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April 21 - It Happens Every Spring

Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.

Cheating in baseball has been a serious thing recently.   And it has taken much of the fun away from the
game.  But cheating is nothing new.  The Black Sox of 1919 (for more on that, watch the fine film “Eight
Men Out”). Spit balls. Corked bats. Pete Rose. It is all part of the game’s ignominious past.

In 1949, 20th Century Fox made a sports movie about cheating.  And it became one of the funniest films
about the sport.

“It Happens Every Spring” is about a Science Professor at a Midwestern University named Vernon
Simpson.  Although he appears as the typical egghead, he is a closet fan of the St Louis Cardinals. His
dream is to marry the president’s daughter, but in order to earn enough money to live on, he tries to
develop a scientific formula that will revolutionize the world.  Unfortunately just as he is about to
complete the job, an errant baseball crashes through his laboratory window and ruins the whole project.
But in cleaning up the remaining liquid, the professor finds that he has discovered a formula that repels
wood.  Unfortunately he does not and will never know what makes up this formula. After placing this
liquid on a baseball, he asks the two stars of the school’s team to try and hit the doctored horsehide,
and of course they do not.  And thus begins Simpson’s realization of the American dream as he leads
his beloved Cardinals to glory.

Yes, this film is about cheating - a kind of cheating more associated with the likes of Gaylord Perry and
Joe Niekro. But it is presented in the form of a fantasy, which was common for baseball films in those
days, such as “Rhubarb”, the story of a baseball team inherited by a cat, and the original “Angels in the
Outfield”, about a band of angels who come down from heaven to help the downtrodden Pittsburgh
Pirates.)

The story is so bombastic, you have take with a grain of salt.  But the fantasy and humor of the situations
make you forget that this is not real and in fact you cheer for the cheater.

Ray Milland, the antithesis of a baseball player, is great as the professor turned pitcher (Milland also
starred in the aforementioned “Rhubarb”) and Paul Douglas, a former sportscaster and a much
underappreciated actor, plays Milland’s roommate.  Douglas surpassed this performance with his
starring role in “Angels”.

The story by Valentine Davies, who wrote “Miracle on 34th Street”, is right on as well, striding the line
between fantasy and credibility.

While the powers that be of baseball debate about steroid related accomplishments, and asterisks on
home run records, it is too bad that this whole episode can’t be as much a fantasy as the one depicted
in “It Happens Every Spring”.

The rites of Spring 2005 would make the game of baseball enjoyable for what it is.