The book: “From Spring Training to Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors”
The author: Edited by Rob Edelman and Bill Nowlin
How to find it: SABR Digital Library, 410 pages, $19.95, released Feb. 22
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publishers website.
A review in 90-feet or less: A book this coffee-table-sized large lends itself to almost over-promising on what it contains. With further disappointment, this one also under delivers in a promise to shed more light on baseball players who have either dabbled in Hollywood or really gave it their all in a post-playing career.
Almost 60 essays written by some 40 SABR members such, most notably Edleman and Nowlin, give far too much coverage to the player’s onfield performance and very little depth on whatever their acting prowess might be. No where is it more unbalanced as the 12-page chapter on Babe Ruth’s career (already chronicled much more indepth by dozens of other writers) and completely lacking a mention of Ruth’s performances on the silver screen, most notably playing himself in the 1927 silent sports comedy “Babe Comes Home” (as “Babe Duan,” and there is only a photo of the movie poster included) or as himself in the 1942 classic “Pride of the Yankees,” which includes much detail from the 2017 book about it by Richard Sandomir.
Oops. Sorry. On page 233, there is this graph:
“Ruth also starred in a feature film entitled ‘Headin’ Home,’ which was filed in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The plot, such as it was, starred Babe as a country bumpkin who makes good in big league ball – not exactly playing against type. According to Variety, ‘It couldn’t hold the interest of anyone for five seconds if it were not for the presence of Ruth.’”
Later it mentions: “Ruth retired to a life of golf, fishing, bowling and public appearances.”
So there you go. At least another book coming out this spring, “Babe Ruth and the Creation of the Celebrity Athlete,” by Thomas Barthel, might do a deeper dive into this aspect of his life.
Apparently some of these baseball researchers are unaccustomed to using the IMDb.com resources, or they’d see Ruth appeared in 10 movies and shorts, or even doing a Google search for movie titles and Wikipedia entries.
In another short-shifted piece about Don Drysdale, a photo of the Dodgers pitcher in western wear from a scene of him in the “The Lawman” TV series is included, as well as the sentence, “He made cameo appearances on ‘The Brady Bunch,’ ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ and the ‘Donna Reed Show,’ among others.” His IMBd.com bio? It mentions very briefly at the top that he was in The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), The Greatest American Hero (1981) and Gypsy Angels (1980). The 1962 Blake Edwards flick, “The Experiment in Terror,” may be one of the best-kept Drysdale appearance secrets.
And no where in this book does it mention that during his famous 1966 holdout with Sandy Koufax, the two Dodgers stars were at Paramount Studios working with David Janssen on the set of the movie “Warning Shot.”
(They had bit parts, but never finished shooting the movie before ending their holdout).
For crying out loud, SABR.org even has an easily accessible story by Jeff Katz from 2011 about the Dodgers’ access to Hollywood roles in their off season.
There are curiously chapters included here about former Dodgers like Lee Lacy and Steve Garvey, although their TV or movie appearances are barely mentioned. The Angels’ Wally Joyner gets in with, at the very end, a couple of paragraphs about his film roles in Mormon-based productions. Another former Angel, Leon Wagner, glosses over about how he “tried acting” and got into a 1974 John Cassavetes’ film “A Woman Under the Influence” (his character was named Billy Tidrow), as well as Richard Pryor’s “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” (as Fat Sam Popper).
Others with Southern California ties like Bo Belinski, Tony Tarasco, Bret Saberhagen, Don Newcombe and Todd Zeile are also included, but considering their lack of accomplishments (Zeile did produce some of Charlie Sheen’s “Anger Management” sit-coms), we’re not quite sure why so many pages are there for them.
Then there’s Greg Goossen, the one-time Dodgers’ prospect out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, who gets a chapter as well for his stand-in work on movies with Gene Hackman. But the extended playing bio seems almost unimportant in the context of what this book is about, and the bio itself is a bit lacking based on what we learned about Goossen’s brief MLB career and wrote about on several occasions, but are not referenced here.
Only the chapters about one-time Dodger Chuck Connors and L.A. native and USC grad John Berardino are worthy of extended pieces based on their acting success after playing.
Edleman, who seems almost star struck by what he’s done in the past for SABR publications as well as books such as “Great Baseball Films” and teaching film history at the University of Albany, could have used much more help in tightening this project up.
The elongated writeups are unnecessary in most cases. More players who did get into TV and moves in one way or another after their days on the diamond are also passed over. And there’s no mention of Jackie Robinson starring as himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story,” albeit even some reviews?
How it goes down in the scorebook: No one will be trying to buy the rights to this book and turn it into a TV or movie project any time soon.