Imperfect Game The baseball miscues in Kevin Costner's new film would be forgivable if it had a few yuks

September 26, 1999

Kevin Costner's new film is neither a breathtakingly bad nor a
very good baseball movie (a sentiment that will surely appear in
print ads as "breathtaking...a very good baseball
movie!"--SPORTS ILLUSTRATED). As such, we were prepared to
discreetly avert our gaze and let For Love of the Game pass
without comment into the inevitable oblivion of westbound
screenings on Delta. Until, that is, CNN aired an interview with
Costner in which entertainment reporter Mark Scheerer
hyperventilated, "The film defies the sports fan to find one
inaccurate detail!" Costner concurred, and--deliberately
provoked--we became duty bound to respond.

So F.L.O.G. opens with Billy Chapel (Costner), a 40-year-old
Detroit Tigers pitcher and certain Hall of Famer, settling into
a team charter with Studs Terkel's My American Century. The one
time I ever flew with a baseball team, the Cleveland Indians,
pitcher Jesse Orosco was not reading a 532-page oral history of
the United States. Rather, he was spitting tobacco juice into
airsickness bags and periodically passing them to a flight
attendant for disposal. But fair enough. We'll give Costner this
intellectual indulgence.

Still, one doesn't often find cardboard cutouts in the stands at
a real major league game, with the occasional exception of Bud
Selig. Yet in F.L.O.G., 2,000 to 8,000 extras portrayed a crowd
of 56,000 at Yankee Stadium, where much of the film takes place
during Chapel's final big league game--a perfect game at that.
The game is nationally televised on Fox, whose announcing team
is Vin Scully and Steve Lyons, a pairing slightly less plausible
than Olivier and Pauly Shore. So be it. But why does Scully
announce that the Tigers have been held to two hits after three
innings, when the Fox line score and the scoreboard show the
Tigers as hitless?

Virtually every member of the Yankees wears a uniform number in
the 60s or 70s. Starting pitcher Jack Spellman wears 83. Had the
game gone into extra innings, we surely would have seen a Bomber
with three digits on his back. The game ends when Yankees
manager Bobby Mack sends rookie Matt Strout (wearing number 61)
to the plate for his first major league at bat with two outs in
the bottom of the ninth inning of a perfect game. Not that he
wants to traumatize the kid, already in awe of teammates like
Davis Birch and Matt Crane. (Most of the ballplayers have the
sort of names that studios used to give actors.)

To be fair, most of F.L.O.G. is a love story. But it's marketed
as a glove story, and thus its greatest inauthenticity is this:
There is no humor in it. Baseball is a funny game, as Joe
Garagiola has pointed out, but F.L.O.G. plays everything so
earnestly. We get nothing unexpected. There are literally no
curveballs. Chapel is baseball's first assless, peg-legged power
pitcher, and though his fastball appears to top out at 67 mph,
batters miss wildly, as if the Tigers still have some of the
wood-repellent chemical that Ray Milland applied to baseballs in
It Happens Every Spring. Now, that was funny. Whereas one entire
scene in F.L.O.G. consists of this exchange between Chapel and
his girlfriend.

Girlfriend: "Do you believe in God?"

Chapel: "Yes."

Compare that with Sleeper, in which Woody Allen is asked the
same question.

"I'm a teleological existential agnostic," Allen replies. "I
believe there's an intelligence that governs the universe--with
the exception of certain parts of New Jersey."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)