Mr. Baseball

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Mr. Baseball is also the self-applied nickname of Bob Uecker, who appears in the Major League movies.
Mr. Baseball
Mr baseball poster.jpg
Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Fred Schepisi
Produced by Fred Schepisi
Doug Claybourne
Written by Theo Pelletier (story)
John Junkerman (story)
Gary Ross (screenplay)
Kevin Wade (screenplay)
Monte Merrick
Starring
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Ian Baker
Production
company
Outlaw Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • October 2, 1992 (1992-10-02)
Running time
108 min.
Language English
Budget $40 million
Box office $20,883,046

Mr. Baseball is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Fred Schepisi, starring Tom Selleck, Ken Takakura, Dennis Haysbert, and Aya Takanashi. It depicts a tumultuous season in the career of veteran New York Yankees first baseman Jack Elliot, who is traded to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League during Spring Training, and forced to contend with overwhelming expectations and cultural differences during the Dragons' run at the pennant.

Plot[edit]

Jack Elliot is an aging American baseball player unsuspectingly put on the trading block during Spring Training in 1989 by the New York Yankees in favor of "rookie phenom" first baseman Ricky Davis (played by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas), and there's only one taker: the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.

Upon arrival in Japan, the arrogant Elliot clashes with the Japanese culture and the team's manager, and before long he alienates his new teammates. He believes the rules and management style of his new skipper, Uchiyama (Ken Takakura), are ludicrous, and continues to do things his way, which leads his already dwindling performance to suffer even more. His only ally on the team is another American ballplayer, Max "Hammer" Dubois (Dennis Haysbert), with whom he commiserates about his frustrations, but even Max becomes fed up with Jack's attitude and lack of respect for the game and his team. At the same time, Elliot develops a relationship with the beautiful Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), who is, he later learns, Uchiyama's daughter.

After one too many outbursts, including knocking out his interpreter (during a brawl), Elliot is suspended from play. After meeting Hiroko's family, including Uchiyama, Uchiyama admits to Jack that he hired him over the objections of management (they wanted Pete Clifton from the Boston Red Sox) and now his own career, not just Jack's, is in jeopardy. After hearing this, Elliot swallows his pride and admits his deficiencies. In a rare show of humility, he apologizes to the team in Japanese (erroneously saying he wants to build a "chopstick" rather than a "bridge" of friendship) and the team rallies around him and teaches him the value of sportsmanship and respect for hard work. Uchiyama lifts his suspension and begins to work with Elliot on improving his play. The reinvigorated Elliot's enthusiasm for team play is contagious and the mediocre Dragons become contenders for the Central League pennant. In the process, he also utilizes a Japanese tradition of being able to tell off Uchiyama while intoxicated to convince him to encourage his players to be more aggressive and "have a little fun."

Eventually, Elliot gets the opportunity to break Uchiyama's record of seven consecutive games with a home run. His newfound respect for team play becomes apparent in a crucial game against the Yomiuri Giants. With the bases loaded, two outs and his team down 6–5, the team brass expects Uchiyama to signal for a bunt to try to tie the game, even though it would deny Elliot the chance to break the home run record. Elliot goes to Uchiyama and asks if he read the sign correctly. Uchiyama nods and tells him to swing away, knowing that a home run would break his record. Elliot takes a called strike one with a questionable call on the first pitch. Elliot fouls the second pitch back. Faced with a no-ball, two-strike count, Elliot sees the Giants' infield is playing deep and bunts. The Giants are caught off-guard and the bunt is successful in allowing the tying run to cross home plate. As the Giants struggle to field the ball, Elliot runs through the bag and knocks over the Giants' first baseman (a fellow American expat), which allows the winning run to score from second base.

