Number 1 – 61*
61* is a 2001 American sports drama film written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Billy Crystal. It stars Barry Pepper as Roger Maris and Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle on their quest to break Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season home run record of 60 during the 1961 season of the New York Yankees.
Robert F. Colesberry
April 28, 2001
61* is a 2001 American sports drama film written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Billy Crystal.
It stars Barry Pepper as Roger Maris and Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle on their quest to break Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season home run record of 60 during the 1961 season of the New York Yankees. The film first aired on HBO on April 28, 2001!!
61* Video Playlist
Starring Thomas Jane, Barry Pepper, Bruce McGill, Chris Bauer, Anthony Michael Hall, Richard Masur, and Jennifer Foley Crystal
Featuring bob Gunton, Donald Mofat, Christopher McDonald and Joe Grifasi
Set during the 1961 season, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris defy the odds and set out to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record receiving both positive and negative press coverage.
An HBO film written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Billy Crystal. Crystal definitely leaves his mark on this movie and definitely did his homework on the 1961 Yankees.
A life long and die hard Yankee fan, Crystal successfully takes us back to 1961 to relive this true story.
The cast was phenomenal. Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle and Barry Pepper as Roger Maris were cast based on their resemblences to their real life counterparts. Billy Crystals first hand knowledge was enforced on how the real life Roger maris and Mickey Mantle handled situations, approached the plate, held and swung the bat, etc..
Other fine supporting actors were cast to do similar to their real life counterparts. Bruce McGill as manager Ralph Houk, Joe Grifassi as Yankee legend and broadcaster Phil Rizutto, and Christopher Mcdonald as broadcasting legend Mel Allen are amongst my favorite supporting actors of all time and really played their real life counterparts well and almost to a tee. I really looked forward to seeing McGill in some heated arguments with umpires in his role as manager Ralph Houk, but we only see one in the entire movie. It was when he was defending Roger Maris from an unruly fan in the stands during the game and the umpires wanted to get Roger off the field. Roger said he was staying and McGill as Houk went to work. It was done to a tee with him arguing with his sunglasses on as the real Ralph Houk would often do. Houk was known to argue with umpires and held the record for a while for most ejections before Earl Weaver of the Orioles and Bobby Cox of the Braves came along. McGill was perfect for this role as his fiery on screen temper from his previous films made him the logical choice. Billy Crystal casted his daughter Jennifer Crystal Foley as Roger Maris’ wife Pat in the 1961 setting. She handles her part very well for a small time actress forced to step up to the big time. This is the pressure the real life Pat Maris probably had to stand up to so casting an unknown in this role was probably for the best. Foley probably carried her scenes the way her real life counterpart would have in 1961, so she gets an A for her performance. A small town middle American wife forced to face up to the fact that her husband is playing in the biggest city in the world about to break the biggest record in all of sports at the time, Foley’s role and acting was very believable for the situation and the setting of the movie. Her main scenes were with Barry Pepper. She came off as a little bit flirty with Thomas Jane in their one scene in Kansas. She comes off as a bit timid in her other scene with Claire Ruth played by Renee Taylor in another scene, But she more than makes up for it in her dialogue and scenes with her on screen husband. A lot of the 1961 Yankees are featured prominently at the start of the movie when Mickey Mantle was the focus. Anthony Michael Hall as Yankee pitching legend Whitey Ford stands out. He is one of Mantle’s long time teammates and friends when the movie starts. After Mantle becomes closer with Maris, Hall’s scenes taper off towards the end of the movie along with the rest of the Yankee actors playing their real life counterparts.
