Thu Jun 24 06:04pm EDT
There's no question that ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series has been a success. I would have paid to see Barry Levinson's film about the Baltimore Colts marching band in the theater and the recently aired movie about the tragic Colombian soccer — "The Two Escobars" — was as good as the medium gets. You'd have to go back to the "SportsCentury" biopics to find a time when the network was producing an equal amount of appointment television.
Having said that, it's disappointing that baseball has been relatively invisible on the "30 for 30" slate. Only one of the first 16 films has focused on the sport and that was "Silly Little Game," a movie about a group of New York magazine editors forming the first Rotisserie baseball league. While it was an otherwise well-produced work, it unfortunately ignored the maxim of fantasy founder Dan Okrent that nothing is as uninteresting as someone else's fantasy squad. Though the directors' intention was noble — the explosion of fantasy is one of the biggest sports stories of the past 30 years — it still probably qualifies as the weakest "30 for 30" entry.
Looking ahead, the series schedule doesn't hold a great amount of promise for us seamheads. There's a movie about what happened to members of a 1982 Little League title team from Washington (sounds somewhat promising) and one about Michael Jordan's life in the minor leagues (ditto).
The last 30 years of baseball, admittedly, doesn't contain a lot of stories that are centered around topics that ESPN seems to be favoring. Topics like big deaths (Len Bias, Andres Escobar), big trials (Allen Iverson, O.J. Simpson), hip-hop culture (Los Angeles Raiders and the University of Miami) and dangerous drugs (Bias, Escobar).
But while baseball might not have those sexy topics, it sure has a lot of the fringe and underexplored stories about culture shifts and memorable teams that the filmmakers seem to be going after in other sports, which is why I've compiled five suggestions here:
First night game at Wrigley: The first game played under the lights at the Friendly Confines wasn't a simple matter of rewriting the schedule and flipping a switch. It involved a complicated multi-year fight between the Chicago Cubs, MLB, the city of Chicago and the networks that said they'd never televise a daytime World Series game (as if). When the light standards finally went up, it officially signaled that nothing was sacred in the quest to sell more tickets and garner more television ratings.
Fernando- or Nomo-Mania: The arrivals of Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo(notes) were more than a decade apart, but both involved the huge story of baseball's increasing globalization and stars that took the sport by storm.
Contraction in the early 2000s: While all four leagues added expansion teams over the last 30 years, it was only baseball that looked at contraction in a very serious manner. The dual storylines of fans in Minnesota and Montreal facing the loss of their teams — and ultimately receiving two very different results — would have made for compelling television.
The 1995 Seattle Mariners: Highlights of Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) in his prime, a crazy comeback in the AL West and an epic ALDS win over the Yankees, all set against the fight to keep the M's with a vote for a newfangled retro park. Honestly, what's not to like?
Roger Clemens' time in Boston: With Bill Simmons as one of the main producers, I'm actually surprised a Boston-centric baseball movie isn't on the existing list. The 2004 title team was probably a little too recent to consider, but why not go with the drama of Rahjah's time at Fenway? From exulted to exiled, the story of the Rocket being declared done by Dan Duquette in 1996 after 192 victories in a Boston uniform is ripe for deeper exploration.
Of course, those are just five suggestions that I thought up off the top of my head, ones that don't even involve some of the biggest baseball events of the last 30 years like Pete Rose's ban from baseball, the 1994 strike, Cal Ripken's record, the ballpark boom, the Steroid Era, New York baseball after 9/11 (already been done by HBO and Buster Olney) and the increasing influence of Bill James and advanced statistics.
So my question to you is this: Let's say that you were in charge of ordering a few more baseball documentaries. Which subjects from the past 30 years would you schedule for a closer look? Offer 'em up in the comments below.