a mere month and a half earlier. As such, when examined for its relevance to such a big event in the sports history, Little Big League plays a very special and important role in the social commentary on the players strike. Even though 1994 would see three more baseball movies released, I believe Little Big League is the epitome of the Strike movies, or baseball movies released in close proximity to the event which seem to comment on the fun of the game of baseball.

Billy Haywood (Luke Edwards) is a baseball fanatic, and why shouldn’t he be when his grandfather (Jason Robards) is the owner of the Minnesota Twins? When his grandfather passes away, however, he leaves the team to Billy, whose baseball I.Q. puts him in a rare position for a 12 year old. Not seeing eye to eye with his hot head manager, Billy names himself in his place when he is out of school for the summer. Seen as a laughing stock, the struggling Twins continue to struggle under Billy until he uses his moxie to convince the team to play with heart and have fun. But when the grind of the season, mixed with the stress of his star player Lou (Timothy Busfield) becoming a little too friendly with his mother (Ashley Crow), starts to be too much for Billy, the Twins begin to slip, just as the season is coming into the playoff run.

It is a dream of a lot of baseball loving kids to play in the major leagues, but for the more realistic dreamers out there, perhaps a managerial position is more dreamy. Honestly, the premise of the film, a kid whose baseball aptitude, a regular wunderkid, is exactly what baseball fans fantasize about: knowing enough about the game to be able to handle a major league managers role, whether it’s realistic or not. And in reality, Billy is an annoying kid most of the time since he is a brainiac at baseball and often takes himself way too seriously for a 12 year old. But he does have a childish streak in him, which pairs him well with the adult players around him who are also taking themselves too seriously, but who seem to have lost their childish streak.

The charm of the film is really just putting yourself in Billy’s shoes, being able to live for a few hours managing a major league team, spending time with the players around such a wonderful game. What really drives this home is the game action itself, which is among the best in game action thus far in the marathon. The filmmakers really do a good job of putting convincing actors on the field to play the game and as a result, it’s a really fun ride, especially when it comes time for cameos. And, of course, Little Big League features the best big league cameo ever in a baseball movie with the part played by Ken Griffey Jr., whose swagger and natural talent emanates from him the whole time he is on screen. Even his one spoken line is memorable, and something you would expect him to say. There are plenty of hidden little gems in the game action which make it an easy film to come back to time and again.

Of course, the film does piggyback off elements from earlier films, such as the friendship strain in Rookie of the Year, and how a kid who is way over his head neglects his friends and loses his way. ROY did it better, but there is one element that may go overlooked and that’s the parenting at play here. To be honest, I myself have and will likely continue to overlook the fact that Billy’s mom should have never allowed her immature son to manage a major league baseball team because the whole rest of the film is fun and memorable. As always when a baseball film like this is successful, its the team’s players which are crucial, including Jonathan Silverman, Scott Patterson and Timothy Busfield. The core of the film speaks to the striking players about the roots of game, beckoning them to return to good, fun competition and camaraderie, instead of the greedy complacency that drove them to demand more money.

***1/2 – Great

P.S. Of course, I was very young when the strike took place, and in no way suggesting the players should not have struck. I am sure their grievances were valid and it was their right to strike for better compensation. I do not have all the facts, but all baseball fans I am sure wish the strike could have somehow been settled without having to halt the play of the game we all love so much.

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