Although the movie was released in 2001, the present day setting is taking place during the 1998 season when St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa were competing for the single season home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Mantle and particularly Maris received somewhat mixed to negative media coverage for their chase of Babe Ruths home run record. Most of the general public (especially Yankee fans) wanted both players to fail and have Babe’s record stand. Attendance was poor during the closing weeks of the 1961 season even though the Yankees were on the verge of winning the American League pennant. Maris and Mantle were middle American boys now playing in the big city and were perceived as “Hicks” chasing one of the city’s greatest legends record. Mantle had been a Yankee for 8 seasons before Maris’ arrival in 1960. By the time Maris had arrived in New York, fans had begun to warm up to Mantle as his hard partying ways and smoozing with the press began to become accepted by the fans. When both are on the verge of threatening Babe’s record, most of the press and fans decide if Babe’s beloved record is going to fall to one of the two guys, most would prefer Mantle to break it because of his longer tenure with the Yankees instead of the new comer Maris who did not smooze with the press very well at all and left a more negative effect on the fans as a person. The press even went as far as to create a feud between the 2 yankee stars, but no such feud ever existed. Mantle and Maris were very good friends and even roomed together during the 1961 season. Most of this would not get revealed until years later so most of the public believed the press about the feud. Fast forward to 1998 now where McGwire is on the verge of breaking Maris’ record along with Sammy Sosa. They receive positive media coverage as the general public seems ready and eager to see a long time seemingly unbreakable record fall. Busch stadium is sold out even though the Cardinals were well out of the pennant race in 1998. As it is customary in baseball, the Maris family accompany Mark McGwire to all his games ready to congratulate him when the record falls. Roger Maris passed away in 1985 so he was unable to accompany McGwire. His Kids Roger Jr. Randy, Kevin and Susan attend his games with mixed emotions. Susan hopes McGwire won’t break it. The others assure her that there are plenty of games left in the season for him to do it and that they hope he does it soon because they don’t want to keep following him around. When Randy retrieves his dads bat from the hall of fame at McGwires request, Rogers wife Pat breaks down crying and is taken back by the appreciation that McGwire will show the Maris family when he breaks the record. Pat is soon hospitalized with complications from arrhythmia and is forced to watch McGwires record setting performance from her hospital bed. Just as McGwire hits what is about to be his 62nd home run of the season, Pat flashes back to opening day of 1961 in what would be the start of her husbands historic season. The season begins where Maris is presented the MVP award for the 1960 season and it is presented to him by the 2 future antagonists of the film baseball commissioner Ford Frick and the Late Babe Ruth’s widow Claire Ruth, who did not want to see her husbands record threatened. A lot of members of the team are established and they seem to be led by Mickey Mantle. Mickey starts the season on a hot streak while Maris and the rest of the Yankees struggle. Mickey enjoys the New York nightlife after games and is often the life of the party with his fellow teammates. He lives in a hotel and often shows up to the park hungover. Maris on the other hand is on the verge of being traded after his slow start, but manager Ralp Houk switches spots in the batting order with Mantle and Maris to help Maris see better pitches hitting ahead of Mantle. It works as Roger and Mickey begin to hit home runs at a record pace. A major turning point in the movie comes when the team is out celebrating after a game and it is mentioned that Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio will be on hand at the next game to throw out the first pitch. This is not received well by Mickey as he leaves his teammates and goes on a drinking binge. Maris is unclear why a feud exists between DiMaggio and Mantle because he is the newest member of the Yankees so the rest of the team fills him in on real life stories on how Mickey became permanently injured playing along side DiMaggio in the 1951 World Series. Mickey’s dad died of cancer in the hospital bed next to him after his injury. They also share stories on how great of a teammate was compared to DiMaggio and how cold DiMaggio was to Mickey when he first came up with the Yankees. Whitey Ford enlists the help of Roger Maris and his teammate/roomate Bob Cerv played by Chris Bauer to bail Mickey out of trouble after a car accident with a girl to get him back to his hotel room and keep things quiet from the press. Mickey strikes out 4 times the next day hungover and Roger calls a players meeting after