Friday Sports Movie of the week

Trouble with the curve

Photo Credit Warner Bros Productions

Welcome to the first edition of the Friday Sports Movie of the Week. A recurring feature hitting the cyber shelves every Friday in which I, Christian La Fontaine, watch and write about a movie with sports in it. First up is the 2012 Clint Eastwood movie Trouble with the Curve, strange place to start? Sure, but when I visited my mom last weekend it was on so this is what we’re doing.

The A Plot

The movie stars Eastwood as a grizzled and respected baseball scout named Gus whose contract with the Atlanta Braves is set to expire in 3 months. It’s a very dangerous situation for old Gus, despite director of scouting John Goodman’s insistence that he is the best in the game, the evil Matthew Lilliard is beginning to convince general manager Robert Patrick that he might be too old and “ready for pasture”. With 9 days remaining until the draft the three decide that Gus will receive one last chance to prove he has still got it by scouting North Carolina high school hitter Bo Gentry. The situation is made even worse when Goodman goes to visit Eastwood only to discover he’s losing his vision, quite an integral part of the scouting process.

Getting crafty, Goodman decides to go visit Amy Adams, a high powered corporate attorney that just so happens to be Gus’s estranged daughter. After some cajoling she agrees to go visit her dad for a while only to convince him to go see a doctor about his vision issues. Oh yeah, Eastwood refuses to acknowledge he’s going blind, it’s a stubborn old guy thing. Once down in North Carolina she eventually starts serving as Gus’ eyes, since he brought her along on many a scouting trip when she was a little girl, Adams is very well qualified for the job.

From there you can pretty much guess how the story turns out. Justin Timberlake shows up as a scout for the Red Sox, who have the first pick in the draft (the Braves have the second) and are considering taking Gentry with it. He also used to be a pitcher known as Johnny The Flame Flanagan who Eastwood scouted and has a particular affection for. There is the standard romantic shenanigans between Timberlake and Adams, but mostly the A plot is about the father-daughter relationship between Gus and Adams being rebuilt.

The Sports Component

The baseball in this movie is a little bit of a mess. I get that baseball isn’t the point but when you build your movie around a scout you bite off a very challenging bit of pie. In order to make the movie believable the characters have to talk about very technical things, scout’s live in the technical. On this, they miss terribly.

Matt Adams Credit Getty Images

Let’s start with the character of Bo Gentry, the player everyone is scouting. It seems to be the consensus that this guy will go either first or second overall in the draft, thus the competition between Timberlake and Eastwood.

Now, the kid certainly has a great deal of power, we see him hit a home run on pretty much every pitch he gets, but I had a lot of questions while watching. First, and let me say this delicately, the guy playing him has a similar physique to Matt Adams of the St Louis Cardinals, obviously a major league player but not one that screams projectability and athleticism. It’s not confirmed what position he plays as we never see his team in the field but it seems impossible to imagine him playing anything higher than corner outfield, though I would guess he’s likely a first baseman. Similarly the only time we actually get to see him run is on a home run trot and it’s not particularly impressive. Even from the slight glimpses we see from Bo’s perspective, I feel very confident in classing him a bat only prospect, and his swing is one of the ugliest I’ve seen in a movie. Given all this it should set off massive alarm bells in the Atlanta war room when Gus reports that Gentry has weak hands and will have trouble hitting advanced curve balls with a wooden bat (thus the title of the film). Unfortunately for the Braves, the GM is compromised and Gentry is drafted after Matthew Lillard goes on a rant about Gentry’s talent.

This brings me to an even bigger issue with the films view of baseball, the character Matthew Lillard portrays. His name is Phillip Sanderson but that really isn’t important, it’s Matthew Lillard. He’s held to be the embodiment of the stat guy, the younger generation motivated by moneyball and the like that is taking over the game. The problem is, he holds very little similarity to actual stat guys. He’s more of a depiction of what Clint Eastwood probably thinks stat guys are like, less into moneyball and more into being an idiot. During the previously mentioned rant Lillard says many things including

  1. Describing Gentry as a Five tool player.
  2. Saying he is The Next Albert Pujols.
  3. That by drafting this one player the Braves will be competitive for the next 10–15 years.
  4. That if Gentry doesn’t pan out he’ll resign.

All of that is taken as true by GM Robert Patrick, and all of it is ridiculous.

  1. We’ve discussed earlier how Gentry is almost certainly capped at two of the five tools, if we are being generous he might have a strong arm so give him a third, still two short of the legendary five.
  2. He might be the next Albert Pujols, I lack sufficient evidence to refute that. It’s not really a fact based statement to begin with, more of a hot take.
  3. One player cannot carry a team in baseball, it is simply not how the sport works. Since Mike Trout entered the league in 2012 he has been statistically the best player in baseball every season, in that time he has played and lost 3 postseason games.
  4. This isn’t so much factually incorrect as it is way too ballsy. Baseball prospects fail all the time, particularly high school one’s. It’s tough to imagine Lillard got to this point in his career while being willing to so cavalierly risk everything on something he does not control.

In a basketball movie these errors would be totally fine, unfortunately this is a baseball movie.

The Climax

I focused on the plot of a father-daughter relationship movie and the sports component because I am a heartless jerk come to a head the day after the Braves take Bo Gentry in the draft. By the way, Justin Timberlake is mad at this point because he convinced the Red Sox to pass on Gentry due to Eastwood’s advice and feels that he has been tricked in a most devious fashion. Back to Turner field where Bo is taking a bit of BP to showcase his prodigious power for Lillard, Patrick, Goodman, and Eastwood. All of a sudden Adams comes in with a boy of Latino descent who she found pitching a scene before in the sandlot behind her motel. This leads to the following scene.

I forgot to mention we actually did see this kid before. He hands out peanuts at one of the high school parks Bo plays at and Bo is very mean to him. It’s part of a thing they do throughout the movie where Gentry is shown to be a pretty big jerk. But the main purpose of that clip is to show that Eastwood is vindicated and Gentry does have ‘Trouble with the Curve’. There's a slight issue in that he also couldn’t hit any of the fastballs so the point of him struggling with curve balls is a little lost but that’s mostly a nit pick. Lillard is fired, Adams and Eastwood have rebuilt their relationship, and even Justin Timberlake comes back at the end, a true happy ending.

Conclusion

Whether or not you like this movie mostly depends upon what you think of the father-daughter relationship, as a baseball fan it mostly just annoyed me. As for the actors, Amy Adams is good, not Oscar winning or anything, but believable. I’m not a fan of Clint Eastwood but if you are he certainly does Clint Eastwoody things in this movie. Justin Timberlake goes in and out of his half-hearted Boston accent every now and then throughout the film which was a little odd but very entertaining. Nobody else was in the movie enough to mention, though I found out from IMDB that former MLB commissioner Bud Selig apparently makes a cameo as himself, I imagine it was during the draft but I didn’t notice at the time. All in all, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, though if you want a sports movie you should definitely go elsewhere.