The Scout Touches On Mental Health In Baseball

While Steve Nebraska was Shohei Ohtani before Ohtani became a baseball legend, The Scout touches on mental health in baseball.

The Scout has its roots in an article written by Spink Award winner Roger Angell in The New Yorker. Once optioned by Andrew Bergman’s producing partner, it went through a number of rewrites and actors between 1983 and the theatrical release in 1994. It’s hard to imagine Peter Falk, Walter Matthau, or Rodney Dangerfield in the role because Albert Brooks and Brendan Fraser make it entertaining to an extent. According to Entertainment Weekly, Bergman initially wrote the film with Falk and Jim Belushi in mind.

It’s been forever and a day since I watched the film. While I remembered the film dealing with a phenom pitcher, I forgot about the whole mental health aspect. Mental health in sports has become an important thing but it still remains something of a stigma. Perhaps The Scout is due for a critical reevaluation? On the other hand, the film’s better moments are when it’s dealing with baseball and the relationship between Al Percolo (Albert Brooks) and Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser). Nebraska is a dual-threat between the pitcher’s mound and the batter box. Even though he rockets fire as a pitcher, you cannot even compare him to Henry Rowengartner in Rookie of the Year. In real life, there are fewer comparisons but it basically comes down to Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani. It may have seemed improbably back in 1994 but holy crap, not so much today!

After recent signee Tommy Lacy (Michael Rapaport) throws up and locks himself into the restroom, New York Yankees general manager Ron Wilson (Lane Smith) punishes Al Percolo by sending him to Mexico. It’s here where the scout finds the next coming of Babe Ruth. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Wilson decides to fire Al, which results in Steve Nebraska becoming a free agent. George Steinbrenner authorizes Wilson to offer $55 million. This comes after Nebraska strikes out Keith Hernandez and hits multiple home runs off of pitcher Brett Saberhagen. After Nebraska loses it with photographers repeatedly taking his photo, the Yankees require that Al takes him to see a psychiatrist as a condition of their deal. Al believes it to be a sign when he sees Dr. H. Aaron (Dianne Wiest) in the listings. No matter how much Al begs, the psychiatrist will not write a letter until after more sessions.

Brendan Fraser and Tony Bennett in The Scout.
Brendan Fraser and Tony Bennett in The Scout. Courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

After learning of Tony Bennett’s passing, I opted to make this my tribute viewing over the weekend. It keeps with the theme of baseball comedies scored by Bill Conti. Al, Steve, and Jennifer (Anne Twomey) are sitting in on a Tony Bennett concert. Steve is the talk of the town so Tony Bennett asks him to take a bow. Unfortunately for the singer, Steve immediately starts singing the signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Steve would later walk out on Bennett singing the national anthem during Game 1 of the World Series.

In any other circumstance, a player leaving the field moments before game time would probably receive a fine. When Steve heads up to the roof (with the Los Angeles skyline behind him) because of feeling claustrophobic, Steinbrenner gets the credit for calling in the helicopter. It took a little pep talk from Al but he managed to talk Steve into pitching the biggest game of his life at that point. He pitches a historic perfect game with 27 players up and nothing but strikes in 81 pitches. There has only been one perfect game in the history of the World Series: Don Larsen in Game 5 between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8, 1956.

By the time The Scout hit theaters, Major League Baseball Players Association has been on strike since August 12, 1994. While the New York Yankees played the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in the film, the chances of such a faceoff happening during 1994 would have been impossible. For one, the Cardinals were sitting at 53-61 and thirteen games behind the Cincinnati Reds. It’s awesome getting to see Ozzie Smith and Bob Tewksbury on screen despite Steve throwing a perfect game. I love seeing Bob Costas and Tim McCarver interacting together in the broadcast booth during the World Series. I know people don’t like McCarver but the two Ford Frick Award winners are having fun. Furthermore, the two could have never called the game together because Costas was an NBC Sports guy. CBS had the rights through 1993 with McCarver providing color commentary.

There’s no doubt that The Scout could be a stronger film but filmmaker Michael Ritchie and the cast make the best of it.

DIRECTOR: Michael Ritchie
SCREENWRITERS: Andrew Bergman and Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson
CAST: Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser, Dianne Wiest, Anne Twomey, Lane Smith, Michael Rapaport, Bob Costas, George Steinbrenner, special appearance by Tony Bennett

20th Century Fox released The Scout in theaters on September 30, 1994. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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