THE UNDERRATED – THE SPORTS EDITION: THE SANDLOT

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A few weeks back I asked our friend Jarv if I could glom onto his excellent Underrated idea and being the gracious gentlemen that he is, Jarv allowed me to use the title “The Underrated”. Thank you, sir, for your generosity. I will try to not besmirch the fine name of The Underrated too much.

I am taking a different tact than Jarv with the movies I am choosing to review and focusing exclusively on sports themed movies which are, frankly, a genre that is wildly uneven. For every Rocky, original Bad News Bears (one of my top 3 favorite movies ever), Raging Bull and The Damned United we get like two Juwanna Mann, Angels in the Outfield, The Bad News Bears remake and The Babe. It’s damn frustrating if you ask me because sports movies have universal themes that should be easily translated to the screen yet on many occasions writers and directors fail miserably at doing so. Good “sports” movies should be about sacrifice, a second chance, being an underdog and the desire to be the best. Somehow the bad movies of this genre miss those basic concepts entirely. So with that in mind let’s take a look at the first movie in the series and a personal favorite of mine, the underrated 1993 classic The Sandlot.

The Sandlot, set in the summer of 1962, is about Scotty Smalls, an undersized, uncoordinated and lonely kid that moves into a Las Angeles neighborhood where all the kids know each other and play baseball everyday in an empty lot next to a creepy house with a big scary dog. Smalls follows the other kids around and spies on them and finally asks if he can play and then promptly fails. In normal kid fashion, Smalls is made the butt of jokes except by one kid, Benny Rodriquez, the uncontested leader of the group by virtue of being the best athlete by far and for being a very decent kid. Benny takes Scotty under his wing, helps him learn how to play and after many adventures and hijinks, Smalls is accepted by the the rest of the kids who remain life long friends. It turns out to be an amazing life for Benny and Scotty, they end up working at the same place and what a place it is. The evil Las Angeles Dodgers where Scotty is a broadcaster and Benny “The Jet” is a star player.

The story is pretty standard stuff except for the ending, which is fantastic in my opinion, and while the story is well executed, it’s not really what I want to talk about. Instead I am going to talk about the ideas behind the story and why, excuse the pun, the movie is a home run in my opinion.

First, the story is pure nostalgia but not in that schmaltzy, diabetic sugar coma, teeth pain inducing manner. It is a vision of a time gone by but still has elements of things we all can recognize and remember from our own adolescences. We have a diverse group of people that hang around WOTM. We have male and female readers. We have Americans, Australians, English, Australians living in England and perhaps the most elusive group of all, and seldom seen outside their snow encrusted lands where the flannel and back bacon roam free and where the maple syrup flows unchecked over the land, the Canadians. Even though we all come from a common heritage we all could not be more different yet we all share one universal trait in common, we played some sort of sport as kids with our friends.

Again, it is a disparate group here but I don’t care if you played cricket or curled or played hockey, baseball, footie, rugby, American/Australian rules football or basketball, we all played something. Some of the best times I had as a kid were hanging out with my buddies playing a game and talking trash. I would wager everybody here, at least on the male side, has some great memories of that time. I am specifically targeting that “tweener’ age of being like 10-13 years old when hanging out was magical and having some sort of sport to play was the doorway to the magic.

The Sandlot perfectly captured these memories for me because after the age of 10, I was always the new guy and playing some sort of game was always my “in” at the new places I lived.

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The next idea the movie got right were the kids. Hollywood movies tend to have a vastly unrealistic vision of children. The Sandlot on the other hand got the kids right. They aren’t small adults or some sort of unnaturally aware child. No, instead the movie’s kids are recognizable as kids with both the good and the bad that comes with being a pre-teen. The boasting, the talking about things you don’t know anything about (usually girls which for most men is a life long failure) and the pummeling the weaker kids sometimes take, both mentally and physically, are all present in The Sandlot. I salute the writers and directors for showing the good along with the bad.

I have spent a majority of my adult life (speaking chronologically – I know I am immature) in some god awful places like the slums of Rio and Columbia, both Congos, Iraq, Afghanistan (which I actually like), Pakistan (which should be flushed from the earth) and the two worst most evil disgusting pig sty slums in the world, Las Angeles and Washington DC. All those places have one thing in common, they have kids.

