Little Big League is certainly a 90's movie. There's a precocious little kid in it who gets to do something really big against all reason, logic, or real world possibility. It holds a cosmetic resemblance to Rookie of the Year, the movie about a kid who is drafted by the Chicago Cubs when he uncorks a 100 MPH fastball while partaking in the beloved Cubs tradition of throwing back a home run hit by the other team. Sure, little Henry Rowengartner did pretty well for himself, but here we have Little Big League to show us just what a big loser Rowengartner was. He became a pitcher. That's shooting way too low! Billy Heywood has his sights set a little bit higher than that - he becomes the owner of the Minnesota Twins!
The scenario isn't COMPLETELY arbitrary, at least. Billy's grandfather, Thomas, owned the team and wrote in his will that, because Billy loves baseball and the Twins so much, he should be the one to inherit the team when he passes. The idea of Billy being a minor is addressed; the will had apparently been written some years before, and Thomas specifies that if Billy is still too young when he dies, then his aides should help him run the team until he's old enough to do it himself. The part about the aides is only mentioned in passing - kind of like Billy's father, because this is a 90's movie and all precocious kids in 90's movies are legally obligated to have widowed mothers who only address their fathers in throwaway one-liners - but it helps to create a teensy bit of plausibility.
Yeah, Little Big League is one of those movies. The kid does something big, loses sight of who he is and everything else in his life, and learns a Lesson. Capital L.
To be honest, I was pretty surprised by Little Big League. Lord knows I'm not going to run around breathlessly comparing it to Citizen Kane, but as a family film that is guilty of smoothing over the rougher edges of the baseball jock, it's actually pretty inspired. Several of the jokes were original and funny; there was one I especially liked where Billy tries to relax his team before a big game by confusing the players with a difficult math question which is quickly solved by one of the team's star players.
It's tough to find a lot to say about Little Big League other than that, because I feel like I just reviewed it when I posted my Rookie of the Year write-up. The two movies are very similar, and they follow basically the same story arc. Rookie of the Year was about a kid who went to play for the Chicago Cubs, learned that being a professional ballplayer was tearing a rift in his personal life, and decided to stay away from more professional baseball until he was older and more prepared to shoulder the lifestyle. Little Big League is about a kid who owns the Minnesota Twins and changes because of the demanding schedule he gets saddled with upon taking the managerial reins. Yes, he takes over as manager too, after having a nasty argument with the team's current manager and firing him. His reason for firing him? The guy was just too nasty, and Billy didn't like that.
The managerial thing isn't just something that happens to expand the length of the movie, either. It's the plot. Forget owning the team, it's the management of the team which is the crux of Little Big League's story. Most of the movie is little Billy pulling his duty as a manager, with a little bit of ownership taking a backseat. The way he changes through the movie revolves entirely around his managerial duties. First, he takes over the team because no other manager they talked to was qualified. The team of course has reservations about playing for a wide-eyed kid who still looks up to ballplayers as demigods, so Billy sweetens up the deal by saying he'll step down if the team isn't in divisional contention within a few weeks. He bases his philosophy on the idea that hey, you guys get to play a game for a living! Baseball should always be fun!
The team loosens up and lo! After a few weeks, they're suddenly in divisional contention! (Who knew?!) But Billy changes once he's forced to send his all-time favorite player down to the minors. The player chews him out for that, and Billy turns a whole lot darker. While there does seem to be a dark cloud following him through many of these scenes, they do sometimes make for great comedy - Billy's ESPN interview with Chris Berman is one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a baseball movie. It would have fit right into Bull Durham, if Bull Durham made space for little kids. It's up to Billy to rediscover what made playing baseball so much fun in the first place.
Little Big League, given the nature of the family-friendly genre, can be extremely cheesy at times, like when Billy rediscovers his love of baseball in a pick-up game in Chicago. Fortunately, the cheese in this movie is at least original, though that doesn't go a long way toward making it more bearable. It IS a kids' Lesson movie, after all, so that arc has to be in there.
The locker room hijinks add a little bit of flair to the movie, but the players are all characters you've seen in this genre and know pretty well. There are plenty of cameos in Little Big League that fans would love, although they all occur during games. And one of the cliches, of course, has to fall head over heels for Billy's mother. That's another one of those 90's movie laws. I liked Jonathan Silverman's character, though, and his solving of the math problem Billy asks to the locker room is one of the more priceless scenes in this movie. Of course, this being a family flick, we're spared the more off-color (read: funny) antics of regular players. I've lamented before that baseball is at its memorable best when all pretense of All-American wholesomeness is removed and we're allowed to sit back and enjoy the jock jokes in all their glorious vulgarity. Having a kid around all the time tends to rob us all of that.
Maybe the reason Little Big League is so funny to me is because I watched it with such low expectations. As I said, we know this genre, its recycled jokes, and general aversion to offending people for want of being as inoffensive as possible. Little Big League is guilty of all of those crimes, but is guilty of them in a funny, clever way. I'm sorry. I'll try to redeem myself next time.