Eight Men Out (1988)

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The story of the infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal is depicted in this film that boasts a wonderful ensemble cast.

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox have won the pennant and are ready to go into the World Series. However, there is one thing that truly makes the members of the team unhappy: their penny-pinching owner Charles Comisky. Fed up with winning and not getting the money they deserve for their hard work, some of the members have begun to conspire with local gamblers in an attempt to throw the World Series. Some of the gamblers con their way to getting money from New York mob boss Arnold Rothstein only to use the money owed to the players on bets for themselves.

As the Series goes on, some of the players begin to regret the decision of ever getting involved with the scam due to their non-payment. They include ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte, outfielder Hap Felsch, and even pitcher Lefty Williams. Buck Weaver was aware of the scam but did not take part in it and worked his butt off during the Series as did the illiterate Shoeless Joe Jackson. When the Series is given to the Reds, two newspaper journalists are convinced of a scam and they intend to make it known that this is a disgrace to America’s National Pastime. What will happen when even Comisky, who finally realizes things, works with other owners to hire a commissioner to deal with the matter?

Many baseball fans may know the infamous 1919 Black Sox Scandal. To sum it up, eight players of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series after conspiring to deal with their penny-pinching owner. However, they ultimately paid the price despite a not guilty verdict in a court trial. That ultimate price? A lifetime ban from playing professional baseball. It must be noted that Eliot Asinof’s book on the subject, which is the basis of the film, is well worth a read as this film, from Matewan director John Sayles, is definitely both a standalone and companion piece to the book as according to the son of the real Ring Lardner, has a lot of accuracy according to his father.

Driving the film is the ensemble cast of characters who are all involved with this entire matter. John Cusack churns out one of his best performances as the embittered Buck Weaver, who despite knowing of the scam, shows he was totally against it by playing his heart out. He ultimately got banned only because of his knowledge of the scam. D.B. Sweeney brings in some heart as Showless Joe Jackson, who is practically forced into the scam by one of the two rightfully called jerks who set it up with the gamblers. Christopher Lloyd and Richard Edson bring a little touch of comic relief to the film as former baseball player Bill Burns and former boxer Billy Maharn, who are just two of the major gamblers responsible for the fix.

David Strathairn may look like he’s somewhat of a greedy man as pitcher Eddie Cicotte. However, Cicotte is seen to be an aging player whose promise of a bonus is denied by Comisky, who resorted to making sure Cicotte didn’t get his bonus, thus causing him to get involved. Michael Rooker and Don Harvey ooze that scent of “scumbag” as the set-up players Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg. Charlie Sheen doesn’t give much to the plate sadly as Hap Felsch, but he makes the most of his screen time. The director himself, John Sayles, is great as Ring Lardner, one of the journalists who unleashed the tirade after witnessing everything. In one pivotal scene, to show his knowing of what’s been going on, Ring takes the song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and changes the last word to “Ballgames”.

Eight Men Out is definitely a terrific sports history film thanks to its ensemble cast, baseball action, and a mostly accurate description of one of the biggest scandals in the sport’s history. If you love sports movies but have not seen this one yet, then go ahead and put this on your list of must-see films.

WFG RATING: A+

An Orion Pictures production. Director: John Sayles. Producers: Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Stanford. Writer: John Sayles; based on the book by Eliot Asinof. Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Editing: John Tintori.

Cast: John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney, Michael Rooker, Don Harvey, James Read, Perry Lang, Bill Irwin, Gordon Clapp, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, John Anderson, John Sayles.

 

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