Mr. 3000
directed by Charles Stone III
(Touchstone, 2004)

Baseball films run the gamut of the good, the bad and the ugh.

On one hand, you have Eight Men Out, John Sayles' sizzling sendup of the Chicago Black Sox scandal. On the other, you have classic Hollywood cliche fests like Pride of the Yankees, which spends so much time detailing Lou Gehrig's courtship of Teresa Wright (Eleanor Twitchell in real life) that nonfans might never realize it was baseball that Gehrig's remembered for.

In between you have everything from The Sandlot to A League of Their Own, not to mention at least two versions of Angels in the Outfield and your pick of Babe Ruth biopics.

And then there's Mr. 3000. For the three people out there who aren't yet familiar with the storyline, this is it in a nutshell: Stan Ross is the baseball player who put both the "i's" in "egotistical." As the film opens, he's on the verge of getting his 3,000th hit, a feat that's guaranteed -- or so he tells us -- to get him into the Hall of Fame.

His fans love him, but the press hates him, and so will you if you accept the premise of this film, which is that Ross is about as arrogant and repulsive as a professional athlete can be: no mean achievement in this day and age. Indeed, on the day he gets his 3000th hit -- and mentions for about the 3,000th time that it will nail down that spot in the Hall -- he goes on a tirade in front of the reporters and announces his retirement, despite the fact that his team, the Milwaukee Brewers, is in a heated pennant race.

The Brewers in the playoffs race? This clearly is a work of fiction.

Ross then retires to a life of entrepreneurship, and there would be no more reason for fans to love him or the press to hate him if a statistician didn't discover on the eve of a Hall of Fame vote that Ross does not have 3,000 hits. Due to a bookkeeper's error, three of his hits were counted twice. He's actually Mr. 2,997, and that's not going to get him into the Hall. So he cuts a deal with his struggling former team to return to baseball, though he's many years -- and pounds -- past his prime: he'll help them pick up their sagging attendance if they'll give him a shot at 3,000 hits and the Hall of yadda-yadda-yadda.

That's not a bad idea for a movie. In fact, it's a darn good idea for a movie.

And to make it work, director Charles Stone III goes to some impressive lengths, surrounding Ross with a kooky cast of characters, like infielders (Amaury Nolasco and Dondre Whitfield) who spend so much time competing with each other in the dugout they often forget there's a game on the other side of the railing, or a Japanese pitcher (Ian Anthony Dale) who never learned how to swear correctly in English, and supplying cameos from everyone who's ever had anything to say about baseball, from Larry King to the king himself: Bugs Bunny.

Meanwhile, cinematographer Shane Hurlbut (Drumline) makes the most of Miller Park, with its twisting maze of steel rafters and classic brickwork. And Paul Sorvino has a field day on and off the field as Gus Panos, Ross's coach of few -- if any -- words.

There also are some very funny setpieces. In one, Ross gets trashed on Stan Ross Day by a no-name middle reliever -- Big Horse Borelli (Rich Komenich), the only former teammate who'd speak on Ross's "behalf." In my personal favorite, Ross shills for the shops in the strip mall surrounding his Mr. 3,000 Sports Bar: 3,000 Beeps, 3,000 Cuts, 3,000 Paws and 3,000 Woks. Never mind the 3,000 theme -- in this gag his suits say it all.

But perhaps Ross's -- and Bernie Mac's -- finest moment comes about halfway through the picture, when Ross, concerned his comeback is flagging, cuts off a promising evening with ESPN reporter Mo Simmons (Angela Bassett) and ends up sitting alone on the very large couch in his very large house, eating Chinese takeout and watching one sports-talk-show analyst after another trash him. Then suddenly, smoothly, the talking heads are no longer on the big screen but on Ross' couch, unbeknownst to them, sitting all around him, still trash talking him as the lights dim and, eventually, the TV goes out.

It's a great moment, one you wish would last. Sadly, however, there are no more like it to come. Mr. 3,000 ends up exactly -- or almost exactly -- where you would expect it to. Good stuff, yes. Hall of Fame, no.

Stone clearly has a hit here. Now he needs just 2,999 more.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 16 April 2005

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