The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Eight Men Out’

All right, it is “Sports Month” here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review sports movies. Why? Because it is summer, and I associate summertime with sports. And for the final installment of this theme for the month, I picked “Eight Men Out.”

The info:

The Movie: “Eight Men Out”

Starring: John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner

Director: John Sayles

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A dramatization of the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85 percent

Our take:

Froemming: Originally, we were going to be reviewing “The Bad News Bears” to end Sports Month here at the JOE-DOWN. But, much like the 1919 Chicago White Sox, Hulu decided to play by its own rules and pulled the film from its streaming service and causing quite the dust up in search of a replacement.

So, because I still wanted to review a baseball film, I decided to switch this pick to “Eight Men Out,” a film that truly shook my faith in the honesty and integrity of the players, management and the gamblers of Major League Baseball. But before we get into the dramatization of perhaps one of MLB’s darkest hours, Brown what are your first thoughts on this film?

Brown: Ahh, Sports Month on the JOE-DOWN. Somehow, someway, it finds a way to make us look bad by having movies just disappear from our viewing experience. It happened last year with “Youngblood,” which we rectified this year. So tune in next July, folks, when we review “The Bad News Bears.”

When you said we were switching to “Eight Men Out,” I was intrigued because I didn’t know how it would go reviewing a movie that is biographical in nature. Sure, we’ve done movies that are based on a true story, like “Cool Runnings,” but this one played it a lot more straight than most do.

Froemming, what is your fascination with pre-1920s America? Between this and “Newsies,” I’m curious. Do you yearn for the day when knickerbockers were acceptable for men to wear?

Froemming: I don’t tell people this, but I love reading and watching things about history. Especially when said events revolve around baseball teams sporting baggier clothes than Korn did in the late 1990s.

Now, let’s start this off. It is 1919, and John Cusack was only years away from opening that record store in “High Fidelity”…. Wait, no, that’s not right.

It is 1919, and the Chicago White Sox are having a hell of a year. They are heading into the World Series, and are on top of their game. Their only problem, it seems, is that the team’s owner, Charles Comiskey, is kind of a tight ass when it comes to paying his players. We see this when we find, after the team has made the series, that their bonus is flat sparkling white wine. Way to go, team!

Brown: Yeah, this is the day and age where athletes were not paid the exorbitant amount of money they get nowadays. Case in point, later in the movie, we see that Comiskey allegedly cheats star pitcher Eddie Cicotte out of $10,000. Cicotte’s contract says he’ll earn a $10,000 bonus if he wins 30 games. However, he won 29 and Comiskey had the manager keep Cicotte out five weeks under the guise of helping the aging star stay fresh down the stretch.

And it’s not Cicotte who feels the sting thanks to Comiskey’s tight purse strings. When the team takes a photo prior to the World Series, Buck Weaver (Cusack), in an attempt to get the team to smile, says to imagine they’re at Comiskey’s wake.

So you have a group of disgruntled people begging for what’s theirs. So, enter the criminal element.

Froemming: Enter Bill Burns (Lloyd, not playing Doc Brown for some reason) and Billy Maharg, catching wind of the team being sick and tired of not being paid. Well, if 30-plus years of watching movies has taught me anything, once you see Michael Rooker on screen, you know things are going to get shady. And it does. Rooker plays Chick Gandil, a man who gleefully tells people in bars of the times he has taken dives in fights. Well, there is a no-brainer target for our two seedy gambler types. Chick, based off what I saw here, must be destined to be a big player in modern-day MLB. Probably during the steroid days of the 1990s.

All Chick has to do is convince a few other players to throw the series, and they will get a windfall of cash from the fixed games. Seeing as they are not being paid what they think they are worth, this takes very little effort to pull off.

Brown: It weirded me out through the first half of this movie how much Christopher Lloyd looked like Michael Shannon. At one point, I wanted to hear Lloyd scream about Krypton.

The players are agreeing to take the dive, but only if they get paid $10,000 each. Enter Arnold Rothstein, who eventually becomes the man that bankrolls the scheme. A noted gambler, he eventually puts money on the series since the White Sox are big favorites to win the whole thing over the Cincinnati Reds

Froemming: Speaking of Michael Shannon, because of “Boardwalk Empire,” I was weirded out when Rothstein wasn’t played by Michael Stuhlbarg. It….just didn’t work for me.

