Thursday, June 03, 2010

J'accuse!: The Ending of "The Scout"

Purely obligatory (and frankly unnecessary) "spoiler alert": For all those people who have "watch the 1994 Albert Brooks/Brendan Fraser baseball comedy 'The Scout'" on their bucket lists, perhaps you should sit this post out (and seriously question why you have this on your bucket list). For everyone else on the fence, I just want to note that it's a pretty shitty ending anyway (hence the blog post) so you're really not missing out on much by having it "spoiled".

Obviously the biggest story in baseball right now is unfortunate Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga losing his historic perfect game bid yesterday due to an unambiguously blown call by the first base umpire (boy did Griffey really pick the wrong night to retire). This would have been the 21st perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball, the 3rd in the last 25 days, and the 2nd in 4 days. Try as I might at this time I still cannot muster the proper perspective yet to truly appreciate the fantastic odds of having two (almost three) perfect games, a confluence of circumstances so rare that in the hundreds of thousands of games of baseball played in the past 130 plus years it has only happened 20 times, in such a brief span of time.

This ludicrous rash of recent perfect games also reminded reminded me of the above pictured mediocre mid-90s baseball movie: "The Scout". As a kid, I actually liked "The Scout", it didn't reach the upper tier heights of 90's kid baseball fantasies like "Rookie of the Year" or "Angels in the Outfield" but I found it most definitely watchable. Brenden Fraser's usual affable mimbo charm, Albert Brooks playing the same self-obsessed, neurotic, poor-man's Woody Allen character he's played for the last 30 years, the multiple Oscar winning talents of the inexplicably present Diane Wiest, the ass load of baseball player cameos; all these combined to at least create something one wouldn't mind watching for an hour and a half. I'd say it's somewhere below "Mr. Baseball" and above watching 3 half hour episodes of "Arli$$" which sort of follows this formula (replacing Brooks for the even lower quality Robert Wuhl, but upgrading Wiest with the foxy Sandra Oh).

The thing about "The Scout" however is that the more one follows and learns about real-life baseball, the more insultingly ridiculous the movie becomes. Obviously sports movies are given some degree of artistic license and the classic kids baseball movie get a free pass because they're obviously for kids (although "Little Big League" comes off looking like Ken Burns' "Baseball" when compared to "The Scout"), but often a movie like "The Scout" stretches the bounds of plausibly to the point where you wonder why they even went through the trouble of incorporating real sports teams and players and setting it in our universe. I could probably write an even longer, more detailed "J'accuse" about the entire movie but it's really the ending which provides a brilliantly ridiculous climax built upon a mountain of flimsiness.

Unfortunately no clips outside of the trailer exist for the film, a testiment to either it's forgettable mediocrity or Twentieth Century Fox's skills at downplaying their film mistakes. We'll have to rely on my descriptions based on my memories built over many a repeat watchings of it on Comedy Central. To quickly summarize the film, Albert Brooks plays the titular baseball scout for the Yankees who after his latest can't miss prospect spectacularly washes out in his debut, is fired and ends up in some far off amateur baseball league in Mexico. It is there that he find Brendan Fraser, who is essentially an invisible baseball dominating robot who literally strikes everybody out with his consistent 100+ mph pitches and also homers in every at bat (I mean he's obviously supposed to be really good, but he borders on the absurdly superhuman). Of course there's a slight catch, apparently Brendan Fraser's character has some deep mental issues, I think some childhood abuse trauma (they really do a poor job of explaining it) that psychologist Dianne Wiest is hired to help with but really does nothing throughout the film aside from looking concerned.

In the movie's second most ridiculous sequence, Albert Brooks bring Fraser to America where he (as an unemployed, failed scout) manages to set up an individual tryout for Fraser in Yankee Stadium with with every MLB GM showing up to evaluate and eventually bid on this nobody from Mexico with absolutely no known past. In addition, he gets Keith Hernandez and Brett Saberhagen for him to strike out and hit towering homers against respectively. Somehow striking out a 41-year old Keith Hernandez who had been retired for 4 years at the time and hitting dingers off Brett Saberhagen, coming off his infamous "spraying bleach at reporters" season with the 103 loss Mets (in an even year no less!), impresses the GMs so much that they erupt in a huge bidding war. The Yankees end up winning by giving Fraser the biggest contract in baseball history (by far the most accurate part of the film) with the crazy stipulation that he will start the first game of the World Series if the Yankee make it.

Against all odds, the pre-dynasty era Yankees make it to the Fall Classic (mildly unbelievable at the time) against the Cardinals and Fraser is called in to pitch (which I'm sure to the resentment and disdain of no one on the team). Fraser's ambiguous mental demons initially prevent him from starting but eventually after a heart-to-heart with Brooks he makes his debut and pitches THE MOST RIDICULOUS BASEBALL GAME EVER!

Now there have been perfect games (even one in the World Series), there have been 20 strike out games, and pitchers occasionally hit home runs. Given all the scenes of Frasor's dominant baseball skills and the events that transpired in the film already I would not have found it too unbelievable that he does all those things in the game; which he does. What really breaks the camels back, obliterates the camels back, grinds the remains of the camel into a fine mist of bone and tissue, is the manner in which he does it. In addition to providing the only 2 runs of the game on a home run, he throws a perfect game by striking out all 27 batter on 81 consecutive strikes. So he never threw a ball and no one even managed to make contact with a pitch. He essentially obsoletes the game of baseball. In addition why didn't the writers just made him pitch to himself? Or have him strike out three people in succession with one slow pitch as well? Or catch a home run by following it to the top of the Empire State Building and throwing his glove in the air? All these options are just as cartoonish and impossible as this perfect perfect game he just threw.

As if the whole thing wasn't already enough of a farce, the film manages to somehow outdo itself once again by dementedly trying to instill suspense and tension in the last at-bat against the dangerous...Ozzie Smith ("Go crazy, folks!"). The same Ozzie Smith who was elected to the Hall of Fame overwhelmingly on the strength of his defense. The same Ozzie Smith who had 28 career home runs. The same Ozzie Smith with a career .262 batting average. The same Ozzie Smith who was 39 at the time and in the twilight of his career. He was a bigger threat to break up the perfect game with a bunt single than with anything else. I understand that the mid-90s Cardinals weren't exactly stacked with mashers but the producers really couldn't have gotten a slightly more plausible hitting threat ("Hard Hittin'" Mark Whiten? Ray Lankford? Todd Zeile?)?

You would think that director Michael Ritchie who also directed the "The Bad News Bears", a classic baseball movie with a notably unconventional ending, would have objected to such a ridiculously contrived conclusion. Maybe the ending was intentional, like some high-concept, absurdist, take on the typical Hollywood happy endings of sports movies that subversively mocked the concept by taking it to its grotesque extreme. Or maybe Jason Donald really did beat the throw. For a completely implausible sports movie ending that somehow manages to outdo an already implausible sports movie, all I can say is: "J'accuse!"


  1. I can't say I know enough about 1990s baseball to agree with you, only that this film was the one that made me truly despise Albert Brooks. He is everything I fear I will become one day. Middle aged, smarmy but with no reason to be, and desperately clinging to a career that is doomed to failure.

  2. It couldn't have been a very good hitter at the plate because they would have had to be the 9 hitter in the lineup. If it had been someone who generally hits in the middle of the lineup that would have been just another unbelievable thing in this movie.

    1. I stand corrected. I admire the dedication in responding to a random 3 year old blog post. Now that I think about it, the Yankees must have went with the pitcher as their DH. They really had a lot of faith in him.