The Sandlot (1993)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in All Play and No Work | 1 comment

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Disclaimer: There’s several foul-mouthed, sexist pre-teens (who dabble in chewing tobacco), one of whom is a sexual deviant.

Though you may think otherwise, The Sandlot is not really about baseball. It uses the nostalgia of one summer in the 1960s to draw the Baby Boomer crowd, while exploring various triumphs of personal maturity for a group of nine pre-teens, who just so happen to play baseball.

The movie spends most of its time with Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry), the friendless new kid in a small town who spends his days constructing elaborate schemes on his Erector Set. His mother (Karen Allen) is so insistent that he gets outside and makes new friends that she gives him permission to cause some trouble. All he knows of the local crowd is their love of baseball – a foreign concept as he needs his stepfather (Denis Leary) to teach him how to play catch (and he literally keeps his eye on the ball). Clad in a plaid button-up shirt and khaki pants with a plastic glove in hand and super-billed fishing cap atop his head, he treks to the local sandlot and makes a fool of himself. Only the group’s leader, Benny (Mike Vitar), has faith in Smalls and teaches him the basics. S’Mores or chewing tobacco (which lead to the oft-repeated line, “You’re killing me Smalls”) or “The Great Bambino” (which leads to “the biggest pickle they’ve ever been in”).

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Outside the sandlot’s fence resides The Beast, a local legend that has stolen 150 baseballs over several summers. As told by Squints (Chauncey Leopardi), legend has it The Beast was once an infamous junkyard dog that ate 173 thieves until the police chief demanded it stay restrained to the backyard “For…ev…er.” When yet another ball is hit over the fence, which would otherwise mean the end of playing ball for the day, Smalls heads home and takes his stepfather’s baseball. Shortly thereafter, he knocks it over the fence only to realize it was signed “by some lady, I think her name was Baby Ruth.” Now they must retrieve the ball by every means necessary.

The movie is far more about friendship and growing up than baseball. What it does say about baseball is more an exercise in nostalgia as the writers portray the sport in its final golden age when no one cared about the score and merely wanted to play the game. For a sports movie, you’ll be surprised to find the absence of The Big Game. Though they never keep score, there’s plenty of competitive edge, especially from Ham (Patrick Renna), who incessantly talks smack (often comparing players to the opposite sex). “You call that pitching? This is baseball, not tennis,” or “Is that your sister out in left field naked?” and the disturbing kicker (after “butt sniffer” and “crap face”) in a ping-pong match of insults involving the snobby private school players: “You play ball like a girl.” Later on, the narrator disturbingly mutters the line, “Even a grown-up girl knew who Babe Ruth was.”

On those days when it’s 150 degrees, they head to the pool to stare at lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton). In the film’s most memorable scene, Squints puts into motion a plan he’s been devising for years. “I’ve swam here every summer of my adult life,” the 11 year-old begins, “and every summer there she is lotioning and oiling. … I can’t take this no more.” What ensues is sure to create more than a chuckle and Squints’ priceless expression afterwards says it all.

With notable homages to Cool  Hand Luke and The Natural, as well as an excellent cameo by James Earl Jones, this film directed and co-written by David M. Evans is like Babe Ruth’s memorable called shot – a smash hit worth revisiting time and again (unlike its awful sequels).

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