the game to address his concerns about Mickey. The players’ responses are mixed as some see it a problem, but others (especially Whitey) see it as a positive way for Mickey to blow off steam due to his previous injuries and still being one of the games best players. Roger assures the rest of the guys that even though he is the newest member of the Yankees, he does not believe that Mickey will be able to keep up his hard partying ways and playing throughout the season. Rogers main goal is not to break the home run record, but to get back to the World Series and he doesn’t see the team doing that without a healthier and sober Mickey. When Roger approaches Mickey about his late night antics from the night before, Mickey breaks down and says his celebrity status makes it a hard city not to have fun in when people are constantly offering him drinks. Roger suggests that he moves in with him and Bob to keep a lower profile and cut down a bit on his hard partying ways in the city under the condition of no women. Mickey hesitates, but eventually agrees. The three get along funny at the apartment as they amicably bicker about watching Andy Griffith, Rogers special green eggs which help him hit home runs, cutting toe nails, and watching the news. The move for Mickey seems to work as he and Roger hit home runs at a record pace and have the fans and press talking about one or both of them breaking Babe Ruth’s record. the press nickname the duo the M & M boys (No relation to the chocolate candies) Commissioner Ford Frick played by Donald Mofat is not so excited to see Ruth’s home run record threatened. He was Babe Ruth’s personal sportswriter and friend when the Babe played. He also maintained a close friendship with Babe’s widow Claire who was also opposed to the record being broken. He calls a meeting with the many members of the New York press addressing his concerns about the record being broken. His main concern is that the season is now 8 games longer in 1961 (162 games) as opposed to 1927 when Babe set the record when the season was only 154 games long. He thinks there should be seperate records if the 61st home run is hit after the 154th game of the season. Most of the press agree except for reporter Milt Kahn played by Richard Masur who openly admires Roger Maris and represents the one press member who roots for Roger to break the record. Milt thinks a season is a season and records are made to be broken. The rest of the press mock him and say Mantle has the best shot at breaking the record if he stays healthy. They make fun of Rogers surly and aloof ways if he does break the record and think he will eventually cave in due to the pressure and not break the record. Frick and the rest of the press (Except Milt) decide to put an asterick next to the record if it is broken after the 154th game of the season. When the announcement is presented to Mickey and Roger, they dismiss it and agree it is an attempt to keep Babes record alive because Fick was Babes ghostwriter. Of the two though it is Roger who turns out to be a little more outspoken about the ruling than Mickey. Mickey just playfully says that he wouldn’t want the record “If it had one of those thingamajiggers next to it”. Roger wonders what the press would say if Mickey broke it in the 154th game and he passed him before the end of the season (This would happen temporarily in 1998 when Sosa passed McGwire for a bit after McGwires 62nd home run). Maris also says that the players have it a little tougher in todays game (1961) as opposed to the Babe’s day where Babe never had to travel to the west coast or play in any night games. The press turns on Roger and say he took a shot at the Babe prompting fans to root against him. This is the point in the movie where Roger begins to feel the pressure of playing in New York and have the press and fans openly root for Mantle or nobody to break the record. The story turns the focus from mantle and the 1961 Yankees to Roger Maris alone. His wife delivers a newborn son without him by her side because he is on a road trip with the team. When Roger finally returns to his home in Kansas on his road trip, he is only visited by Mickey. Roger’s family is threatened but it is eventually ruled a hoax. Mickey witnesses it and leaves at Rogers request. This is the point in the movie where we start to see the Mantle and Maris characters change dramatically due to the pressure of the home run race, the media, and injuries that would plague Mickey and eventually force him to drop out of the home run race and miss the rest of the season. Roger spends the night awake holding his newborn son and family in the bedroom. Mickey is now alone in his hotel room drunk calling his wife at 2am as opposed to partying with his teammates and ensemble cast. Roger becomes the medias main focus for challenging the home run record as Mickey tries to play hurt through pulled forearm muscle that affects his swing. Mickey continues to party after games which finally leads to a confrontation between him and Roger at the apartment. Roger begins a period of isolation as he nears the home run record. He