Monday, April 3, 2017

Rick Vaughn was a recovering alcoholic

And another happy baseball opening day to you!

It's just a few games on Sunday, but we'll be at it for real on Monday. And to celebrate the start of another baseball season, not only did I watch The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Wednesday night (enjoyable), but I also quit the belly-aching and did what I should have done a few years ago: buy Major League.

A year ago I wrote a post about how I wanted to start the 2016 baseball season by watching one of my favorite baseball movies, and one of my favorite sports movies period, but that I couldn't get it on Australian Netflix. This year, I just stopped messing around and added it to my collection. The $4.99 purchase price from iTunes was only a dollar more than a rental might have been, and I've recently cleared up about 20 gigs of free space on my hard drive, so I figured, now was the time.

Good decision. I enjoyed it as much as I ever do.

But it's often the case, when rewatching a favorite movie, that you discover something new about it each time. My first Major League viewing in five years was no different.

Namely, I discovered that Charlie Sheen's Rick Vaughn, the visually impaired pitcher with a devastating fastball who gets nicknamed "Wild Thing," is a recovering alcoholic.

There's nothing in the dialogue about it. Nope, it only appear in shots of what he drinks, or does not drink.

Namely, when Vaughn goes out for a fancy dinner with Tom Berenger's Jake Taylor and Wesley Snipes' Willie Hayes, to celebrate the start of the season, he toasts with a glass of Coke, while they each raise a flute of champagne. When he goes to a bar later after setting an American League record by throwing four wild pitches in one inning, he's seen drinking a Coke again while Taylor downs a beer.

It's only when he's at his lowest, after not being selected to start the playoff game intended to settle a tie in the standings with the Yankees, that we see him at a bar actually drinking a beer.

I'd describe it as a bit of a visual shorthand to show his inner emotional state, much as a director will shoot a sad person through a window pane streaked with rain to symbolize his or her tears (to provide a very broad and cliched example). Except that because his alcoholism is never spoken of, it takes a viewer to find it like they would find Easter eggs, something I'm only just now doing on what is probably my sixth or seventh viewing of the movie.

There may have been a scene in which his alcoholism is addressed, and it was just too heavy-handed so they left it on the cutting room floor. That's often the explanation for otherwise extraneous plot details such as this. But I like to think it was just part of the back story of his character, an additional detail of Rick Vaughn that brings him dimension and allows the actor to understand the character more fully. "You're not really going to use this explicitly," the director, in this case David S. Ward, might say. "But just so you know, this guy is a recovering alcoholic."

If you want to get all moralistic about it, you could say the movie is trying to suggest that only when he goes back to booze does he make "mistakes" like the one he makes that night, when he sleeps with the wife of one of his teammates (Corbin Bernsen's self-involved prick, Roger Dorn, who develops a soul as the movie goes on). Then again, Dorn's wife targeted him as a revenge plot against her own philandering husband, so even if he had one beer, he's still more a pawn in her personal marital chess game than a sexual deviant further freed of his inhibitions by the contents of a little brown bottle.

I just love that this low-key sports movie with modest ambitions cared enough to flesh out its world, even in ways we were only seeing tangentially, and only if we were watching closely, perhaps for our sixth or seventh time.

I'm looking forward to my seventh or possible eighth viewing, to see what other little detail the movie is generous to give us that I may have missed.

Which should be all the easier to do, now that I own it.

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