There was once a brilliant spoof of this trope on Futurama: The New New York Mets (and for those not familiar with the show, "New New York" is not a typo) sign Leela to rescue their flagging attendance. At her first game, the spectators all get up to walk out of a game in which the Mets are doing uncharacteristically badly even by their standards, and the announcer blares, "Now, coming in to pitch for New New York, TARANGA LEELA!" The spectators didn't even look up - they just keep steady on their death row march out of the stadium. After a few seconds of this, the announcer returns to tell the spectators the important detail he forgot earlier: "Uh, Taranga Leela is a one-eyed woman!" This causes all of them to instantly rush back to their seats to see the new pitching phenomenon, and Leela spends the rest of the episode pitching so badly that she displaces one of Hank Aaron's great-descendents as the worst ballplayer of all time. At her final game, she's told she inspired women everywhere... Because all of the female ballplayers are determined to prove they're better than her!
It's more or less a direct parody of Rookie of the Year, which is about a ten-year-old kid who breaks his arm, feels it repair funny, and is equipped with a 100 mph fastball which he uses to get signed by the Chicago Cubs and lead them to World Series glory. Seriously. Yes, there's a big deal made among baseball fanatics about how the final game revolved around the Cubs winning the division title, but there's also a very clear shot of a World Series ring sitting on the finger of main character Henry Rowengartner at the end. The Futurama episode was much better.
Movies about precocious kids were everywhere in the 1990's. Free Willy, Air Bud, Jungle 2 Jungle, and a whole host of other movies made by people who didn't seem to understand that kids fantasize about being courageous, heroic adults like Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones. I guess in a sense, Rookie of the Year does understand the mindset of children: Henry is a little kid living his dream of playing for the Cubs. In the clubhouse, he is awed by seeing his heroes up close and personal, and can't believe he'll be playing alongside them. But Rookie of the Year is a Kids' Message Movie, so we have to quickly be snapped back to reality by the fact that the other players don't like him and the fact that his newfound fame is taking a ton of time away from his friends.
Rookie of the Year takes on a mighty attempt at suspension of disbelief in order to justify the signing: The Chicago Cubs are in financial trouble and must sell out literally every game that season. In real life, this would be one of those "Come ON!!!" pronouncements, in which the team owner pats you on the back and goes "You're allllrrrriiiiiiiiggghhhhttt!!!" Cubs fans are an optimistic and sunny bunch; when the team is doing well, they don't believe in feeling the doom and gloom around every corner; when they're not doing well - which is more often the case - the fans revel in the beauty of baseball and the electric atmosphere of Wrigleyville.
As the Cubs lament their financial situation, young Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm. It heals with extra-tight joints or some such, as Henry learns when he engages in the opponent-home-run-return ritual which is such a sacred rite at Wrigley Field. He unleashes the most blistering fastball ever seen, is caught by the team owner, and signed as a reliever. To be fair to the movie, it is never really implied that Henry becomes the great team leader or even its great rallying player, but the Cubs' fortunes do change pretty quickly once he's in Cubbie blue. The movie is about Henry, his dream of playing for the Cubs, and how being a star interrupts the other aspects of his everyday life. It's not a rally-the-troops movie or a tame-the-wildmen-and-make-lots-of-friends-among-them movie. Unfortunately, it does contain one of those damned lessons, as is the wont in kids' flicks.
John Candy plays the blowhard radio announcer, and that's to the movie's credit. Candy was always good at roles like that. But one of the movie's anchoring jokes is the proper pronunciation of Henry's last name. The team manager is constantly saying it wrong, so much that when he gets it right during the climax, Henry lampshades it by saying "What did he call me?" Rookie of the Year also leans on Daniel Stern, who plays a bouncing ball of caffeine. Actually he plays the pitching coach, a guy so out there he makes Bill Lee look stuck in the lower depth of the Earth's mantle by comparison. Stern's lively, energetic, and entertaining performance is another one of Rookie of the Year's better qualities, but his character is just so annoying that Stern's talent does more to put a point on his annoyance than alleviate it.
Henry's personal story is one you know pretty well: He lives with his mother. His father is given a throwaway line about just what happened to him and never mentioned again. She's dating this hotshot business jerk who, when Henry becomes the new sensation of Chicago, milks Henry's name and image for everything it's worth. (He even tries to trade Henry to New York without his mother's permission.) When Henry is with the Cubs, he finds a mentor in his favorite player, Chet "Rocket" Steadman, who helps show Henry the ways of the big leagues and falls in love with his mother.
The problem with so many family films is that they so rarely bother to take chances. The definition of family has become so narrow that producers out for a quick buck have a grab bag full of go-to jokes they use whenever they're running out of steam - which, given said narrow definition of family, is quite often - and there's so little to use in it. Part of this is because the writers are writing strictly to entertain for the little kids and not necessarily the parents who are actually paying for the tickets. There is also the fear that some of the jokes might fly over the kids' heads or might be a little too off-color or offensive. This doesn't leave even a good screenwriter with a ton of material to work with, and so virtually everything he's able to get away with comes off as trite. Writing something that is completely inoffensive requires that a screenwriter be bland, and taking risks can frequently mean offending any number of people. Baseball is unfortunately one of those subjects which, being a piece of Americana, is tried to make as inoffensive as possible so it will be embraced by everyone, and not leave anyone offended. (Of note, baseball also allows the Cleveland Indians to use a red, smiley Indian as a logo. I'm not a politically correct person, but a Warner Brothers cartoon face is tasteless.) Baseball movies which see baseball itself in this light are prone to blandness.
Baseball movies are at their best when the family image is ditched and the crudeness, lewdness, and offensive locker room bravado is embraced. Bull Durham and Major League both understood this. Rookie of the Year does not. Would a group of jocks really tone it down for one little kid? It's funny how the worlds in movies like this always find ways to adjust to children.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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