refuses further interviews. Most of the press have written Mickey off due to an ill advised shot for a hip infection that would eventually sideline him for the season. The press blast away at Roger as he begins to get heckled by fans (home and away), his hair begins to fall out in clumps due to the stress. He receives death threats from fans which frighten him. The media makes up a feud between Roger and Mickey and say that Yankee teammates are pulling for Mickey, not Roger, to break the home run record due to his longer tenure. The only person Roger opens up to for a while is his wife Pat through a series of phone calls. In one of these calls he delivers one of the eras most defining lines in “Why does New York have room in it’s heart for only one hero?” or something along those lines. Eventually Mickey consoles Roger and they begin speaking again. Mickey gives Roger his blessing for chasing the home run record without him and frrom there the two begin exchanging personal stories from their childhoods and growing up in small towns. My favorite is when Mickey tells the story of first being called up to the Yankees and being issued the number 6 to line up with the previous Yankee greats (Ruth #3, Gehrig #4, DiMaggio #5). Mickey tells the story on how hard it was to compete with that pressure and how he was not able to hit due to the media pressure and high expectations. He was sent back down to the minors and considered quitting baseball. His father talked him out of it and after he started hitting again in the minors he was called back up to the Yankees and issued #7 which he liked better and would go on to prosper for the rest of his career with that number despite playing hurt most of the time. Roger tells the story of how he was able to leave his small town in Fargo, North Dakota because he could play ball even though his brother Rudy was considered a better ball player. He explains that Rudy lost his life due to an illness and it was now up to Roger to make it to the big leagues. This story somewhat serves as a metaphor for Rogers 1961 season when Mickey had to drop out of the home run race for the season due to injury. The 154th game is played in Baltimore where Roger needs 2 home runs to tie Ruth’s record and 3 to beat it. The Yankees could win the pennant if they win the game which is Manager Houks main concern. But only 21,000 fans (about 1/3 capacity) show up to the game mainly to see Roger Maris. Most are rooting for him to fail as Baltimore was the birthplace of Babe Ruth and still had a huge Ruth fan base. Yankee owner Dan Topping played by the wonderful Bob Gunton is furious at the fan turnouts for the Yankee games home and away. Earlier in the season he tried to get Houk to re switch Mantle and Maris in the Batting order due to the majority of the fans and press going for Mickey. But Houk refused and responded by saying “The right guy will break that stupid record!” Topping was out to please the fans, Houk was a players manager out to please his boys by trying to win a pennant plain and simple. Commissioner Frick and Claire Ruth refuse to attend the game as they do not think Roger will break the record, but they do watch the game on their private televisions rooting against Maris. Prior to the game Roger had promised an exclusive interview with Milt (The one member of the press who openly supported Roger throughout the season), but Roger stands him up to be alone in his hotel room and contemplate not playing due to the pressure. Milt bashes Roger in the papers and now it sets the stage where it seems to be Roger against the world. His only supporters would be his teammates led by a benched Mickey Mantle, his coaches, his wife Pat who was able to watch the game at a local tv station in Kansas via satellite hook up, and the Yankee broadcasters Mel Allen and Phil Rizutto. Roger asks Houk if he could get the day off, but Houk tells Roger that he is needed because Mickey is out and he owes it to the fans, good and bad, to give the record a try because he is bigger than the game at the moment. Roger agrees to play and Houk gives him a chance to exit after the first inning if he wants, but Roger eventually decides to play the game out to fufill his commitment to the team and try and win the pennant. On the windiest night of the season Roger does hit a home run, but also flies out twice due to the wind. Had the wind not had been a factor, the fly outs would have been home runs. Many believed it was the ghost of Ruth pushing the home runs back. In Rogers last at bat, he faces the games best knuckleball pitcher in Hoyt Wilhelm played by real life knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti. He gets Roger to ground out much to the delight of the fans, Frick, Claire Ruth and many members of the press except for Milt who continued to root for Roger despite his bad review for being stood up. Roger doesn’t break the record in the 154th game, but the Yankees do win the pennant and Roger is now the star in the clubhouse during the celebration. He is the focus of the press as Mickey is off to the side watching just as Roger would often