If you take out a ball in those places, solemn faced children will break out in beautiful smiles and just become kids at play even though you know some of those alleged children are stone cold life takers. Somehow while playing footie or basketball they can be kids again for a little bit. The Sandlot shows this idea in spades, the love kids have for playing a game just to be playing. It doesn’t matter much if you are good, bad or average at it, playing and your buddies are what matter.

Lastly, there is the character of Benny “The Jet” Rodriquez, the leader of the group. Among any group of children there is always that one kid that is better than all the others at sports no matter the game. He’s a step or two faster than everybody, he has the best hand eye coordination, throws the ball farther and on target, he’s stronger. This is another universal concept that spans the globe. I have seen this kid everywhere around the world and I was usually that kid growing up. I was NOT blessed with an overabundance of ANY artistic talent, musical talent, brains, looks, personality or much of anything except good hand eye coordination, a bit of strength and good wind. Because of that my place in the hierarchy of “kid world” was never in doubt and due to my job choice, my “adult” life also.

Benny is the most accessible character, at least for me, because not only is he a good athlete but also a very decent and caring person and looks out for his friends. The baseball retrieval episode and the aftermath are a perfect example of this. In modern times most athletes get slandered by the actions of a few bad operators but it is important to realize most athletes, like most other people, are usually decent types. Benny “The Jet” epitomizes this concept all the way from the sandlot to the evil LA Dodgers. For the record I am excluding politicians and lawyers from the human gene pool as they are all evil honor-less motherfuckers and quite inhuman. Further, I will stipulate that there are exactly four lawyers that are human beings and one of them reads this site occasionally.

So to sum this thing up, I really like The Sandlot which is a joyous paean to childhood and playing baseball. I wholeheartedly and unabashedly recommend The Sandlot, that is if you can take off the cynicism glasses that come with adulthood. If you can, you might just have a good time with the movie.

Mahalo,

Xiphos

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33 responses to “THE UNDERRATED – THE SPORTS EDITION: THE SANDLOT”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Good choice Xi. What I liked about this film is what you said about Benny “the Jet”. He is the most decent character of the kids. The stereotype of the asshole sports star is such a bad film cliche. The kid who is the best athlete is usually the one who is the one who is most accepting of others (just like John Stockwell in Christine) and is far from the date-rapist jock of the movies (well Kobe & Roethlisberger maybe).

    • xiphos0311 says :

      What I really like about his movie is that no matter how angry or pissed off I am if I watch Sandlot I will be be a mellow cat by the end of the movie. The heart strings get tugged in a good way that doesn’t involved too much blatant manipulation and the story is just good.

      The Jet is a great character and I really like that bit at the end of the movie when he looks up at the broadcast booth and signals Smalls. It worked perfectly and was a great capstone to the movie.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Roethlisberger is demonstrating, at the very least, a serious lack of judgment.

  2. Continentalop says :

    BTW – suggestion for overlooked sports movie – Fat City.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      I had not heard of Fat City before but after looking it up sounds good. If i find it I will give it a go. Thanks for the heads up.

      I think when I do these posts in the future I might do theme posts. underrated boxing movie, do three, the next football and so on. There will be some stand alones, like this review, for the movies I really like.

      At least that is what I’m thinking right now. I’ll probably change my mind though.

    • Jarv says :

      That’s a stomping film.

      Very nice review Xi. Although, I would say that nowadays the asshole sports celebrity is on the rise. Like musicians or actors or whatever, they probably start out as decent people but then become some colossal nobhead like Ashley Cole.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        are they asshole seeking celebrity? or are the assholes because celebrity media makes them out to be? That’s the question. I tend to swerve towards the latter propostion.

        Actually the real question is how did a backer for friggin Chelsea of all teams land that piece of ass?

      • Jarv says :

        They become assholes. When nobody ever says no to you you develop some kind of belief that you’ve got royal prerogative and are somehow above the law.

        As for Abramovich- that’s easy: 7 billion pounds buys a lot of quality tail.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Sorry Jarv I think we have that English language problem between us.

        When I said Chelsea defender I meant Ashley Cole and not the Mob guy that owns the club.

        I still can’t get my head around the fact that Ashly Cole was able to land a piece of ass like his Cheryl Tweedy He’s is a Left-back defender for god’s sake. Not exactly a glamor postion.