With the Dragons winning the pennant, Elliot returns to Major League Baseball, along with Max. He had earlier told Elliot, that he hoped this would eventually happen. Max signs a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending his five-year career in NPB. Elliot, who is married to the beautiful Hiroko, becomes a coach and mentor with the Detroit Tigers. The movie ends with one of the players calling him Chief, which is the same as he called Uchiyama in Japan.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Screenplay[edit]

According to director Fred Schepisi, the original premise for "Mr. Baseball"—a baseball comedy that explored cultural differences between Japan and the United States—was conceived after the commercial success of Major League (1989).[1] The first story treatment was drafted by Theo Pelletier, a writer with no previous film credits to his name, and developed into a screenplay by Monte Merrick and Gary Ross. When Schepisi came onto the project, Tom Selleck had already been cast as the lead, and because of an unusual clause in his contract, had final say over the approval of the script. This resulted in the involvement of another screenwriter, Kevin Wade. Complicating matters further was the takeover of Universal Studios by Japanese conglomerate Matsushita (parent company of Panasonic). Universal was concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity in the depiction of Japanese characters, so they recruited John Junkerman, an experienced writer and director of films about Japan, to rework the story. Schepisi and a fourth screenwriter, Ed Solomon, traveled to Japan to do research. After returning from Japan, Schepisi and Solomon rewrote the entire script, highlighting cultural clashes between the characters for comic effect, but this version in turn was rewritten by Kevin Wade to accommodate Tom Selleck. Since Wade's contract expired mid-way through production, however, he only worked on it for about three weeks, leaving many loose ends that eventually had to be sorted out by Schepisi. In the end, the participation of many people in the process resulted in a screenplay that was much more conventional than Schepisi originally intended. In a later interview, he said he felt as though the film was not as good as it could have been:

[It] was just supposed to be about cultural differences using the baseball game, but also there was much funnier stuff. When he goes down to see the father and there's the noodle scene, all of that, that's the kind of humour that could have been throughout the whole film. Again the studio and Tom Selleck had script approval, which I didn't realise when I agreed to do it. I went in to help them out. They didn't understand it, so they pulled it into the conventional.[2]

Filming[edit]

Filming of "Mr. Baseball" took place primarily in Nagoya, with limited filming in Tokyo, Florida, and New York.[3] Doug Claybourne, one of the producers, began preparation for location filming in Japan in 1991.[4] Most scenes were filmed in the city of Nagoya, including a number that were eventually cut from the film. Most prominent are the scenes filmed at Nagoya Stadium (Nagoya yakukyujo 名古屋野球場) former home of the Chunichi Dragons in Otobashi, Nagoya. Thousands of local extras volunteered to sit in the stands during the filming of game situations, even braving a typhoon to cheer on the fictionalized Dragons during their climactic showdown with the Yomiuri Giants. Filming of other scenes did not range very far from the stadium. Two scenes of Jack Elliot and his interpreter Yoji (Toshi Shioya), were filmed on the Meitsu line shuttling between Nagoya Station and Kanayama Station. The scenes at Jack Elliot's suite apartment were filmed at the Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion complex in Kakuozan, a thirty-minute subway and local train ride from the stadium. Scenes of Jack and Hiroko's visit to local shrines were filmed at the Osu Kannon marketplace, near the heart of the city's commercial district. The building that housed Hiroko's "Concepts Graphic Designs" still stands in the Hibari-ga-oka neighborhood of Nagoya, although the Minami-yama Pharmacy located next door has since changed locations to Irinaka. A scene in which Jack meets a group of other expat American ballplayers at a foreigners' bar was filmed in Sakae, on the site of the current Shooter's. Three scenes that were eventually cut from the film were also filmed in Nagoya. These include: 1) an exchange between Jack and Hiroko in Osu; 2) an exchange between Jack and Hiroko in front of Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion; 3) a dialogue between Jack and Uchiyama (Ken Takakura) in Heiwa Park cemetery. Only two scenes set in Japan were filmed outside of Nagoya: 1) Jack's "Big Hit, Happy Body" commercial, filmed in a tea field in Shizuoka; and 2) Jack's visits to the home of his manager, Uchiyama, which appear to have been filmed in the Komaki or Inuyama area.

Commenting on his working relationship with lead actor Tom Selleck, Schepisi commented "He was extremely helpful getting the baseball thing right. Getting the American pride thing right."[5]

Notes[edit]

Stadiums[edit]

Throughout the film, the Dragons play every team in the Japanese Central League except the Hanshin Tigers and Yakult Swallows (although Yoji quotes from an article from Chunichi Sports newspaper praising a leaping catch that Jack made to close the door against the Swallows). Nearly all are home games, filmed at Nagoya Baseball Stadium with extras in the stands. The only road game the Dragons play in the film is against the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, filmed on location at nearby Okazaki Stadium in Aichi Prefecture. Interestingly, the Yokohama Taiyo Whales were renamed the Yokohama BayStars by the time the film premiered in Japan in February, 1993.

