61* - The M & M boys melt in your heart, not in your hand
Oct 17, 2001
Pros: Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane bring life to the movie
Cons: there usually are, but who cares
The Bottom Line: You owe it to yourself to see this movie
At the beginning of the 1961 baseball season, two unlikely heroes faced each other over a bat hometown favorite and playboy Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and transplanted from Fargo, N.D. via the Kansas City Athletics, Roger Maris (Barry Pepper).
Mantle was the golden boy of the Yankees, he was what baseball in New York stood for. At the height of his career, two MVP awards, five World Series rings. Charismatic and outspoken, loved by his fans and fellow players, Mantle was admired by everyone that had to come in contact with him, including the shy and reclusive Roger Maris. Watching the interaction between these players I am reminded of the stand-off between Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo and the love and admiration that resulted from that as well.
Where Mantle was gregarious, Maris was restrained. Maris was a family man, Mantle a playboy. Both excitingly handsome in their own way, both held an aura that drew people to them and put them off at the same time. Maris was almost painfully shy, secretive about his family and his homelife, seldom cracked a smile and certainly held no banter with the reporters and fans. Mantle threw his arms and hands wide and encompassed them all into his circle.
In 1960, Maris managed to wrestle the MVP title away from Mantle, and Mantle suddenly became aware that he had some serious competition. Such starts the season of 1961 and the battle (not to diminish Sousa, McGwire, Bonds, etc) that became probably one of the most important and heroic in baseball to this day.
The movie opens with the Maris family huddled around the television screen, watching the war of the bats between Sousa and McGwire and realizing that their 15 minutes of fame is soon to be shuffled off to Buffalo. Mrs. Maris (Pat Crowley) is quite outspoken and she doesnt care for this new stand-off one dang bit! You can well imagine that the Ruth family had the same feelings back in 1961 when the M&M boys were dueling bats as well.
From this point we move into the lives of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and their race for the brass ring 61 in 61, beating the Babe Ruth record held since 1927! Imagine the power these two men must have felt, stepping up to the plate and facing each opponent and wondering if today will be the day for one more hit toward their goal.
All was not sunlight and roses for these boys of summer. Maris, an outsider as far as Yankee fans were concerned, did little to make himself loved or even liked. Often appearing surly, when in fact he was just for the most part a shy hometown boy from Fargo, his comments often misunderstood or even misquoted in the press, reclusive from his fans, often rebuking his fans, Maris was certainly not the darling of the Yankees. But, oh boy, could he hit!
Maris and Mantle formed an unlikely pact, even becoming roommates, something that aggravated Maris even further because of Mantles style of living, but their friendship formed and bonded and became something that changed both their lives forever. From that friendship arose the realization that it didnt really matter which of the two hit the winning run, the elusive 61, but that they did it together as friends and not opponents.
Some of the best things about the movie I could go on forever about this movie. Very few movies make me feel this complete after viewing them. I really liked the fact that live characters (not actors) were used throughout the movie to add commentary while the battle was going on. Im not a baseball fan, but I could still identify with the struggle between these two men, their teammates, the fans, and their families. Billy Crystal managed to bring his own love of baseball through in such a way that even a first time baseball viewer could get into the game and understand both sides of the story.
Things perhaps were glossed over a bit, personally I dont remember this particular run for the hits, much different than the one between Sousa and McGwire. I felt that Maris was cheated from recognition because of the stipulation put on his title by commissioner Ford Frick. But you know, as in everything else in life, it isnt necessarily about a title per se but how you arrived at that status. I believe both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris achieved that goal long before that bat hit that ball for #61 and I believe that the quality they showed for life, fairness and sportsmanship stayed with them until their deaths.
This is a quality movie, a must see for baseball fans and a 'you should definitely see' for everyone else. It deserves two big thumbs up!
I hope the following links work because they tell a great story: