Joel Blumberg
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October 28 - Eight Men Out

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

Late in the evening of October 26th, 2005, in an unlikely place called Minute Maid
Park in Houston, Texas, the home team’s Orlando Palmeiro hit a ground ball to
the Chicago White Sox’ Juan Uribe, whose throw to first resulted in the final out of
the 2005 baseball season and gave the White Sox their first World Championship
since 1917. And amongst the ghosts exorcised by this victory was the ghost of the
Black Sox, the team that threw the 1919 World Series.

While this was a dark part of baseball lore, and who knows just how dark, with
recent revelations of less than honest elements emerging from the game, the
story of the 1919 Series was the subject of a brilliant 1963 book by Elliot Asinof.
The book went into meticulous detail of that Series and the events leading up to
and including the games that were played honestly and dishonestly. But Asinof went beyond the
1919, chronicling in the aftermath, the lives of the players involved as well as the sport itself.

In the sixties, mediocre books were gobbled up by Hollywood virtually as they came off the presses.
Yet it took a quarter of a century for a filmmaker to take on the subject of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

It was John Sayles, who took on the task of filming Asinof’s story. He did it by doing his own
screenplay.

The problem with adapting this story is the detail that Asinof offers in the book and much Asinof’s
theorizing and reasoning of why the Sox went bad was missing. The character development of each
of the participants was weak as well. While the film shows Sox Owner Charles Comiskey as a man
generous to the press, it never delved deep enough into his stinginess as an owner, and worse, it
never painted him as villainous as those eight that duped both him and the fans of the era.

There was much from the gamblers side that was missing too, specifically the roles that Joseph
“Sport” Sullivan and Abe Attell played in the fix.

Still the film is a splendid period piece, with art and sets designed to give the film not only a feel 1919
but a look into the game of baseball as it was in that era. And while much of the story is left out, the
aftermath of the story is beautifully told.

Sayles also assembled a great cast of up and coming stars. Led by John Cusak
as Buck Weaver, D.B. Sweeney as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Don Harvey as
Swede Risberg, Michael Rooker as Chick Gandil, Charlie Sheen as Happy
Felsch, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte, and Sayles himself as Ring Lardner,
these men convince you that they are not only the ballplayers but a diverse group
of men divided in their loyalty by an owner whose greed was far greater than the
players.

In support were some great character actors like Clifton James who played
Comiskey, John Anderson as Kennesaw Mountain Landis, Kevin Tighe as Sport
Sullivan and Christopher Lloyd as “Sleepy” Bill Burns. And as an homage to the
era and book, Studs Terkel has the part of Hugh Fullerton, one of the Chicago sportswriters who
smelled out the fix and Asinof himself has a cameo as John Heydler, the president of the National
League

In my opinion, “Eight Men Out” is one of the great sports books. It’s detail, character development and
factual accuracy (with a caveat written by Asinof as to many of the surviving members of the Black Sox
guilty or not, have been bonded by a wall of silence).

Asinof’s writing style is compelling; it is a book that once started cannot be put down. Any fan of
today's baseball owes it to themselves to read this book. Unfortunately, it has been out of print for
decades. It is very difficult, but not impossible to find.  

While the film suffers in comparison (and most films do compared to the books they were based on),
it is a well made movie in it’s own right. And if you can’t take the time to read the book, this film
represents one of the transitional eras in the history of sports quite well.
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