'Soul of the Game' hits homer on Rickey's quest

Media Watch

April 19, 1996|By Milton Kent

In the mid-1940s, former Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey announced that the team was looking for black players to create a Dodgers entry in the Negro leagues, and most baseball observers took Rickey at his word.

However, Rickey, one of the most astute executives in the game's history, had another objective: to find the one player who was physically and mentally capable of breaking the sport's longstanding color line.

The hunt for that player who could not only excel on the field, but endure the epithets, hostility and physical abuse that was sure to follow, is the backdrop of tomorrow night's moving HBO film, ** "Soul of the Game," airing at 8 p.m.

The three players at the core of the film -- Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson -- were among the greatest names in Negro league history, but each had demons that made their move to the big leagues problematical.

Paige, as portrayed by Delroy Lindo, a fine character actor who was splendid in "Get Shorty," is a boisterous, prideful pitcher who is easily the star of the Negro leagues, but maybe too old to take the step he has long waited for.

Mykelti Williamson, whom audiences will remember from "Forrest Gump," does a terrific job as Gibson, widely acclaimed as the "black Babe Ruth," and a wonderful talent, but tortured by mental illness and alcoholism.

Finally, there's Robinson, the former Army officer and UCLA football star whose temper may be the hurdle that keeps him from Brooklyn. Blair Underwood, the lone black attorney from "L.A. Law," is likewise impressive, playing the role with an understatedness and sense of guilt that he, and not Gibson or Paige, is selected by Rickey, who is skillfully played by Edward Hermann, a noted stage actor.

Though some historical events in "Soul of the Game" appear to have been compressed for dramatic reasons, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan captures the authenticity of the period with an intelligent, stylish film that does the Negro leagues justice.

Catching a draft

For the first time in 13 years, the NFL draft actually has some significance in Baltimore, and local radio outlets are going to great lengths to bring the proceedings home.

WWLG (1360 AM) will carry seven hours of draft-related programming from 11 a.m. tomorrow until 6 p.m., based at the Ravens' draft party at the Sheraton Inner Harbor hotel. Mark Mussina and Spiro Morekas will anchor the proceedings, with Ted Patterson reporting from the team's Owings Mills training site, and reports from the NFL's New York draft headquarters.

Pam Ward and Mark Viviano will have six hours of coverage from WBAL (1090 AM) at its Television Hill studios starting at noon, with Stan White and Gerry Sandusky on hand in Owings Mills, WIYY's Kirk McEwen at the team's party and Mel Kiper Jr. from New York with analysis, as well as feeds from CBS and ESPN radio.

Stan "The Fan" Charles' "Baltimore Sports Exchange" will focus on the draft both tonight and tomorrow at 10 p.m. on WCBM (680 AM), with Greg Sher in New York and ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio on hand as well as analysis from Sports Illustrated reporter Peter King.

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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