Uniforms[edit]

All the uniforms, caps, and training gear featured in the film are authentic. The Los Angeles Dodgers-inspired uniforms that the Chunichi Dragons players wear in the film—with the royal blue caps emblazoned with white "D" insignias in Casey font—are the same that the Dragons wore between 1987 and 1996. Oddly, the insignia on the Dragons cap is changed in the American theatrical release poster, emblazoned instead with a more angular "D" topped by a macron. The Dragons have never worn a cap like this.

The Detroit Tigers cap that Selleck wears in the last scene of the film, when he is coaching a rookie at the Tigers spring training facility, is the same cap he donned while playing the role of Thomas Magnum in the classic television series "Magnum, P.I."[6] Tom Selleck, who hails from Detroit, Michigan, is a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan and one-time minority shareholder of the team.

Models[edit]

While the movie is entirely fictitious, certain characters and scenes are based on real-life personalities and events. The character of Uchiyama, manager of the team, is very closely based on Senichi Hoshino, who managed the Dragons from 1987 to 1991. The scene in which Elliot taunts an opposing pitcher who refuses to throw him a strike by gripping the bat upside down was apparently based on a real-life incident. Western player Randy Bass, playing for the Hanshin Tigers who was challenging Japan's single-season home run record in 1985 also tauntingly turned his bat around in protest.[7]

Advisors[edit]

Many former players, baseball historians, and Japan experts served as advisors on the film, including former Lotte/Yokohama/Yakult slugger Leon Lee (who also makes a brief cameo in the film).

Theatrical Trailer[edit]

Universal released a theatrical trailer for "Mr Baseball" in the summer of 1992. The trailer, which runs two minutes and fourteen seconds, features dialogue and scenes that are absent from the final version of the film. For example, at the scene of Jack's first press conference, Yoji asks, "have you ever slept with Madonna?" During his first meeting with Uchiyama, Jack responds to the demand to shave his moustache by saying, "he probably can't even grow one." In the locker room scene where Jack is confused about how to use the Japanese-style toilet, he quips to Max, "I need somebody to tell me how to go to the can" (later changed in the final version of the film to "I need somebody tell me how to take a crap"). The music in the trailer is mostly sampled from Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack, but also includes samples from "Turning Japanese" by the The Vapors. The song also appears in the MCA Universal Home Video promotional tape distributed to video rental shops in 1993. "Turning Japanese" did not appear in the final version of the soundtrack.

Alternate Scenes[edit]

The Japanese version of "Mr. Baseball" included three scenes that were missing from the version screened in the North American market. All three scenes cast light on Jack's relationships with Uchiyama and Hiroko.

Scene 1[edit]

Jack and Hiroko, outside Jack's apartment building in the Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion Complex in Kakuozan (1:04)[8]

After dinner and drinks in Sakae, Hiroko drives Jack back to his apartment in her black Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. This scene appears to have originally followed the night club scene where Jack storms off in a huff, indignant at Hiroko's insinuation that he is "property of the team." Jack is still irate when Hiroko asks if him it's really true that many women in America fall for him. He explains that American women respect a man with character, even if he "screws up" fighting for what he believes in. As if to insinuate that she is not as stereotypically Japanese as Jack thinks, Hiroko tells Jack that she finds him attractive, and then cooly drives off. Left standing at the entrance of his apartment building, a befuddled Jack mutters, "I hate this place."

Scene 2[edit]

Jack and Hiroko, outside Sengen Shrine, walking towards Osu Kannon Arcade (1:07)[9]

Seeking divine assistance for the hole in his swing, Jack visits shrines and temples in the Osu Kannon arcade complex. After praying at Sengen Shrine, Jack tells Hiroko about his experiences participating in es when he lived in Los Angeles, and therapy when in New York. As they turn the corner and head in the direction of Banshoji Temple (site of the later scene in which Hiroko shows Jack how to draw incense), talk turns to Hiroko's father, Uchiyama. She tells Jack that Uchiyama had a difficult time transitioning from player to coach, and claims that this is why he is so angry all the time. Uchiyama cannot tolerate independence from those around him—which explains the difficulty Jack has in getting along with him, and why Hiroko has such a strained relationship with him.

