More noise than signal

Pride of the Yankees

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Baseball has, of course, been formally recognised by the U.N. as the world’s most boring sport, if you can call grown men hitting a ball with a stick a sport. Baseball “games”, if something so antithetical to fun can be called a game, often stretch on for upwards of forty hours, making it only slightly less reprehensible a pastime than cricket.

I hadn’t seen Pride of the Yankees, a biopic of famed slugger Lou Gehrig until just the other day, despite it being something of a touchstone for the genre.

Gehrig, for the uninitiated, which I would have counted myself among until, well, just the other day, is one of baseball’s most successful baseballmen, hitting many baseballs with his baseballstick and running, running, running in a circle, like a dog chasing his tail, were it a dog with a unnaturally large radius. Sorry. I may not be giving the sport the respect it thinks it deserves. Let’s try again.

Lou Gehrig was born at the turn of the 20th century to humble, if not dirt poor origins, and discovered he had a talent for baseball at a young age. Despite the wishes of his mother (Elsa Janssen) to go into a more respectable profession, he winds up pursing baseball firstly on a college scholarship and then, after some largely skipped over turns in the minor leagues, as a member of the New York Yankees, alongside other legends like Babe Ruth.

Ruth plays himself in this biopic, but Gehrig is played, charmingly, by Gary Cooper, making his first Fuds On Film appearance, I think. We must cover more films of this era. While, unavoidably, this film must mention his career, it does taking something of a back seat – Gehrig’s achievements being fresh in the mind of contemporary audiences – and covers more his relationship with his family and wife Eleanor (Teresa Wright).

Gehrig had, by any standards, a remarkable career, and even as someone who understands very little of the statistics thrown around in the sport, it’s clear that he’s one of the all time great baseballmen. This film’s not tasked with hammering home quite how remarkable a career, so it may require anyone not familiar to the sport to take on a bit of extra-curricular research in that regard, but it does a great job of showing Gehrig as a nice a human being as there is.

Being a cynical bastard, and, well, just look at the timing, released just a year after the much-loved sportsman’s death from a motor neuron disease that in the U.S at least became synonymous with him, it’s clear that this is more of a homage than a tough, investigative piece of muck-raking. It’s glossed over certain facts that more hay might have been made of, were this released with some distance from this death. For example, his father’s alcoholism is not mentioned here, and one presumes it had at least some impact on Gehrig’s childhood.

That said, there were plenty of tales of Babe Ruth’s rambunctiousness around at the time, and it seems that no-one is coming forward with any hushed-up tales of Gehrig slaughtering puppies, so perhaps its true that Gehrig was, more or less, as The Pride of the Yankees suggests – a nice guy, who lived a happy life, quietly doing nice things for people with no expectation of being lauded for it, who had his life cut sadly short by a horrible disease.

The Pride of the Yankees achieves handily what it sets out to – lauding the life and times of a much loved sportsman. It’s light on drama and conflict, I suppose, so if it’s a rip-roaring rollercoaster you’re after then this isn’t the film for you, and it’s perhaps too hagiographic for some in this age of snark. It’s a roundly positive elegy for Gehrig, and rather like the man himself, I’ve got very little negative to say against it.