Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Eight Men Out

Another of the movies that I've had on my DVR for a while is Eight Men Out. I see that it's going to be on Cinemax tomorrow at 7:15 AM (or three hours later if you only have the west coast feed), so I recently sat down to watch it in order to be able to do a review here.

Baseball films have always been popular in Hollywood, so our non-American readers may already know a little bit about the Black Sox scandal that forms the basis of this movie. In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were generally considered to be the best team in Major League Baseball. But their owner, Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), had a reputation for paying his players extremely poorly, at a time when team owners held all the power in baseball. (Free agency wouldn't become a thing for another 50 years.) This caused resentment among the players, such as star pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn), who was held out of five starts allegedly to rest him for the World Series, but in Cicotte's view not to get to the magic number of 30 wins which would have activated a $10,000 bonus in his contract.

With things like that going on, another of the team's players, first baseman Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker), met with representatives from gangster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner), who ran a gambling syndicate. Rothstein was willing to offer players a substantial sum of money in exchange for deliberately playing badly and throwing the World Series, with Rothstein making a killing on the wagering. Eventually, eight players did take part in the conspiracy, although there has long been debate on how much certain of the players were involved. Third baseman Buck Weaver (John Cusack), for example, knew about the fix but claimed not to have tried to make any deliberate mistakes; he would get in trouble for not coming public with his knowledge until after the Series. More controversial was Shoeless Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney), one of the best players in the game at the time; he was most likely illiterate and gave into pressure to take money, although as with Weaver how much he did during the Series games is disputed.

Meanwhile, manager Kid Gleason (John Mahoney), a former player himself, knew fully well that there was always a threat of gamblers trying to influence games, while a cadre of players on the team, led by college graduate Eddie Collins (Bill Irwin), hated people like Gandil and were assiduously clean.

And so we get to the Series, and as you can probably guess, the White Sox lose it five games to three. However, some of the bad playing on the part of those who were in on the fix was pretty apparent right from the get-go, leading sportswriters to wonder openly whether anybody was trying to throw games. After the Series, the information comes out, which leads to a trial in which the eight accused players are tried collectively. It also leads to pressure to have one person in complete charge of baseball. The owners hired federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (John Anderson) to fill that position, which he only accepted on the grounds that he had a lifetime contract and complete control over the sport. And he really did mean complete, ruling the Major Leagues with an iron fist. Even the owners chafed under his control of the game, until they could get a commissioner who would be their mouthpiece in more recent years starting with Bud Selig. The eight players who knew about the fix were banned for life, although Weaver and Jackson maintained ther innocence.

Eight Men Out is a pretty good telling of the events, although if the movie has one big problem, it's that it really spends too much time on the actual games, with the trial and eventual banning of the players seeming almost like an afterthought. Still, Eight Men Out is definitely an interesting movie and one that's worth watching even by people who aren't fans of baseball. One doesn't really need to know the sport to follow what's going on in the movie.

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