do earlier in the season when Mickey was occupying the spotlight. With 8 games remaining Roger does hit his 60th and 61st home runs. Pat accompanies him in New York as she is able to see the pressure first handed that her husband has faced on a daily basis. She meets Claire Ruth at one of the games and Claire compliments Roger but adds that the Babe loved his home run record and would not have been happy to see it fall. The last game of the season is when Roger hits his 61st home run at Yankee Stadium. Only 23,000 were on hand to see. Most were in the right field stands hoping to catch the home run ball which was worth $5000. Despite the negativity of the fans, they all give Roger a standing ovation after he hits the home run. Roger salutes them with a curtain call. Claire Ruth and Ford Frick refused to attend the game and were not even shown watching the game on tv this time. The post game interview with Roger is eventful with Roger smiling in relief most of the time and seemigly having earned the respect of the press and fans for holding up under all the pressure. Roger is asked if hde could do it again next season and he walks away laughing with most of the press laughing along with him showing a sign of no hard feelings. He visits Mickey, who is now in the hospital because of his infection, and the two finally shake hands (something that they did not do at all off the field in the movie). Roger tells Mickey that he would have done it too, but Mickey tells Roger that the record is truly his no matter what anyone says. Mickey had watched the game with Bob in his hospital room cheering for Roger so he was well aware of the events. Rogers final words in the movie was “Best season of my life, wouldn’t ever want to do it again!” From there the movie fast forwards to the game in 1998 where Pat was watching from her hospital bed as she watches Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run breaking Rogers record. Mark circles the bases and gets congratulated by virtually everyone on the field. Even his home run rival Sosa marches in from right field to personally give him a hug. The stadium is packed and he is overwhelmed with cheers. Then he goes to the first row in the stands to give each of the Maris’ kids a personal hug. During the post game press conference, he says how he was able to touch Rogers bat prior to the game with his heart and how he is “damn proud” that his bat will lie next to Rogers in the hall of fame. Pat is crying tears of joy in her hospital bed as she seems finally relieved that Marks record finally showed her late husbands achievements in the 1961 season in a positive light. The movie ends with Yankee legendary broadcaster Bob Sheppard dubbing that the separate single season home run records would remain until 1991 when then commissioner Fay Vincent ordered that there would only be one record. Roger Maris died 6 years earlier (1985) never knowing that the record truly belonged to him.
Although I am not a true or die hard Yankee fan, one does not have to be to truly appreciate this movie. Yankee legends are featured throughout the movie and New York is the setting for most of it, but it is a movie about how the game and fan perception has changed from 1961 to 1998. Maris’ record has been broken 6 times since the 1991 season. All of which occurred during the 1998-2001 period. Mark McGwire would end up hitting 70 during the 1998 season and he followed with 65 in 1999. Sammy Sosa would hit 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001. He never led the league in any of those seasons. Barry Bonds remains the all tim single season home run record leader hitting 73 in 2001, 6 months after the movie was released. Many fans, members of the press, and the federal government led by then president George W. Bush have called for an investigation on these 3 players along with several others implicating steroids and performance enhancing drug use during these record setting seasons. These records have been labeled “tainted” by many people, so most still refer to Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 as the unofficial record. Barry Bonds would go on to break Hank Aaron’s all time home run record of 755 in 2007. Many fans hung signs in protest saying something along the lines of “Aaron and Maris did it with class, the Babe did it with beer and hot dogs!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This issue was not brought up at all in the movie or during its commentary, but it was investigated shortly afterward and I like to think that this movie might have played a part in calling for it. It may be wishful thinking on my part though. Since then, only McGwire has admitted to steroid use of the 3 home run record breakers. Neither McGwire, Sosa and Bonds have been elected to the baseball hall of fame despite having 500+, 600+, and 700+ career home runs respectively to their totals and will probably be dropped from future considerations not too long from now. As each and every day passes, Rogers 1961 season keeps getting displayed more and more in a positive light despite the constant media and fan pressure