Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review of "A Player to Be Named Later"

I guess I miss the locker room a little bit. Perhaps that's the reason I recently decided to view "A Player to Be Named Later." It's a documentary which profiles four minor league players over the 2001 season of the Indianapolis Indians, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Honestly, I found it only mildly entertaining.

Some might think I dislike the very genre of documentaries. In this world of 10 second soundbites, video games, and attention spans shorter than a subway stop, a lot of people have dismissed documentaries as dead as the AM radio.

Others might simply think that since I've seen the sausage being made, I don't find the making of it interesting.

But this is not the case. I tend to like documentaries--usually the rougher the better. If I'm watching a documentary on open heart surgery, for instance, I want to see some blood flying around. I don't want to just see someone talking about severing and sewing an aorta, I want to see it. I want the rawness that documentaries sometimes provide, and which Hollywood never provides.

So despite its tendency to lead to open heart surgery, the making of sausage is usually interesting.

"A Player to Be Named Later" does show some of baseball's inner workings (sausage making), but in focusing on Triple-A, the viewer finds mostly older guys whose careers are nearing an end. The youthful optimism--not to mention youthful energy--is gone for them. The result is a film starved action. It also has less drama than it should.

The movie does have its moments. My favorite character is Brad Tyler. He's an aging veteran of 32 years who has spent 11 seasons in the minors. He knows his career is nearing an end. Yet he still wishes to play. He's no longer a starry-eyed 22 year old bouncing around in the Midwest League, but in his mind and heart he believes he can still play, despite hitting only .248 the previous season. Baseball has been all he has known for his adult life. How can he turn his back on it now?

Tyler has a family though. They follow him around wherever he goes. He's quickly released by Indianapolis early in the season. He goes to Mexico for a couple of months. The family follows and together they live in a little shack. He is picked up by Cincinnati and is sent to Louisville. His family follows. At the end of the season he's even shipped to Double-A Chattanooga. This time it seems his family stays behind in Louisville.

It sounds like all this moving around and familial stress would make for a great story, and I believe it could've been. It's just that once Tyler is released by Indianapolis he's almost treated as a supporting character. We don't see enough of him. We're instead given snapshots of his year, such as when he misses his daughter's birthday because he was sent to Louisville. The storyline is never completely developed.

This is one of the weaknesses of the film as a whole. It focuses on four players, but I'm rarely drawn to any of them. Marco Scutaro makes for an interesting story, but I don't see enough of him either. We're just given bits and pieces of each player, and the result is a fractious picture.

The chosen men are well-spoken, but they aren't talkative enough. Many ballplayers are somewhat guarded when it comes to the media, and this proves true in this documentary. In order to make these things work, you need some people with personality. From the very beginning, all four of these men seem a little too tame.

As usual, the wives are slightly better. They're more open to discussing their feelings and the inner-working of the family. They even talk of allowing their husbands to "chase a dream," as if its a requirement in their life. Everything else should be put on hold.

The film does give the viewer inside access, which is no doubt a joy to many. Discussions with Brewers' personnel are given, providing the viewer a look at how ballplayers are seen and evaluated by clubs.

Since it has this inside access though, a tremendous amount of editing has no doubt been done. As part of the agreement to provide access, I would assume the Brewers reserved the right to edit (I know I would if I were the GM). The result is that yes, inside access is offered, but there's no conflict. Somehow we only hear one or two F-bombs in the entire movie. And we never see a disagreement between players or the coaching staff.

We're watching men with testosterone for Zeus' sake. Even in Triple-A there should be some conflict.

I've been saying for years that the real drama and action happens in A ball. Here the guys are younger. Far fewer have families, and so they carouse at the bars much more often. They pick up girls and get hammered. They bring girls back to their hotels. They have poker tournaments all night. They yell at each other more often. They have pre-game antics in the clubhouse. They do crazy stuff in the showers. They erupt after bad games. They interact with host families.

They're still growing up.

If someone could somehow capture that, then they would have something.

But that type of access would be hard to get. That's most likely the stuff for a work of fiction (see my review of "Sugar".

"A Player to Be Named Later" is a film to be seen by hardcore baseball fans. These fans will most likely find it somewhat satisfying, but in the end it will simply leave them yearning for more.


Anonymous said...

another great review

players wives are a special breed

you guys are really lucky

Anonymous said...

Glad to read your review of this film. I really enjoyed it when I saw it. What I came away with was realy how hard it is. Like most things in our culture, we glorify the so-called ease with which people attain their goals, especially in sports. That some how it's easy to get to the pinnacle of professional sports. The film, although not perfect, does a fairly good job of illustrating how hard it really is and the sacrifices people have to make to get there. Most of us smart people know this already, but it's nice to graphically see it every now and then to remind people of the truth of the situation.

Jeff Perro said...

Holy Crap!! I thought I was the only person in the world that owned this flick!! I stumbled across it about 4 years ago when the Virgin Record store in Nashville went out of business, got it for $3. Sorry for the uber late comment.

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