Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Worst baseball battery in history

Richard Pryor and John Candy: comedic geniuses.

Richard Pryor and John Candy: not baseball players.

I just finished watching Brewster's Millions, the 1985 movie starring Pryor and Candy as buddies and baseball players. Pryor plays Montgomery Brewster, an over-the-hill pitcher for the Hackensack Bulls who inherits $30 million but has to spend it all in 30 days to inherit the full inheritance of $300 million. His best friend and battery mate - Candy - doesn't understand why Brewster keeps throwing his money away, not realizing that's part of the deal: Brewster can't tell anyone about his situation, or he loses it all. In the end, he succeeds and inherits the full $300 million.

But back to the baseball.

When the movie came out, Candy was 35 and Pryor 44. Candy's age fits the role of a decent semipro ballplayer who's holding on for a few more years in the backwoods of baseball, but his physique certainly doesn't. If David Wells and Greg Luzinski defied science and physics and produced a child together, the unfortunate result might look like John Candy in this uniform. We never see Candy swing a bat, and I have to believe he kept a roster spot because of his leadership with the Bulls' pitching staff. He taunts opposing hitters, throwing them out of their comfort zone, though it appears unlikely he's capable of throwing out any runners.

Then there's Pryor. In the few glimpses we get of Pryor in action, it appears his fastball tops out at about 76 miles per hour. If he was throwing at a dunk tank, he might not have enough velocity to activate the drop switch. Still, he apparently made it as far as Toledo in Triple-A ball and I can only assume that happened in his early 20s. He earns points for creativity: he strikes out a hitter with an always-entertaining Eephus pitch.

Jerry Orbach, or at least his character, manages the Bulls. He does a serviceable job, ably pulling off the cranky, vulgar, seen-it-all manager. At one point he tells one of his hitters he's not a farmer, "You don't have to swing at shit in the dirt." I bet Earl Weaver said that once. The problem, of course, is that Jerry Orbach is Lenny Briscoe, the beloved Law & Order detective. Brewster's Millions came out nearly a decade before Orbach joined the L&O cast, but he's now been retroactively typecast. It's jarring seeing him in other movies or shows, even if those appeared long before Lenny started patrolling New York's streets. While his manager has some good lines, you expect him to quip about a dead body, or threaten someone in an interrogation room, or worry about his drug-addicted daughter. Brewster doesn't help matters later in the film, when he purchases fancy new uniforms for the Bulls. They're blue and tight and when Orbach appears in his, it looks like he's worn a wetsuit to a ballgame.

Orbach's in-game skills as a manager also appear shaky. When the Bulls play a three-inning exhibition against the Yankees - hey, it could happen - Brewster surrenders four runs before Orbach yanks him from the game, telling him he's "gotta" take him out. A bit late, coach. The Yanks had been hitting him hard before he gave up the runs that effectively finished off the Bulls. You have to have the bullpen ready much earlier, though, to be fair, back in those days managers allowed starters to throw more innings, even if in this case a complete game would only be three innings.

The movie's not a comedy classic but it has its entertaining points. At one point Brewster bets on a field hockey game between Loyola and Notre Dame and wins big - much to his chagrin - when Loyola pulls off the stunning upset in a game that was actually previewed in a New York City newspaper. Odd story selection from the editors. He invests in a company featuring an iceberg and other bizarre businesses. The only thing missing is a contribution to the anti-cat-juggling fund that Steve Martin gave to in The Jerk.

Brewster spends and spends and in wasting $30 million in 30 days, he certainly does his best impression of way too many professional athletes. Later in the movie he runs for mayor and in an "unheard of move," spends his own money on his campaign. Unheard of at the time, perhaps. But maybe Bloomberg got an idea from the movie.

Brewster's Millions also forecast some of the populist rage - faux or otherwise - that influenced the recent election. He runs while proclaiming None of the Above, saying that the other candidates are so terrible, people should vote for None of the Above. Surely many people this year wished they had the choice.

I remember watching Brewster's Millions as a kid and being upset at the end that people didn't realize he pulled it off. Everyone thinks he's something of a loser, except for his lovely accountant. I wanted an epilogue as he walked back into the New York night. Did he sponsor another exhibition game, this time against the '86 Mets? Did he run for mayor again, this time on a campaign of All of the The Above? Did he buy the Hackensack Bulls and fire Orbach, or at least purchase better uniforms? And did he finally quit playing ball or did he stay on, firing that weak fastball and nonexistent curve to his overweight friend and catcher?

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