61* (2001)

There are a few years that mean only one thing to baseball fans; ask a true aficionado what historic event happened in 1941, and instead of talking about Pearl Harbor, he or she will tell you that that’s the year DiMaggio hit in fifty-six consecutive games, a feat that’s never been surpassed or even matched. Likewise, 1961 conjures immediately the home-run race between Yankees legends Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, both chasing Babe Ruth’s record of sixty home runs in a single season. Still, 61*, an HBO movie, directed by Billy Crystal, is no idealized view—Mantle (Thomas Jane) is a tremendous talent, but also a womanizing drunk; the animosity toward Maris (Barry Pepper) is laid bare for us as well. It’s not a great movie, but c’mon, baseball movies aren’t about great cinema, they’re about baseball. Pepper and Jane are both fine in two pairs of big shoes, but who would have thought we’d ever see Anthony Michael Hall, the skinny nerd from Sixteen Candles, as Yankees pitching great Whitey Ford? Baseball fans will love the movie’s real footage of a time when athletes didn’t rely on artificial means to gain glory—just talent, dignity, hard work, and luck.

 

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