Did you know that James Earl Jones doesn’t even like baseball? According to cast members from “The Sandlot” it’s true. The man who played a small but integral role in that film, who also delivered a dramatic crescendo of a monologue in “Field of Dreams” does not get what the big deal is about the game of baseball.
Unbelievable. But true.
I found that out the same day the news came that Major League Baseball’s special game at the Field of Dreams movie site has been rescheduled for next season. The game’s match-up had already been changed due to the drastically altered schedule for this shortened season. Originally it was going to be the Chicago White Sox vs. the New York Yankees. After Covid-19 ravaged the 2020 calendar, it became a face-off between the White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Now that it’s been moved to next season, the Chicago White Sox will still be one of the teams, but their opponent is yet to be determined.
I have some thoughts.
If you are not familiar, the Chicago White Sox are essential to the event because the movie “Field of Dreams” revolved around the 1919 White Sox, infamously known as the Black Sox due to eight of the club’s players being banned from Major League Baseball for life for accepting money from gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
So my first thought is that in 2021 the White Sox should play the Cincinnati Reds at the Field of Dreams. I think that has never been the plan because while the movie makes the White Sox not the heroes, but at least the cautionary tale. Bringing the Cincinnati Reds back into the picture would possibly be hitting too close to home, opening up an old wound in baseball history. Given the off-season cheating scandal surrounding the Houston Astros coupled with the unpopular way the terms of the current season were negotiated, pitting the Sox vs. the Reds may be too much of a reminder of the first time the National Pastime almost completely lost its way. But it is also a chance to exorcise some old baseball demons.
Something Terrence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character in Field of Dreams said is relevant. That baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again.” That America had been “erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again” but that baseball had always been there and always would be.
It is understandable for fans to be angry with several members of the Houston Astros if not the entire organization. It is valid to take issue with the Players Union for the way they fought over pay for what is going to be a little over a third of a normal season. Although, to be fair, given the risks involved with the pandemic, I am hard-pressed to not at least consider it from both sides’ perspectives.
Either way, the game of baseball itself is not to blame. It is timeless, above and beyond all of the controversy and haggling, and it has got us through things that were much more serious than any of these things, which was the point Terrence Mann was making. And it couldn’t be more relevant with America on the brink in so many ways in 2020.
I think the White Sox vs. Reds match-up would be a poignant reminder that if baseball could survive the 1919 Black Sox Scandal where players allegedly blatantly gave away the most Holy, the World Series, that surely it can survive a few guys banging on trash cans to signal pitches, or whatever devices the Astros used. The game survived the 1994 World Series being cancelled by a fight over money, so surely it can survive the same given that this time around part of the reason for the fight was because playing at all this season comes with a nearly unprecedented risk.
Secondly, a lot of people are happy that the game is going to be delayed until next season because by then hopefully a ballpark full of fans will be able to attend. A new park has been constructed on-sight for the event. But I think in the spirit (no pun intended) of the movie “Field of Dreams” it would be delightfully surreal if the White Sox and Reds put on the 1919 uniforms and went out on the original cornfield ball diamond at the movie site, and played a televised game with no fans, certainly no canned crowd noise, no music, and maybe even no play-by-play announcers.
Just the ballgame, as is, raw. And if you watch the game, and you squint just so, it could be like an old wrong being made right in the baseball Hereafter, or whatever.
Maybe this is all a bit macabre. Maybe it is saccharine. Or maybe it is just too spot-on. But it would be a unique moment in baseball history. We’re already getting a taste of it with the empty ballparks this year. This would just be taking the notion to its limits.