Brown: Every time I heard Arnold Rothstein, I immediately thought of Ace Rothstein from “Casino” and was brought out of this movie.

And like Ace Rothstein, Arnold has so much sway in the gambling world that if people caught wind that he bet on the Reds, people would know either a fix was in or it would even the odds because he knows how to pick a winner.

One by one, players are joining the tank bandwagon, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who seems to be an early descendant of Forrest Gump in this movie. I don’t know if Joe Jackson was legit illiterate and this much of an awe-shucks dullard, but it was kind of interesting to see how athletes could be scooped up from off the farm in the 1910s compared to today where people know these star players across the country from the time they enter high school.

Before the series, the manager, Kid Gleason, tells the team that they can’t be beaten. They can only beat themselves. FORESHADOWING!

Froemming: Things are in motion on the gambling front, but we quickly see that Rothstein’s subordinate from Boston decides to pull an old Charlie Kelly “Wild Card” and place bets in Beantown on the Reds with the money that is supposed to go to the White Sox players, creating the illusion that Rothstein is betting on that team. Honestly, the only player we see get his $10 grand is Cicotte. But he is the pitcher, and is the one who can throw the game easier than the rest of the guys. Also, he did say he would refuse to partake if he didn’t get his money up front. So Cicotte is not the dumbest player on the team, as you mentioned, that goes to Joe Jackson.

We soon learn that our corrupt gang of Illinois scumbags are not going to be getting the money they were promised.

Speaking of Illinois scumbags, this movie made me smile knowing our friend, and Forum sports reporter, Chris Murphy’s favorite team is the White Sox — one of the most disgraced teams in MLB history. Suck on that, Murphy.

Brown: Oddly enough, this probably isn’t the darkest days in White Sox history. That was probably in the 1970s when they had shorts with their uniforms.

A couple observations as we watch the White Sox bungle the first two games of the World Series:

  • So, I’m a sweaty guy. Having a heavy basket in my hands in Target will cause me to perspire. With that said, the fans for these games are showing up in wool suits. I mean, my God, how terrible a viewing experience must that have been?
  • I wish I was around as a sports reporter then, just for the open cigar smoking and drinking that was going on in the press box.
  • The White Sox, they make cheating look pretty convincing. The noodle-armed Cicotte can’t find his spots. Players are bobbling balls. The ball just isn’t coming off the bats strong. It was like watching the episode of “South Park” where the kids want to stop playing for the summer but can’t embarrass their parents, so they practice how to play lousy. The art of failure is fascinating. Unless you’re White Sox fan Chris Murphy and failure comes as easy as breathing.

Froemming: Their playing is so bad, and pretty obvious to our crack sports reporter Studs Terkel (I imagine he was playing himself? Dude always looked 100 years old), that at one point we see a (REDACTED) airplane drop a dummy dressed as a Sox player from the sky. Also, planes must have been rare in 1919 because the teams and fans look at it like the mob in “Army of Darkness” looked at Ash’s BOOM-STICK and chainsaw hand.

The fans are so upset, they even burn an effigy of a Sox player outside the team’s hotel. Fans in 1919 took real baseball as seriously as 2017 fans take Fantasy Baseball.

Brown: Dude, I would rather watch a pack of fans go outside the team’s hotel to burn an effigy like Dennis Reynolds getting back at a frat than see a bunch of dummies on Twitter swear at a player. That may just be the teen pyro that lays dormant in my consciousness.

The only player where it’s blatant that he’s phoning it in is Gandil. Then again, it’s Michael Rooker, so I expect this kind of behavior.

Of course, there are players who aren’t in on the fix and keep things on edge for the cheaters. Buck Weaver refuses to lose, so he’s a wet blanket to the rest of the group. We see in Game 3 where pitcher Dickey Kerr has the game of his life on the mound and mows down the Reds’ lineup. Although this wasn’t reflected as much in the movie, Joe Jackson had a strong World Series in real life, even though he was allegedly in on the fix.

What was your take on D.B. Sweeney’s portrayal of “Shoeless” Joe? After a quick skim, Jackson was actually this dumb, but at times, I felt like he was playing Homer Simpson levels of stupid and that felt a little off in this movie to me.

Froemming: I felt he did a decent job, played it down at times which I liked. Then played it odd like when he was trying to blind himself with a candle by staring at it.

