Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Athletes as Actors, part 3: Major League Baseball

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

Athletes want to be actors, and actors want to be athletes. Baseball players, because of their relatively normal physical stature, are more suitable for a wider variety of roles than, say, a 7-foot-tall freak of nature. That's not to say that they actually get a wider variety of roles. Here are some of the most notable (not necessarily the best) professional baseball players who tried their hand at acting:

Chuck Connors
Wow - the things you learn when you are researching a li'l ole blog post. Without turning this into a "Chuck Connor Biography" post, here are some highlights: after being discharged from the army in 1946, Connors played center (he's only 6'-5" tall) for the Boston Celtics in the 1946-47 season, but left early to go to spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After knocking around in the minors for a couple years, he made it to the bigs in 1949. After 5 weeks and one at-bat, he was sent back down to the minors. He played again in the majors in 1951, where he hit a couple homers for the Cubs. When he was sent down to the Cubs minor league affiliate, the LA Angels, he was noticed by a fan who was also a casting director. His focus turned to acting and he appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. He's most well known as the star of "The Rifleman," which ran on TV from 1958-1963. Also appeared in Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Soylent Green.

Soldier. Basketball player. Baseball player. Badass Rifleman. Nice little career, Mr. Connors. Kudos.

Keith Hernandez
Due to its New York setting, Seinfeld very frequently featured NY baseball players in the show. Some of the players featured included Danny Tartabull, Paul O'Neill ("You promised a kid in the hospital that I'd hit two home runs?"), Bernie Williams ("are you the guy put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee?"), and Derek Jeter. But no NY athlete had a more memorable appearance on Seinfeld than former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. After meeting Jerry in the health club locker room, he asks Jerry to help him move ("Help him move? You just met the guy!"). Hernandez is not exactly deserving of an Emmy for his performance, but the episode he appeared in ("The Boyfriend") was great, in part due to his portrayal of himself.

Best line: "I'm Keith Hernandez."

Wade Boggs
This former Red Sox/Yankees Hall-of-Famer also played himself, in an episode of Cheers where he gets pantsed by the gang at the bar. Nothing more than a cameo, but it was memorable for me because I was a big fan of Cheers back in the day.

Best line: "But I AM Wade Boggs!"

Jim Lefebvre
The former major league player and manager had a couple notable roles in the 60s. He appeared on Batman as one of The Riddler's henchmen in two different episodes (and was the victim of several "whams," "pows," and "kerblams" from Batman and Robin), and he appeared on Gilligan's Island as a "native" in the episode where the natives think Gilligan is a god. Also, in the 80s, he had minor parts on St. Elsewhere, Alice, and M*A*S*H.

Best line: "pulu si bagumba"

Bob Uecker
Uecker was the star of Mr. Belvedere, which ran from 1985 to 1990. He even hosted SNL. Not bad for a lousy backup catcher with a .200 lifetime batting average. He didn't win any awards, but his show was on for a long time. He also played the announcer in Major League and its sequels.

Most famous line: "Juuuuust a bit outside."

The Simpsons
On the Simpsons episode entitled "Homer at The Bat," C. Montgomery Burns stacks his softball team with a bunch of ringers from the major leagues in order to win a bet with the owner of the Shelbyville nuclear power plant. While technically I'm not sure you could consider this acting, all of the following players lent their voices to this episode: Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, and Wade Boggs (Burns originally wanted Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, and Three-Finger Brown). All of the players eventually get hurt in various ways except Strawberry, who of course plays the same position as Homer. Homer ends up driving in the winning run with a ninth inning bases-loaded "hit-by-pitch." In the DVD release of the season, the director's commentary notes that all of the players were great to work with except one who they won't name except his name rhymes with Manseco. Canseco was originally slated to have an extramarital affair with Edna Krabappel, Bart's teacher, but Canseco's then-wife objected.

Best line: Homer - "No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you."

Don Drysdale
The former dodger hall-of-fame pitcher, who was also a star basketball player at UCLA, appeared on several TV shows in the 60s and 70s. His credits include appearances on The Brady Bunch, Leave It To Beaver, and The Rifleman. Mostly, he played either baseball players or announcers.

Best line: "Greg, you suck. There is no way you can be a major league pitcher. Give it up already."

In summary, like basketball players, baseball players mostly portray themselves or "baseball players" or announcers. Very few have broken out of that mold. It's probably because most baseball players are kinda dumb. Not that it takes a brain surgeon to play baseball, but they do have to memorize lines and where to stand - which requires, you know, thinking.

I know I must have missed some. Send me your suggestions in the comments. I think I'll tackle part 4 (other sports - golf, boxing, hockey, cricket, badminton, soccer, etc.) next week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Lite Beer commercials for Uke.