back then. Also, many of the players were considered blue collared working men back in 1961 as they played for near rock bottomed salaries. Mickey Mantle was probably considered the exception to this group as he seemed to have plenty of money due to his star status prior to the 1961 season. Despite winning the MVP in 1960, Roger still couldn’t afford to move his family from Kansas to New York during the 1961 season and MLB would not accomodate his family on road trips during his record setting performance. Only Pat was able to attend the games during the end of the 2001 season. By 1998 it had become a common practice to have all family members in attendance during record setting performances by MLB. Bob Cerv said it best when he told his roomates that the record doesn’t matter to him. Only the $8000 bonus money for making to the 1961 world series mattered to him because he needed that money to get his knees operated on. In 1998 and beyond, players are set financially and medically in the event of these circumstances. Some of the richest players today have been know to tip that amount of money to hotels and so on. One of the other major differences has been the cooperation of the press with the players and organizations. Back in 1961 the press ripped Roger Maris because of his quietness which came accross as surly and moody to the press so they in turn bashed him and turned the fans on him. Roger in turn refused to give interviews. In todays game players are required to talk with the press no matter what as it is stated in most contracts. The press in turn seems to give all of the newcomers the benefit of the doubt starting out. A player really has to lash out or do something dumb to have the press and fans turn on you. Even in 1998, fans were flooding the ballparks to see McGwire and Sosa because of the positive coverage by the press. Many credit this home run chase in 1998 for saving the game of baseball which had had a damaged reputation previously due to the players’ strike in 1994. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when the press picked up on the information and painted a negative image on the alleged steroid users because of their denials despite having overwhelming evidence against them. Finally the little things like beer allowed in the clubhouse in 1961 where in todays game it is off limits. Players able to party up and socialize in public after games. The press seemed to be more understanding in 1961 as they seemed to keep a somewhat respectful distance from star players like Mantle. His antics would not be documented until after his retirement. In todays game it seems like the only public appearances that players make are for charities and goodwill organizations. They are often dressed up in suits and many old school fans label them as boring contract guys. This gets acknowledged in the commentary by Billy Crystal. Also player switches in the lineup were not very common in the 1960s as they are today. When Houk switches Mantle and Maris in the order to help Roger hit, Mantle sarcastically says “Whatever’s best for the team!” In todays game with all the different pitchers and situational players on the roster, it is very common for a manager to change up the batting order. Despite Roger winning the MVP the season before, he is treated as a newcomer to the Yankees throughout most of the movie because he is playing with guys who have been on the team for years. Very common in 1961 standards as there were few trades and free agency was non existent. In todays game it is almost very rare to see a player with the same team for more than 10 seasons and a cohesive group like the 1961 Yankees to be teammates for that same time period. This is all pointed out in the commentary.
Finally lets get to some of the inaccuracies of the film. Billy Crystal almost makes a documantary about the 1961 season but he does admit some inaccuracies mainly to portray Roger Maris against the world and show the viewer that Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth were in the hearts of Yankee fans. The reporter Milt Kahn played by Richard Masur was a composite of a few reporters that supported Roger Maris during the 1961 season. His charater was stood up by Roger prior to the 154th game of the season so Roger could be alone in his hotel room. In real life, Roger stood up the reporter to visit a sick kid in the hospital. Billy Crystal says in his commentary that he felt sick kids in the hospital was used too much in baseball movies and that he wanted to portray Roger Maris against the world as much as possible. Also the x on the fans ball incident took place during the spring of 1962, not the 1961 season. Crystal acknowledges this for the same reason. Billy Crystal grew up a diehard Yankee fan and remembered the 1961 season with fondness and to a tee. A lot of the stuff in the movie setting of 1961 was researched, but also done by memory from Crystal. The crew nicknamed him “Rainman” for his detailed knowledge. If you listen to his commentary, he gives a reason for almost all of his inaccuracies. Some involve his childhood hero Mickey