Nostalgic look at the old ball game


July 13, 1992|By Steve McKerrow


Actually, the All-Star Game is not until tomorrow night. But tonight's television can get you in the mood.

And the pick of the lineup may be "When It Was a Game II," at 10 o'clock on premium cable's HBO, an equally sweet sequel to last year's documentary chronicling the early years of professional baseball through grainy old film and still photos.

This one, as viewers are told up front, includes footage from 8mm and 16mm home movies, most of it in color and shot by ballplayers and fans from the 1930s through the '50s.

Name a star from that era and we see him here, from Mickey Mantle to such ballplayers-turned-actors as Chuck ("The Rifleman") Connors and John ("General Hospital") Beradino. Indeed, we see a lot of players we might not recognize, for the show often lacks identifying captions.

The pictures show a lot of clubhouse clowning and camera-mugging, but we also see significant and fascinating snippets of game action, including an apparent inside-the-park home run shot from the stands.

Interviews with old ballplayers accompany well-selected clips, such as Joe Garagiola commentating on an advertising sign adorning the Philadelphia Phillies' outfield fence, which boasted the Phillies players used Lifebuoy soap.

"Somebody'd written in some graffiti that said, 'and they still stink,' " reveals Garagiola.

A sequence on cellar-dwelling teams of those years offers something of a Baltimore angle, for we are told the St. Louis Browns were the lowest of the low, often having trouble paying their hotel bills on road trips and in one year drawing just 86,000 fans for the whole season.

The Browns, of course, in 1954 became the Baltimore Orioles.

The show also includes readings by some familiar voices, including Jack Palance, Billy Crystal, Jason Robards, Roy Scheider, Ellen Burstyn and Joe Mantegna.

Also in the ballpark tonight:

* HBO precedes the above special (at 8 o'clock) with a repeat airing of "The Comrades of Summer," the nice new movie that premiered over the weekend about a fictional American manager (Mantegna) hired to coach a Russian Olympic baseball team.

* Cable's ESPN at 8:30 screens the annual "Old-Timers Baseball Game," taped at the San Diego Padres' Jack Murphy Stadium, from whence will come tomorrow's All-Star Game.

And ESPN follows the game with the "1992 Baseball All-Star Gala," an entertainment salute to the annual classic.

* Cable's Discovery Channel at 9 o'clock presents a repeat showing of the 1990 documentary "Last of America's Classic Ballparks," a tour of four originals, including Chicago's Comisky Park (torn down shortly after this program was made) and Wrigley Field, Boston's Fenway Park and Detroit's Tiger Stadium.

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