        Now true he is well paid and a good looking kid so that probably helped a lot. playing for Arsenal and on the world cup team couldn’t hurt either.

  3. Tom_Bando says :

    Good one I have yet to see it(!), which will be remedied when possible.

    Xiphos was in Both Congos??? They made a sequel-?!

  4. M. Blitz says :

    Aww, I remember this movie. Liked it. Very sweet.

    Great review, Xi.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Sweet is a good way to describe the Sandlot but not overpoweringly sweet and cloying. I would also use the word gentle and loving or to quote Jarv….delightful.

  5. lordbronco says :

    “Further, I will stipulate that there are exactly four lawyers that are human beings and one of them reads this site occasionally. ”

    Hee Hee-Abom.

  6. koutchboom says :

    Isn’t their a Sandlot sequel? I’ve always liked this film. Mainly because of mine and the main characters love for long billed baseball caps.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      There is a sequel but it sucks. They took everything that was good in the first movie and threw it out the window.

  7. koutchboom says :

    I didn’t mind Angels in the outfield. It stars the next Batman villian and Sir Danny Glover? Whats not to like?

    Also what happened to these sort of films? Like I know these all sort of steam off of Stand By Me, but kids stories? There were tons of them back in the early 90s. Now we sort of only get fantasy ones, and outside of Harry’s Potter only Bridge To Terabithia has been worth a damn. Its all cartoons and gadgets now.

    Also Little Giants was a decent kid sports movie. I guess we can blame William Ferreal for that Soccer Nonsense movie he made.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Little giants is on the list of movies I am going to review for this series. It’s a very good movie.

      That’s a good point about these types of movies, what did happen to them? Overall most of them fell in the good to pretty good range in terms of quality and most of them had to made some money they couldn’t have been all that expensive to produce.

      Angels in the Outfield was cynical overtly manipulative junk that stank of focus group suggestions.

      • Continentalop says :

        Best moment of Little Giants is when Ed O’Neil calmly tells the crewcut asshole dad that if his son does another cheap shot he is off the team.

        Second best part is when he mentions (with pride) that the girl on the other team is his niece.

      • koutchboom says :

        Best part of Little Giants?

        Your inablity to watch it after seeing this:

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1131749/

  8. koutchboom says :

    FUCK YES!!!

    Speaking of awesome sports movies, I give you the next great Basketball joint.

    http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Danny-Trejo-Will-Make-Inspirational-Basketball-Movie-17922.html

  9. koutchboom says :

    I guess Whimpy Kid sort of fits in this category.

  10. Tom_Bando says :

    Nope Xiphos just haven’t seen it, but saw it in the 4 buck dvd bin locally so will be changing that soonish am sure.

    Big Ben is a dipshit. He’s just being the overgrown lunkhead fratboy we all know him to be. Ditto Santonio Holmes there. Nice pair of bookends in the Steeler locker-room eh?

    • xiphos0311 says :

      I believe that you will enjoy The Sandlot Tom even with the regrettable lack of giant robot lions or lions or robots of any kind.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Robot lions will be sitting in the stands.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        So I did break down and pick this up today in the 5 buck bin at the Wallyworld. Hey-know what? it’s really good. I was surprised James Earl Jones didn’t have a bigger role-but that’s not a biggie.

        It had something of a Stand by Me air to it-and I mean that in a good way. You were 100% right about the kids-they acted, were scripted and directed-like, well–KIDS. That’s hard to find in Hollywood it seems-it shouldn’t be, but for whatever reason, it is.

        Odd how small Denis Leary and Karen Allen’s roles are in this too-but again, its like watching Peanuts-it’s Linus and Snoopy playing 2b and SS all summer long, no one really needs to see the folks.

        Oh and how did you like their little spin on the Tiltawhirl or whatever? That was funny–

      • xiphos0311 says :

        I am glad you liked it Tom I thought you might.

        Adults really didn’t serve much of a purpose in The Sandlot good point about comparing them to Peanuts. Mostly the adults were there to provide an obstacle to the kids in some form.

    • Continentalop says :

      Maybe you’ll have to pull out Robo Jox?

      • herr milflover says :

        Robo Jox is awesome!
        or at least I enjoyed its goofiness when I saw it years so many ago.

        Never seen The Sandlot in full, just bits of it on tv once, didnt grab my interest.

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