The Sandlot is the gold standard against which all other kids baseball movies are judged. The nostalgic 1993 picture chronicling Scotty Smalls’ magical summer learning the game of baseball, making new friends, and relying on the benevolence of dog owners inspired countless youths to steal their stepfather’s most valuable possessions when he was out of town on business.
The masterpiece has been on repeat around my home these past few months, which tends to happen when a two-year-old finds a favorite thing and must do that favorite thing at all times lest there be a feverish tantrum. And to the film’s credit, it’s supremely re-watchable. But something caught my eye on the 46th or 47th viewing and it’s been nagging me ever since.
I fear if it goes unaddressed and I hold it in, there will be some adverse health effects. Smalls can’t slide. And his incompetence could have changed the entire dynamic in one of the movie’s most pivotal scenes: the ragtag Sandlot Kids’ grudge match against the Tigers.
Now, most of us of a certain age are familiar with the war of words and long-festering bad blood precipitating the high noon affair. This game comprises most of the actual baseball played in the film and sets the stage nicely for the Tilt-a-Whirl and tobacco pukefest in celebration.
Here’ is the play in question, featured in the two-minute montage showing Benny Rodriguez’s side clobbering their properly attired foes. Smalls is the fourth player to slide into a bag.
Smalls’ incredibly poor form escaped notice for so many years. Looking back it’s tough to imagine how. The left-center fielder had just picked up the game of baseball so it’s perhaps unfair to critique him like a scout eyeing a Major League prospect. Heck, Smalls learned how to catch and throw just a few scenes prior, thanks to a combination of skill and luck. Having thrown out the necessary caveats, let’s be clear: actor Thomas Guiry would not have won the role had the audition been sliding-centric.
Look at this abomination.
Smalls’ foot is well off the bag. But does the defender apply the tag before the foot gets down? It is very, very close.
Try as I might, it’s difficult to show definitive proof either way. The mystery remains.
It’s important to note that this game, though played on a real field, had no umpires. The players themselves were honor-bound to officiate fairly. We can deduce that Smalls called himself safe on the play due to its inclusion in the montage. In today’s game, with real umpires, the Tigers would have challenged the call on the field — and perhaps have gotten it overturned.
You want letter-of-the-law replays for overslides in baseball? I’ll give them to you, with the most ridiculous example available. Isn’t it fun to get the calls correct, no matter how long it takes?
All jokes aside, it is difficult kids playing ball in 1962 having even the slightest inkling that replays would become a part of the game. Catcher Hamilton Porter would have hated it the most because he needed quick games and to be home for dinner.
In some ways, though, simpler was better. When there was a play too close to call in the good old days, kids shot odds or evens, played paper-scissors-rock, or laddered up hands on a bat. They let the karmic nature of the universe resolve bang-bang plays.
Anyway, it’s a great movie and this a small quibble. Not knowing if Smalls was truly safe or not will continue to haunt me. It would have been worth challenging if, you know, this wasn’t a make-believe game set six decades in the past.