Mantle who he finally got to meet on the Dinah Shore show in the 1970s when Crystal was being interviewed for his popularity on the tv show soap. He was like a kid again during the interview and struck up an immediate friendship with Mantle and his family. The interview can be seen on the special features of the 61* dvd. Crystal went out of his way to portray his friend and childhood hero in the most positive way he could during the 1961 season. He was able to receive Mantle’s family permission and blessing to film a couple of scenes where Mickey goes on drinking binges and pays the ultimate price for it the next day. For most of the movie Mickey is seen drinking very moderately and coming off as a dreamboat to the press and a lovable teammate and friend. We really see his sweet side that did exist and the stories of him bonding with his teammates were true, but in real life his hard drinking after games was a concern. In the movie he only resorts to heavy drinking 3 times out of necessity as a last resort to erase troubled memories. The first is the night before he meets with Dimaggio who he does not have fond memories of as a teammate. The 2nd being after he leaves Rogers house and his family setting in Kansas which he seemed to enjoy being a part of, the 3rd being when he hit a home run with the use of one good arm and celebrating afterwards. he gets caught by Roger trying to bring a girl back to the apartment and the 2 lash out at each other. Mickeys ways were a lot more damaging in real life and was a concern for the manager and teammates although most accepted due to his previous injuries. Overall he was a loved teammate and many of Mantle’s family and the 1961 surviving Yankees have praised Crystal’s portrayal of Mantle as a loving teammate before being a hard partying alcoholic. Ford Frick was portrayed a little more negatively than he should have been in the film, but was probably the most misunderstood character in the movie besides Maris. Frick originally ordered seperate records for the home runs because he felt baseball would revert back to a 154 game season in a few years. He never ordered an asterick in the record books. The American League expanded from 8 to 10 teams in 1961 so they played a 162 game season. The National League still only had 8 teams, so they continued to play a 154 game season until 1962 when they expanded. The other antagonist Claire Ruth was a little more supportive and understanding in real life. She did visit Roger after his 60th and 61st home runs and Roger did assure her that “No one would ever replace the Babe”. In the movie she said Babe loved his home run record the most but in real life The Babe loved his 29 and 2/3 scoreless innings streak in World Series games the most. That record would ironically be broken by Whitey Ford in the 1961 World Series not shown in the film. Again, it is all in the commentary and made inaccurate to show the pressure of the world that Roger Maris was up against. Other inaccuracies are too minor to list here. The overall tone of the movie was phenomenal. I loved both change of settings from watching the tv in the hospital in 1998 to the live action opening day of 1961. Then from the hospital bed of Mantle in 1961 back to the hospital bed of Pat Maris in 1998 at the end of the movie. He really came full circle with this movie and rounded it out beautifully. Sadly he could not show what happened after the final game of the regular season in 1961, but the Yankees did win the World Series and Roger Maris won the American League MVP for the 2nd year in a row. Mickey Mantle would return to the lineup for the World Series and Whitey Ford was the 1961 Cy Young award winner.
Last but not least lets not forget the unsung hero of the movie which was the old Tiger Stadium that played the Old Yankee Stadium. Filmed in 2000, Tiger Stadium was still up but jettisoned by the Detroit Tigers after the 1999 season as they began playing in their Current home Comerica Park in 2000. The ballpark was picked mainly because of its old time look and resemblance to old Yankee Stadium. Without any major tenants, the production crew had seemingly unlimited use of the stadium. They painted the seats the same exact color green that 1961 Yankee stadium had. The old Yankee Stadium had a 3rd deck as opposed to Tiger Stadium which only had 2, so a 3rd deck was digitally added in post prodiction along with the New York City skyline. It looked very real to old Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium gets properly credited as playing Yankee stadium in the credits. If you look real closely during the opening day batting practice scene in 1961, Mickey and Roger hit balls that clearly go through the digitally added 3rd deck and land in the 2nd tier. I thought that was a funny error.
Overall this movie gets a 6th or 7th star if it were possible. A movie that I could watch over and over again no matter what. Sadly it will probably be a while before we see another great baseball movie of this caliber, but I have no problem watching this and living back in 1961 when it was still a game.
Derek Candela, 2017