Considering the fact that there are so few good baseball movies, it's inexcusable that Long Gone, a made-for-HBO baseball movie from the mid eighties (1987 to be exact, the year before Bull Durham was released) is not available on DVD. It isn't a great movie, but it is a very good one, one that offers numerous satisfactions, particularly the performances by William Peterson (Stud Cantrell), Virginia Madsen (Dixie Lee Boxx) and Durmot Mulroney (Jamie Donn Weeks), who have rarely, if ever, been as good. In a wonderful bit of casting, William Gibson and Teller play the father and son ownership team of a low-minor league team in the 1950s (these two alone make the movie worth watching.)
The script is based on the short, but lively baseball novel by the veteran journalist and Hank Williams biographer, Paul Hemphill. The screenplay isn't as sharp as the book. Subplots involving a black player posing as a Latino, and a young player knocking up a local girl, as well as the standard big-game finish, are weak points, but the movie retains the inherent charms of the book all the same. The locker-room scenes here are looser and more vulgar than the ones in Bull Durham (though they aren't as lewd as the ones in Slap Shot).
Jack Nicholson was reportedly interested in playing Stud Cantrell for years. It's too bad he didn't make the movie because it would have been great to see Nicholson play a ballplayer when he could still get away with it. (Something tells me he'd be far more belevable than DeNiro was in Bang the Drum Slowly.) That said, Peterson is more than credible, and he's got that same, over-the-hill spark that made Paul Newman so winning in Slap Shot. Moreover, the role of Cantrell was a welcome departure from the heavy roles Peterson played in To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter.
Unfortunately, HBO has not aired the movie in years and, again, it is not available on DVD. The only way to see it is on an old VHS tape. Perhaps one day, HBO will decide to re-run it. I don't know why they wouldn't. It's a little gem. Not the great baseball movie that we know can (and will) be made one day, but still, a very appealing one.
Anyhow, here's an excerpt from Hemphill's book, where Cantrell dispenses wisdom to Jamie Weeks, his rookie second baseman:
"Me," Stud told him. "That's what's wrong. Me."
"I don't understand."
Stud rolled his eyes. He leaned back and lit a cigar and looked at Jamie. "Fuckin' thirty-nine years old, sitting in a goddamn diner ins some piss-ant town like this, reading about myself in the Birmingham News on a Sunday morning before going out to play the fuckin' Fort Walton Beach Jets. Class-D. Goddamn bottom of the line."
"Well, hell, Stud, we got a chance at the pennant."
"And a goddamn kid who in two months' time has learned to say 'goddamn' and "Jesus' and 'hell' and 'by God' sitting in front of me."
"What's that mean?" Jamie said.
"It means everything, kid." Stud was in a melancholy mood, which Jamie and the others had noticed more and more in recent days. "You know why me and you get along so good?" He didn't wait for a response. "It's because you've got what I want and I've got what you want. I got experience and you got innocence. Boy, I tell you." Stud swept a kerchief over his face. "All those years. Jeseus. When I'm eighteen, living on a farm in North Carolina, the Yankee scouts come up there and promise me the world. I go off to spring training and I damned near make it before the war starts. Then I get this bad leg wehn I get shot up in the Pacific. Then my old lady leaves me for some goddamn four-F. Then I can't run no more. And so I start doing the only thing I can do, which is to play baseball, all over the fuckin' world. You name a town, I been there. You name a broad, I fucked her." Somebody played a Rosemary Clooney song on the jukebox. "I've picked grapes, sold used cars, coached basketball, been a father, and screwed a sheep. I've lived in Ardmore, Eastman, Hopkinsville, Amarillo, Pocatello, Hazard, and Thibodaux. I've hit an umpire at Big Stone Gap, caught the clap in Galveston, and been run out of Waterloo for knocking up the club owner's daughter. I got a great future behind me."
"But goddamn, Stud."
"Kid. You got a lot of time to get 'experience.' Take your time."