Scene 3[edit]

Jack and Uchiyama, at grave in Heiwa Koen Cemetery (1:29)

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its release, Mr. Baseball received mixed reviews from critics, ranging from overwhelmingly positive to negative. Bill Diehl of ABC called Mr. Baseball "uproariously funny," while Steve Wille of Sports Illustrated glowed, "Tom Selleck deserves a baseball Oscar."[10][11] Siskel and Ebert, in their review of the film, commented on its formulaic plot and lackluster writing, but also praised the film for its realistic crowd shots, direction, and Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack.[12] Janet Maslin of The New York Times singled out Selleck's performance for praise, writing, "The character of Jack, whose being sent to Japan is the impetus for "Mr. Baseball," provides Mr. Selleck with something unusual: a movie role that actually suits his talents. Mr. Selleck's easygoing, self-deprecating manner works particularly well when he lets himself look silly, as he often does here."[13] Mr. Baseball currently holds a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews.

Box office[edit]

"Mr. Baseball" opened in 1,855 theaters on Friday, October 2, 1992. During its first weekend, it grossed over $5 million at the box office, coming in third behind The Last of the Mohicans and The Mighty Ducks.[14] During its six-week run in theatres, it went on to gross $20.8 million domestically. Despite the limited marketability of baseball movies overseas, Universal positioned it for a wide distribution beyond the North American market. However, a disappointing showing in Japan and Europe prevented the studio from recouping on its enormous losses. "Mr. Baseball" (ミスター・ベースボール) opened in theaters in Japan on February 6, 1993, and proceeded to gross a disappointing ¥1.5 billion ($1.25 million).[15] By the end of its run in Japan, during the summer of 1993, it appeared as the "B film" in Universal double features—such as with the Robert Redford and River Phoenix film Sneakers (1992). Screenings in European theatres followed, but with little fanfare. It premiered in Germany on June 16, 1993.

Post-theatrical distribution[edit]

Home video[edit]

MCA Universal Home Video released "Mr. Baseball" on VHS in March, 1993. It was later reissued in 1997. The summary on the back of both sleeves reads:

"Tom Selleck stars in this hilarious comedy about an arrogant and aging major league baseball player who attempts to revive his career by signing to play in Japan. In the twilight of his glory days, Jack Elliot (Selleck) is no longer hitting like he used to. His fun-loving attitude is put to the test when he finds himself replaced by a rookie. Soon he learns the only team that wants him is the Chunichi Dragons... in Nagoya, Japan. After arriving in Japan, Jack manages to alienate everyone without improving his batting average, and treats the team's hard-headed manager (Ken Takakura) with disrespect. But with the love of elegant Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), along with a newfound respect for his manager and Japanese culture, Jack finds a way to win in this warmhearted, fast-moving comedy from director Fred Schepisi."

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Interview with Fred Schepisi", Signis, 22 December 1998 access 20 September 2015
  2. ^ "Interview with Fred Schepisi", Signis, 22 December 1998 access 20 November 2012
  3. ^ [://www.nytimes.com/movies/movie/33608/Mr-Baseball/credits "Production Credits"] Check |url= value (help). The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Yoshi Tezuka, "Global America? American-Japanese Film Co-Productions from Shogun (1980) to Lost in Translation (2003)," "Cultural Studies and Cultural Industries in Northeast Asia" p.99
  5. ^ "Interview with Fred Schepisi", Signis, 22 December 1998 access 20 September 2015
  6. ^ "Mr. Baseball". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 1, 2008. 
  7. ^ "Mr. Baseball". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 1, 2008. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (1992-10-02). "Review/Film; Lessons In Baseball (And Life) In Japan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  11. ^ Thomas, Kevin (1992-10-02). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Mr. Baseball' a Culture-Clash Comedy". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  12. ^ Template:Url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9bx6HNmZ1A
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (1992-10-02). "Review/Film; Lessons In Baseball (And Life) In Japan". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. 1992-10-06. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  15. ^ [3]

External links[edit]