Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story tells the story of the Pensacola Jaycees All-Stars, the first entirely African-American team of its kind in Florida. As the 1955 little league season is ramping up, the other, completely white teams did not want to play them. These teams attempted to maneuver around the Jaycees by having their own tournament, but the powers that be in charge of little league put the kibosh on that, telling the teams that they must face off against the Jaycees, as they are a part of the little league district.
Every single district team decides to forfeit rather than play the African-American kids. Of course, when there is only one team left standing, that team is declared the victors. So it goes for the Jaycees, much to the others dismay.
Now the Jaycees head towards the state tournament, in Orlando, Florida. But, a snag arises from a rule in little league that allows a team to advance only one round by forfeit. This means that even if every team in the state games forfeit, the Jaycees while being declared the state champs, would not advance any further.
While all of that is going on, a parallel is happening in Charleston, South Carolina. The Cannon Street YMCA All-Stars, comprised entirely of African-American kids, becomes the state champions after 61 teams forfeit. This means they should go on to Rome, Georgia for the regionals. However, the executive director of Little League, Pete McGovern, told them they weren’t advancing. To be fair, this is partially due to his concerns for the boys’ safety, as he was informed of several terrible things that would befall the team if they showed up in Georgia.
Back with the Jaycees, who are set to play the Orlando Kiwanis. Objecting to playing the Jaycees, one of the Kiwanis’s coaches quit, but the other coach, a father to a boy on the team sees no problem here. Thus, the Kiwanis play the Jaycees.
“…history was made by that game being played at all, and…reunites the surviving members of both teams.”
The Jaycees, excited to get out of Pensacola (for a lot of them, this was their first time out of their hometown) but nervous about what will happen to them in the segregated city don’t play their best. The game ends in 5-0, in Kiwanis favor.
But history was made by that game being played in the first place, and Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story reunites the surviving members of both teams. They instantly recognize each other and talk at length about how that game changed their lives. They discuss what they went on to do, with several of them joining the military.
While on the field where the game took place, some children walk up to them, intrigued by the film crew. The story of the game is relayed to the kids, who then ask for autographs and pictures with everyone.
Near the end of the Pixar classic Ratatouille, food critic Anton Ego, the antagonist, has this to say, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”
Reviews, such as the one you are currently reading, are tricky to write. When assessing what does or does not work on a movie, a number of factors must be weighed, including the target audience. If the film is aimed at children, having a basic message about being a decent person is okay. Kids are young and presuming the movie is well made, there is nothing wrong with a theme that has been done before. A horror movie might only scratch the surface when making parallels between its deadly apparition and mental illness, but it did at least try to connect those trains of thought. A documentary could be 90% talking heads, therefore be rather bland from a directing point of view, but if its heart is in the right place and the interviewees are engaging enough, it could still prove to be worth a specific kind of viewer’s time.
“…a story of people who met once and forever changed each other’s lives…”
There is nothing inherently wrong with Long Time Coming, as a movie, but there is nothing that particularly stands out about it either. It mixes modern interviews with the players on both teams, historians, baseball legends like Hank Aaron, news footage and articles from the 1950s about the plight of African-Americans, and gives the foundational rules for the way little league tournaments function.
It is all competent, but it never becomes as engrossing as such a compelling story would suggest. Director, and co-writer, Jon Strong has helmed several short documentaries before this, his first feature-length movie of any kind. In short bursts, sections of the film flow in and out of each other quite nicely. The build-up to the Jaycees winning the district games, then segueing into the stuff about the Charleston YMCA team, and back again is engaging.
But a lot of the modern day interviews, before the reunion of the players happens, repeat themselves, citing what teammates or parents were thinking. It’s all quite dry and dull. Once the meeting happens, and the kids meet the above 70-years old former players, things move smoother than before. The reunion and the players discovering where everyone’s lives went is the heart of the movie, but it does not happen until over an hour in.
Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story highlights a crucial historical event in the annals of little league, one that shows how far the United States has come, and how much further it has to go. As a story of people who met once and forever changed each other’s lives reuniting, it is good. As a movie, it is unremarkable but not awful.
Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story (2018) Directed by Jon Strong. Written by Ted Haddock, Jon Strong, Mike Quinn Jr., John King. Starring Gary Sheffield, Davey Johnson, Will Preyer, Stewart Hall, Hank Aaron, Andrew Young.
5.5 Gummi Bears (out of 10)