Sunday, September 13, 2009

A controversial viewing

I'm a Red Sox fan. And so it was with great difficulty that I finally watched The Pride of the Yankees yesterday afternoon.

It had been on our DVR since July 5th. That's when MLB Network played the film in order to honor the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech, which he gave upon his retirement from baseball. He was forced to retire in order to fight -- well, to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease, which killed him only two years later. I don't believe they called it that at the time.

Sam Wood's 1942 feature is not really about the Yankees, per se. It's about this man in particular (played by Gary Cooper), and it's an interesting snapshot of baseball in the 1930s, not that they concentrated very seriously on this aspect of the film. One thing I didn't know before watching was that Babe Ruth appears as himself in the film.

But there was something peculiar about watching it, and not just because my eyes were continually drawn to the scrolling baseball scores along the bottom of the screen. I have such a habit of looking for updates in this fashion, my mind didn't grasp the fact that the statistics were two months old. It's kind of like when you have a light bulb out, yet you still keep flipping the switch out of instinct the next 20 times you enter the room.

No, it was peculiar just to be watching a movie called The Pride of the Yankees. It took some amount of physical effort for me to finally do it. It's that same peculiarity a North Carolina fan would feel watching a movie called Duke! Duke! Go Duke! You just can't get behind the idea of having "pride" in your sports world enemy, even though, according to the grammar of the title, it's actually their own pride in their own guy, not our pride in them.

My Red Sox have actually had a leg up on the Yankees the last couple years. The rivalry that burns so intensely has favored the guys from Boston ever since 2004, when the Red Sox turned the tables on the Yankees in the playoffs, stormed to an unprecedented comeback, and won the franchise's first World Series since 1918. The Red Sox won again in 2007, while the Yankees haven't made it out of the first round of the playoffs in their last three appearances, and didn't make the playoffs at all last year.

But this year, things are coming up Yankee again. The team currently holds an 8 1/2 game lead in the standings over the Red Sox, looking to win its first division title since 2006. And while the Red Sox are still positioned to make the playoffs as things stand now, they're being hotly pursued by the Texas Rangers for the wild card spot. It's certainly conceivable that the Yankees could win their first World Series since 2000, and the Red Sox could watch the entire playoffs from home.

So I figured, I better watch The Pride of the Yankees now, before the decision to do so becomes that much more burdensome.

So what did I think? Well, it was made in 1942, which makes it a bit hokey. See some of my previous discussions about adjusting your expectations for films made in such a different era from the one we live in. You kind of have to give it a thumbs up, even if you weren't technically enthralled by it, and gave in to the powerful impulse to nap somewhere in the middle.

And even though I thought Gary Cooper's performance was a bit broad at times, he did make it clear that Lou Gehrig was indeed an incredible athlete, gentleman, and ambassador for his sport. More than being the pride of the Yankees, he was really the pride of baseball. I'd even say the pride of America, if it didn't sound goofy and jingoistic.

And heck, he was the pride of the Yankees too. As it so happens, on the very day I watched the movie, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter eclipsed Gehrig's record for most hits as a Yankee. A record that had stood, as mentioned above, for 70 years. Seventy years of talented baseball players who wore the Yankee uniform.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the movie never ripped on the Red Sox, or their fans.

Thank heavens for small favors.

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