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Reviving the national past-its-prime-time with movies

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Another The Walking Dead premiere. Another all-time record. Sunday's zombie drama return delivered a huge 16.1 million viewers and an even-more-stunning 8.2 rating among adults 18–49. —Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 14

In 2012, the NBA's regular season ratings on ABC were nearly double those of Major League Baseball on Fox. The last eight years have produced the seven least-watched World Series on record. —The New York Times, Sept. 28

Unfortunately, Tom Hanks was wrong when he declared, "There's no crying in baseball!" in A League of Their Own. There's a lot of crying in baseball today when fans become so bored that the TV ratings for The Walking Dead far surpass those of a playoff game.

On Sunday, Oct. 13, twice as many people chose zombies over a playoff game. A playoff game—unthinkable!

Perhaps it's the off-field shenanigans, scandals and stupidity that have finally caught up with what used to be the national pastime. Where fans once argued about players' stats, batting, pitching or fielding, they now compare humongous salaries. Is it any wonder that zombies are more attractive than overpaid stiffs sporting bats and gloves?

However, groans of boredom will never match the wails of grief suffered by Brooklyn Dodgers fans when our beloved bums were unceremoniously abducted from Ebbets Field, their native soil, and spirited off to Planet Hollywood. It was a double homicide in that it killed not only the team, but also the spirit of New York City's most vital borough for a couple of generations (at least until fixies, fedoras and artisanal mustaches came into vogue).

The 1957 decision by Walter O'Malley to take the Dodgers west emphatically exposed the previously well-guarded secret that baseball was indeed a business more than a game. Many Brooklyn Dodgers fans like me lost interest as it appeared that central casting had had taken over: The Boys of Summer, with names that suggested the gritty personality of the team—Duke, Campy, Ersk, Pee Wee, Jackie, Newk, Skoonj—were gradually replaced by the Boys of Smog: Russell, Garvey, Larker, Fairly. Fine players all, mind you, but suggesting pâte de foie gras and chilled chardonnay rather than hot dog and cold beer.

Embittered Brooklynites aren't alone in the malaise that has taken over the sport. In articles and blog posts, once-avid baseball nuts have expressed a profound loss of interest in watching a game at home, let alone paying the outrageous price of admission at the ballpark (as shrinking game attendances attest). At home, bouts of napping are unavoidable, whether the game is a high-scoring slugfest or a taut pitcher's duel. In either case, the game is almost certain to take more than three hours, if not four.

But perhaps O'Malley was on to something after all. Maybe we really prefer stars—any kind of stars—to the games. Movie stars are more fun to watch, even those with negligible athletic ability. Take John Goodman and Charlie Sheen versus Matt Carpenter and Jon Lester. Carpenter? Lester? Even a farce like Take Me Out to the Ballgame, with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin as O'Brien-to-Ryan-to-Goldberg, had more on-field enjoyment value than a ball flipped from Drew to Pedroia to Napoli. (Just for the record, that's three-fourths of the infield of the Boston Red Sox, who open the World Series tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals.)

And when there's a star like Robert Redford swinging a bat and exploding floodlights above the outfield stands, well, it's no contest. (Can David Ortiz, probably the most charismatic figure playing in the Series, do that?)

If the Red Sox-Cards series doesn't capture our imagination the way it would have a half-century ago, it's a good time to remember the great, still-breathing tradition of the baseball movie.

Here are the INDY's picks for a Hollywood all-star team and supporting cast. A bonus to watching films: All of these should end before the seventh-inning stretch of the actual World Series game you're (probably) not watching.

As Abbott said to Costello: "Who's on first?" That would be...

FIRST BASE: Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees

SECOND BASE: Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

SHORTSTOP: Gene Kelly as Eddie O'Brien in Take Me Out to the Ballgame

THIRD BASE: Rosie O'Donnell as Doris Murphy in A League of Their Own

CATCHER: Robert De Niro as Bruce Pearson in Bang the Drum Slowly

RIGHT FIELD: Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural

CENTER FIELD: Anthony Perkins as Jim Piersall in Fear Strikes Out

LEFT FIELD: Ray Liotta as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson inField of Dreams

PITCHERS:

James Stewart as Monty Stratton in The Monty Stratton Story

Charlie Sheen as "Wild Thing" Ricky Vaughn in Major League

Tim Robbins as Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh in Bull Durham

David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte in Eight Men Out

Tatum O'Neal as Amanda Whurlitzer in Bad News Bears

ON THE BENCH:

John Goodman as Babe Ruth in The Babe

Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own

Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes in Major League

Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb in Cobb

Kevin Costner as "Crash" Davis in Bull Durham

John Cusack as Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out

MANAGER: Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

ANNOUNCER: Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle in Major League

FANS:

Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham

Glenn Close as Harriet Bird in The Natural

TEAM DOCTOR: Burt Lancaster as Dr. "Moonlight" Graham in Field of Dreams

SPORTS WRITERS:

Robert Duvall as Max Mercy in The Natural

James Earl Jones as Terence Mann in Field of Dreams

OWNERS:

Robert Prosky as The Judge in The Natural

Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn in Major League

Clifton James as Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out

CAMEO APPEARANCES:

Babe Ruth as himself in Pride of the Yankees

Jackie Robinson as himself in The Jackie Robinson Story

Crash Davis as Sam Crawford in Cobb

This article appeared in print with the headline "Stars, strikeouts and walkers."

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