Baseball moves so slowly and changes so fitfully that the arrival of the first comprehensive team video was disquieting. Would Madonna's bare midriff peek out from pinstripes? Would Michael Jackson moon-walk around the bases? No need to worry. The Saint Louis Cardinals: The Movie is a 90-minute movie that just happens to be available on videotape. It is a breakthrough. "It sets a new standard for team films, both in length and content," says Tom Heitz, librarian at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The Cardinals meanders pleasantly through the team's history. And what a history it is. Until the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958, the Cards were both the westernmost and southernmost team in the majors. St. Louis had the first farm system and the first regional radio network. Only the Yankees have fared better on the field than the Cardinals, who have won nine World Series and have produced 32 Hall of Famers, 19 batting champions, 16 Most Valuable Players and dozens of dizzy and daffy characters.
The video avoids the narrator-and-newsreel format that deadens the standard team highlight films. Writer-director Lawrence Miller uses the camera techniques of each period, from the still photos of the 19th century to the jerky film of the 1920s to the 16mm replays of the '60s to modern videotape. In what at first seems like a contrivance, he adds the music of the era, too: Wabash Cannon Ball is used with the footage from 1934; Marty Marion runs the bases in tempo to In the Mood, the Glenn Miller World War II classic; Glad All Over and other rock songs highlight the 1960s. "It's amazing how the pace of baseball seemed to match the music," says Miller. "Cause and effect really grip me. I felt like a scientist noting a galactic phenomenon."
Miller has a fine feel for people, too. Humphrey Bogart appears, saying baseball "gives you a lift, and nobody calls the cops.... For my dough, that's living." Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis leans over the railing of the stands, one cigar in his mouth, another in his hand. And we see all the vintage Cardinals: Rogers Hornsby, standing typically deep in the batting box; Enos Slaughter, scoring from first to win the 1946 Series; the Deans; Pepper Martin; Bob Gibson; Lou Brock. We learn how Stan Musial came to be called the Man: Fans at Ebbets Field, shell-shocked by his hitting, shouted, "Here comes the Man" when he stepped to the plate. "I finally understand what all the fuss over my father was about," says Musial's daughter, Jeanie Edmonds, who watched the film in tears.
In the strangest departure from ordinary filmmaking, Miller follows his segment on the Man with The Kid, an animated cartoon by Jennifer Shipman. It depicts a hayseed, literally up from the farm, who becomes an overnight sensation. Says Miller: "I asked myself, How do you communicate the myth of 'I want to be a ballplayer'? Through a fantasy." It's schmaltzy, but it works.
The Cardinals financed the video and gave Miller carte blanche to research it. Unfortunately, he apparently felt so grateful that he was more inclined to celebrate the team than simply to chronicle it. There's no mention of difficult moments. Jackie Robinson is shown, but there's no reference to the Cardinals' proposed boycott of Dodger games in 1947, his rookie year. Curt Flood is in the film, but nothing about his challenge to major league baseball's reserve clause. Sadly, the first words we see on the screen are "This Bud's For You," and a segment on owner-brewer Augie Busch is fawning. In St. Louis the team is always the brewery. Fortunately, the team is also the video, and it's well worth the price of $29.95 ($33.75 by mail).
Miller, 41, approached Cardinal vice-president Gary Blase with the idea in July of 1984. "I thought it would sell 3,000 to 5,000 copies and have public relations benefits," Miller says. Blase thought it would do better, and he was right. The Cardinals has topped 35,000 and has locally outsold the Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost Ark videos. Miller's subsequent video about the 1985 Cardinals, Heck of a Year, has already sold over 17,000 copies.
Miller then joined with racquetball entrepreneur Chuck Spalding to form a company called Philo Films, which, with former Cardinal G.M. Bing Devine, plans to release Tiger and Yankee videos by Christmas. Madonna and Michael Jackson won't appear in either one.