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SI.com spoke with Jon Hamm, star of the television series Mad Men and the new baseball movie Million Dollar Arm, in advance of the film's opening this weekend. Hamm plays J.B. Bernstein, a sports agent who sets out to find baseball players in India. It is based on the true story of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who were subsequently signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both have spent time in the minor leagues but have yet to reach the majors. Below Hamm discusses some of his favorite baseball memories, why his new film could surprise people and why he's ready for Mad Men to end.
On his baseball career, both growing up in St. Louis and now, at age 43, in Los Angeles:
Hamm: "I was decent, but I was always smaller than I was talented. I had decent skills and I worked at it. The reason I still play is that it's still fun. It's something I like to do...[Now] I play in a wood bat league in Beverly Hills on Saturday afternoons and evenings. I recognize that my skills have diminished, but the last game I played catcher, first base and rightfield, and I made plays at all of them. And we won, 4-2."
Hamm: "My dad used to take me to the old Busch Stadium, which was this ugly concrete doughnut. I hated the Mets with a passion that kills. Still do. My best friend growing up was a kid named John Simmons that I met in seventh grade. His dad just happened to be Ted Simmons [the starting catcher on the 1982 Brewers and a longtime Cardinal before that]. My best baseball memory is my best friend's baseball disaster. [I remember the 1985 NLCS] when Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith both ruined Tom Niedenfuer, it was fantastic."
In 2006, Hamm was living in New York when the Cardinals faced the Mets in the National League Championship Series. He was at Shea Stadium when St. Louis pulled off a 3-1 win, clinching the pennant when Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded.
Hamm: "I jumped out of my seat. I looked around, and I was literally like one of one, standing out with my big red Cardinal hat. I was like: Yes! Oh, I should sit down.”
On the Yankees:
Hamm: "They're a juggernaut. It's like the best and worst of what America is. Being a Cardinals fan, it's not like we're the Oliver Twist of the league. But there is an expectation that if there's a player out there, there's probably a contract waiting for him [with the Yankees]. ... Don [Draper] would never be a Yankees fan."
On what drew him to his new film:
Hamm: I love baseball. I would have done it if it was about cricket. I had not heard of the story. I got the script, went to the title page, it said it was based on a true story and I went 'What!?' and started Googling.
I hope kids se it. There's nothing objectionable in it, it's an inspiring story, it's rated PG. This provides a nice alternative [to Mad Men]. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do it.
The adage in TV was always like, ‘Advertising shows never work. The stakes aren’t high enough; no one cares; it’s got to be doctors, lawyers or cops, because that’s life or death.' We make a show, it’s very successful, and it’s about advertising. So it doesn’t work until it works.
There used to be a corollary to that: ‘Baseball will never work, because it doesn’t work internationally; they don’t care about it.’ But I think the reason baseball works as a story, and especially in this thing, is that baseball is timeless."
On whether baseball's efforts to grow the sport in India will succeed:
Hamm: "You could invent a sport and it could catch on in India. It's an investment, but if you look at the work down there, athletes are athletes. If you've got the raw ability and the frame, the rest can be taught."
On Mad Men, the acclaimed show in which he plays advertising man Don Draper. The show is airing the first part of its last season this spring, and the final episodes will air in the spring of 2015:
Hamm: "I'm very proud of Mad Men and Don Draper. I love it. But it's been almost 10 years. That's enough. I won't have any trouble saying goodbye to that character. I'll miss the people, I'll miss the crew."