But we haven’t talked about a pretty big name in this movie: Happy “Wild Thing” Felsch, played by Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen! I am pretty sure when the others were acting “drunk” in the bar scenes, Sheen went Daniel Day Lewis-level method and got hammered.

Brown: I’m sure he was on a drug and it was called CHARLIE SHEEN. Honestly, he’s not on screen much so I didn’t get much of an opinion of Sheen’s performance. I know the dude loves baseball movies, and this is the polar opposite of “Major League.” That movie had the team winning to spite its cheap owner. Here, they spite their owner by blatantly throwing the biggest series of the season.

We also see some cracks in the fix as the players aren’t getting their payments. With the Sox facing elimination, Cicotte convinces Kid to not pull him and play in Game 7. He ends up being the Cicotte of old and shuts down the Reds, keeping the World Series alive in the best-of-nine series.

Problem with that, guy: Criminals won’t take kindly to you screwing up their plans, especially when it comes to money. The players are getting shafted AGAIN, and now, the Game 8 starter, Lefty Williams, is told by a thug that either he loses the game or else his wife is going to get killed.

This was only a matter of time. If Martin Scorsese movies have taught me anything, you don’t cross the mob. Also, don’t do cocaine.

Froemming: So, Lefty is pulled after being almost comically bad in the first inning. I mean, it is an ongoing joke by the team in this film that they can’t really call the cops, so he has to save his wife somehow. Despite a valiant attempt by the team to win, they lose the series. But the movie is not over just yet. Our friends in the #FAKENEWS industry start looking into whether the series was fixed. They have their suspicions, and there is a lot of talk on the streets, so they start looking into the fixed series.

Did you find it disheartening how much people then downplayed news they disliked as much as our current president?

Brown: Not really. People are into sports a little too much. I mean, there are people who think the Vikings will win the Super Bowl every year. Hell, liquor bottles aren’t allowed at stadiums anymore because a Vikings fan drilled a referee with a whiskey bottle from the stands. Rational is not a trait in sports fans.

Thanks to some fine investigative reporting, the trial is underway for the freshly-dubbed Black Sox in order to see if they worked with criminals to throw the World Series.

While this is going on, the baseball owners band together to appoint a new baseball commissioner in Kenesaw Mountain Landis. They need someone who will let the owners continue to treat their players like indentured servants keep the integrity in baseball.

The whole trial is a farce. The players and criminals aren’t taking it seriously. You have a jury of fans and Buck is freaking out several times because he didn’t take any money and doesn’t want to be lumped in with the dirty players.

The verdict comes in: Not guilty. However, baseball’s new commissioner is above the law.

Froemming: I did like how Landis made his own rules to the team owners. A lifetime position, so much like the Supreme Court, he will die on the bench and is above being influenced. I did not know that this is how and why that position came to be.

But Landis makes his call: The eight players are banned from Major League Baseball, which is fair for seven of those guys. Poor, poor Buck, as we learn before credits roll, spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name from that.

We also see him, in 1925, on Nucky Thompson’s turf in New Jersey watching a ballgame. We see Joe Jackson, now under the name Armin Tamzarian something I can’t recall right now, playing ball. He changed his name, despite not knowing how to spell or read, and is back in the game. The fans in the stands debate if this beast of a player is Jackson. Buck sits there and tells them it is not, making me question his innocence in all of this since he is now lying to fans about Joe Jackson.

Brown: A person shamed by gambling that’s at his wit’s end… of course “Shoeless” Joe ends up in Jersey.

And while the throwback jerseys and look of yesteryear was fun to see, I was glad to see Joe Jackson’s final days as a ball player in Hoboken because it meant the movie was over. There’s some bright spots here and there, but by this point, I was bored of the movie. It would have felt like a real baseball game if I was coming down from a buzz when I watched this.

Unless you have anything to add Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before the mob threatens our families.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: I found this movie to be interesting, but not very entertaining, which is something I think biopics often suffer from. If you are a baseball fan, you would probably enjoy it more than casual movie fans. For me, I say skip it if baseball is not your thing.

Brown: No. This is by no means a bad movie. And for what it is, it’s accurate and the performances are good. But it’s trying to be a documentary while not being a documentary and that doesn’t work for me. It fails the basic tenant of a movie for me by not being very entertaining. If I wanted an in-depth look at the Black Sox scandal, I’d rather it be a Ken Burns-style documentary.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: