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Strike 'Em Out: 'Angels in the Outfield,' 'Bull Durham' and the Worst Pitchers the Movies Have Ever Seen

Don't look now, but the baseball season is almost over. As the sport of summer winds down and we move into a winter of movies, I spent some time during watching baseball films. Popculturology Editor in Chief Bill Kuchman and I are both big baseball fans, and I can't help but wince at how awful the mechanics are in these films. Hollywood actors usually train for months to get in top shape or learn specific techniques to get ready for a part. Yet, sports movies are horribly flawed when actors try to emulate the athletic form and grace of a job where you've spent a lifetime developing your skills.

Let's take a look at the worst of the worst in pitching.

Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Tony Danza as Mel Clark
Ugh, what can I say? Tony Danza in Angels in the Outfield is far from convincing as a pitcher. As noted in the film, the aging Mel Clark "hadn't started a game this decade." With mechanics like that, it's no wonder. Yet the Clark character becomes the essential ace of the Angels. Must've had some divine help ...

I don't know where to begin. It's like his form is based off something other than baseball. Maybe freestyle dart throwing? (Start at the 1:34:30 mark in the above video to check out Danza's pitching technique.) There is no windup, let alone his release seems bizarre. Thanks, Disney, for ruining a baseball classic.

Danza is quite the athlete. Growing up in Brooklyn, he earned his way to college by wrestling and later fought golden gloves boxing. Danza's boxing background became the basis for Tony Banta on Taxi. He also played a former baseball player on Who's The Boss? Does anyone have the stats for when Danza's fake baseball player played Ted Danza's Cheers fake baseball player?

Bull Durham (1988)
Tim Robbins as Nuke LaLoosh
Before everyone with a hard-on for Bull Durham sends me death threats, my only complaint about Tim Robbins' portrayal of Nuke LaLoosh is that release point of the baseball. I know that we're supposed to fall in love with all those low-angle shots, but man, it makes me wonder who LaLoosh is pitching to. Shaquille O'Neal?

Robbins was the choice of director Ron Shelton for the movie, trumping Anthony Michael Hall. Robbins is a baseball fan and also plays hockey as well, so he has a decent knowledge of the game.

Rookie of the Year (1993)
Gary Busey as Chet "Rocket" Steadman
Having covered baseball for several years, you get used to seeing that Chet Steadman delivery … in batting practice. Some guys (read that as middle-aged coaches) try to T-Rex the ball in. T-Rex means to shorten up your throwing motion so you're using more of your forearm and wrist as opposed to your shoulders. In Rookie of the YearGary Busey is just tossing that ball in there like he is giving little leaguers practice. It's an approach that sucks the juice out of the pitch, while maintaining accuracy and allowing kids to get used to timing. I don't think a guy with that delivery should have the nickname "rocket."

Busey, despite being crazy, was a football player growing up and had a scholarship to Pittsburg State Univeristy in Kansas. His other sporting roles include The Last American Hero and Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice. So yeah, Gary Busey.

For Love of the Game (1999)
Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel
I know people will get pissed on this one too, and I hate to write this, but Kevin Costner is not that good at pitching. Now, back story: Costner did play ball in high school. It's how he got to be Crash Davis in Bull Durham. Costner is still a big baseball guy with his connections from the films. He is just not a pitcher.

I can still defend him though. Costner, being a great actor, understands the persona and presence it takes to sell and look like a pro ballplayer. In For Love of the Game, he keeps his movements minimal but realistic, conserving his energy as a pitcher. Even his approach to looking in on signs, coming set and his wind up are really great. Costner's form, by the use of slo-motion, shows he is merely lobbing the ball in like Busey, but this movie executes the technique better. Director Sam Raimi and cinematographer John Bailey actually hurt Costner there trying to be over dramatic with each pitch.

Summer Catch (2001)
Freddie Prinze Jr. as Ryan Dunne
I've worked at a college summer league like Cape Cod. It was a league sponsored by Major League Baseball and featured players that were slightly lower in skills than the player that The Cape drew. With that said, Summer Catch is the poorest representation of our top collegiate players in movie history. Freddie Prinze Jr. must have spent weeks working with a pitching coach and came up with no results.

When I was a kid, my dad coaxed me into becoming a pitcher on my little league team. He got a bootlegged copy of Tom House's Pitching Mechanics. It turns out Tom House lacks any fluid motion in his delivery. Once again we are treated to those great close ups, so you don't actually see how well he throws. I swear, with the step-by-step approach Prinze utilizes in this film, it's like he was mimicking the House tips. Luckily, it seems unlikely he will ever do another baseball film again.

Prinze's throwing issues aside, we can all agree that that Jessica Biel was looking fine in Summer Catch.

The Final Pitch
I'm not trying to say that these guys are any less of an actor. They inability to sell the art of throwing a baseball just backs up how amazingly difficult it is to be a pitcher. Bull Durham adopted the look of Fernando Valenzuela. It's interesting to see no one tapped into the forms of Luis Tiant, the compact Roy Oswalt or even the high leg kicks of Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Yet, you see films like Summer Catch giving Prinze all these close ups so you don’t notice him stop midway through every pitch, compensating for flaws. There have been some decent pitchers in the movies. Charlie Sheen had good form in Major League. Cobb cast Roger Clemens to play a pitcher, which was a wise move.

Not to make it seem like I am just railroading these guys. I still play baseball, yet I haven't pitched in nearly ten years. I know my limitations, and I know my delivery is awful and my timing is all off. All you Costner fans can take solace in that.

Kurt Russell was once a prospect for the Angles. An injury took care of his hopes of reaching The Show, yet he would always mention that the one thing he hated seeing were bad sports films. He even mentioned it while shooting Miracle. He was involved with a hockey film that cast hockey players who had strong enough acting chops to get by. How come we can’t get that with our baseball movies? If only we listened to Captain Ron.

Seth has covered college baseball for several years and also been to Major League tryouts where he has talked to pro scouts. Not to be confused with The Scout starring Albert Brooks.
Strike 'Em Out: 'Angels in the Outfield,' 'Bull Durham' and the Worst Pitchers the Movies Have Ever Seen Reviewed by Seth Pohorence on 8/29/2013 Rating: 5

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