Full-count Film Countdown

1992/Universal Pictures/Rated PG

John Goodman makes a quick return on the Full-Count Film Countdown, playing baseball icon George Herman Ruth Jr. — known to most people as The Babe.

He stars as the diamond legend in the 1992 movie “The Babe,” No. 19 on the list. The film has a lineup of historical inaccuracies but cracked the top 20 due to its high entertainment value.

Sometimes a movie doesn’t have to be Oscar-worthy and have a scintillating screenplay in order to allow viewers to sit back and enjoy for a couple of hours. A movie can be fun and still hit it out of the park. “The Babe” does just that.

Most pictures prefer fervor and fiction over fact. A great sports movie can be appreciated for all its merits, even if it only has to be “inspired” by true events.

Goodman is an experienced actor and plays Ruth with vigor and successfully displays all the mannerisms of the slugger. Many have said that his Ruth character comes off as crass, but the film also depicted his love of children, his friendly demeanor and the affection his teammates had for him. Ruth was not subtle in the way he expressed himself, but neither were most players back then.

Ruth was never the size that Goodman portrayed in the film. It wasn’t until the end of his career that his body started to give up on him. Don’t we all know that feeling.

Ruth was born in Baltimore and grew up at St. Mary’s, a Catholic school, until age 19, when the Orioles’ owner/manager became his legal guardian. Ruth was too young to sign a contract back then and his teammates would refer to him as “Dunn’s new babe.” The moniker stuck and became a household name.

Ruth was known for his pitching prowess in his early big-league days. The Bambino hit just 20 dingers in his first four years with the Boston Red Sox, but he was a 20-game winner twice and recorded 78 victories on the mound during the same time. He had a career 2.28 ERA. The film didn’t pay enough attention to that aspect of his game.

The screenwriter takes as many creative licenses as Ruth had nicknames. The Sultan of Swat did not hit an inside-the-park home run on an infield fly, as the movie depicts. He didn’t promise an ill child in the hospital that he would hit him two homers in a game. He actually sent a note saying he would hit him one. He hit three blasts that day.

You can never find evidence that he showed up to the opening day of spring training in 1922 drunk from a night of partying in New Orleans, only to take batting practice in his suit.

“You can put her right back where you found her. No, you don’t touch the Babe’s hickory, son,” said Ruth to then rookie Lou Gehrig, one of the best lines in the movie.

It all sets up the final and delightful 30 minutes. Gehrig and Ruth started a home-run battle in 1927, 34 years before Mickey Mantle and Roger Mantle converged on their dazzling duel to break Ruth’s record of 60 set that season. The movie gives a scene to the infamous 1932 World Series, in which Ruth supposedly called his shot before a homer in Game 3. It’s one of the most debated moments in sports history. Goodman points to the fence. Of course, you do that in a movie.

It would be quite a riveting moment on screen if he points the two fingers to the dugout like some have claimed over the years.  Fans make that same gesture to the hot dog vendors at the ballpark when he asks how many. It would help with your taste for drama.

Goodman effectively shows Ruth’s desire to be a major-league manager. He played his final season for the Boston Braves. Ruth is now 40 years old, bone-weary and unable to run the bases anymore. In a very dramatic final scene after he finds out the organization had no intention of promoting him to the top spot, Ruth hits three homers in his last game at famed Forbes Field in Pittsburgh before ending his career. Nos. 712, 713 and 714. He throws his hat down in front of the owner and walks off the field to thunderous applause.

It makes for a great ending, but unfortunately, Ruth actually retired five games later without a hit in his final 13 plate appearances.

If you want an amazing factual story, read the great biography on the Babe by Robert Creamer. If you want entertainment, grab your popcorn and a Baby Ruth and watch “The Babe.”

It’s a home run.

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msparks@dailyindependent.com

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