There’s a 1949 movie starring Ray Milland called “It Happens Every Spring”. Milland plays a college professor who invents a concoction of some sort that, when applied to a substance, causes that object to be repelled by wood. I’m not exactly sure what Jonas Salk would have done with that discovery, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have used it to cheat at baseball. Hey, it was my dream to be a baseball star too, and I can’t say I would be above taking any route to the big leagues I could find, but when exactly was it that Hollywood decided that it was alright for role models to cheat at sports? Milland, who has no athletic talent whatsoever, soon realizes that if he can get the ball over the plate he will become the most unhittable pitcher of all time. Sure, watching the ball feint and duck to avoid slugger’s bats is amusing in an ancient special effect sort of way, but shouldn’t we expect more from a college professor?
The “Flubber” movies, both of them, have their collegiate inventor cheat at basketball. I suppose it’s a little more noble because he helps the college team instead of pursuing individual fame and fortune, but it still makes me wonder why people are so afraid of gangster rap movies when Disney films are pushing their own form of graft and dishonesty.
Along the same lines was the James Thurber short story “You Could Look It Up”. Thurber was the guy who correctly posited that a midget would be an impossible batter to pitch to in a Major League game. After that, it was only a matter of time before the wonderfully insane Bill Veeck signed Eddie Gædel put the number 1/8th on his back and sent him up to the plate with a toy bat and instructions not to swing. Maybe you’ve seen the famous picture of Gædel at bat, where the catcher’s mitt looks twice as large as the midget’s strike zone. Baseball soon banned midgets from appearing in Major League games, a ruling that I have to believe with some certainty would probably be overturned by the Supreme Court if Verne Troyer wanted to make a big stink out of it.
If only professional sports would ban animals from big league competition, we wouldn’t have to put up with movies like “Ed”. Admittedly I enjoyed “Gus,” the movie about the incredible field goal-kicking mule as much as the next guy, and it was pretty amusing that time when Mr. Ed played for Leo Durocher and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this is one genre I think could easily be put to rest and eliminated without anyone losing a lot of sleep. That means no more horses with bats in their mouths, no more boxing kangaroos, and no more talking mules taking hand offs from Sid Luckman.
“Ed” is about a baseball playing chimpanzee, and should not be confused with the movie “Eddie,” which stars Whoopi Goldberg as the coach of The New York Knicks and came out the same year. Feel free to make your own comparisons and connections about the plausibility of either situation. “Ed” stars Matt LeBlanc, the “Friend” least likely to succeed as a big time movie star, as farm boy pitcher Jack “Deuce” Cooper, who has a great arm and no self confidence. If you’re the star of a hip young hit television series, what exactly makes you think starring with a midget in a chimp outfit is a good initial step into the world of motion pictures? “Pallbearer” was pretty bad, but it at least had Gwyneth Paltrow in it.
The movie falters early when a teammate of Jack’s tells him that although Carleton Fisk was a flop in Boston, he eventually went to Chicago and became a big star. What? Carleton Fisk waving his World Series home run fair as a member of the Boston Red Sox is perhaps the most famous film clip in sports history. Carleton Fisk was a God in Boston. This is almost the equivalent of making a movie about the Revolutionary War and focusing on brave and selfless General Benedict Arnold.
“Ed” has lots of great jokes about toupees being ripped off of big shots, monkeys using human toilets, and even lets the simian do some Jim Carrey impressions. It is very likely that it would take a million scientists a million years to figure out who was the dumbest member of LeBlanc’s Santa Rosa Rockets, and shouldn’t it be illegal to make a monkey wear pants? Some would say that kids may like it, but kids enjoy eating packets of sugar — that’s no reason to encourage it. As for LeBlanc, Tom Hanks was in “Turner and Hootch” and still managed to win a couple Oscars, but he would have been better off inventing a solution that repelled wood.