"Long Gone": The Best Baseball Movie Most Of You Never Saw

You guys know me.  I love baseball.  I often say “it ain’t a sport, it’s a religion” and have been known to turn my pursuit of quality baseball films into an all out quest of epic proportions.

For what is now going on twenty-five years I have quietly craved a DVD quality copy of a beautiful little gem of a movie called Long Gone.

It’s my Holy Grail.

And just like those who made the pursuit of that fabled object their life’s work I have been left with nothing but bitterness and disappointment. Someone at the blog Bronx Banter seems to agree:

Considering the fact that there are so few good baseball movies, it’s inexcusable that Long Gone, a made-for-HBO baseball movie from the mid eighties (1987 to be exact, the year before Bull Durham was released) is not available on DVD.

It isn’t a great movie, at least not in a historical context of film, but it is a very, very, good one.  It offers numerous satisfactions, most notably the performances by William Petersen (Stud Cantrell), Virginia Madsen (Dixie Lee Boxx) and Durmot Mulroney (Jamie Donn Weeks), who have rarely, if ever, been as good.

As with Bull Durham, this comedy has the feeling of taking place in a world larger than that of baseball, and thus provides useful perspective into why the game is so central in people’s lives each spring.

At the heart of the Tampico Stogies baseball team is Cecil “Stud” Cantrell, a long-time minor-league pitcher, manager, and slugger who almost made the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals.

He competed with Stan Musial. Cantrell says that he “hit the ball harder but Stan the Man had a prettier swing”. But It was at the dawn of World War II and after the attack on Pearl Harbor Cantrell served his country, suffering war injuries which prevented him from going farther than minor league ball.

Another similarity is the farm-team milieu, a life of abridged hopes and stardom outside “the Show” — the thematic implication being that most of us have some kind of “Show” we can only admire from a distance. (Underscoring the point is a nice performance by Madsen as a small-town beauty queen.)

Here is some more well-deserved praise from Bronx Banter:

But hope does come in Long Gone, and because of its sharp dialogue and enjoyable acting  this film deserves to be included in anyone’s collection of baseball features.

In an absolutely wonderful bit of casting, William Gibson and Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) play the father and son ownership team of a low-minor league team in the 1950s.  Seriously, these two alone make the movie worth watching.

The script is based on the short, but wonderful baseball novel by the veteran journalist and Hank Williams biographer, Paul Hemphill. While the screenplay isn’t as sharp as the book, it is far better than most of the crap one finds on TV or in film today.

Subplots involving a black player posing as a Latino, and a young player knocking up a local girl, as well as the standard big-game finish, might actually be the movies weak points, but the movie retains the inherent charms of the book all the same.

The locker-room scenes here are vulgar and more rogueish than the ones in Bull Durham (though they aren’t as lewd as the ones in Slap Shot).

Unfortunately, HBO has not aired the movie in years and, again, it is not available on DVD. The only way to see it is on an old VHS tape or if you are one of the three people known to have purchased it on Laser Disc.

Perhaps one day, HBO will decide to re-run it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. It’s an incredible baseball film. Not the great baseball movie that we know can (and will) be made one day, but still, a very appealing one.

I found a couple of clips from the movie on YouTube (here) & (here)if you want a glimpse at one of the scenes.

Lastly, this was a made for HBO movie, back when that didn’t carry as much weight as it does now. In those days, “made for pay TV” was much like our “straight to DVD” is now. In other words, it’s not good enough or it doesn’t have enough star power to be in theatrical release.

I have long asked myself if it was really made for HBO or if it was picked up by them as a movie too good to be shelved? IMDB says it was an HBO production, so one can assume it truly was made for TV until proven otherwise.

BUT they also say Petersen turned down the Tom Berenger role in Platoon to be in Long Gone,  which will always leave me wondering if he would have done that for a film that he knew was only going to play on Pay TV?

Whatever the case, it would have been a success in theaters, I firmly believe that.

Sadly, the film never got the chance to prove me right on that, but here’s to hoping that HBO comes to it’s senses in the not-too-distant future and releases this sparkling lil’ gem on DVD soon.

Long Gone the film may have passed most of you by, but for those of us who were fortunate enough to catch it she will never be forgotten.

Source: Bronx Banter

 

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5 comments

  1. Andrea Brannon

    I, like you have been searching the net for this movie. I do have it in VHS (somewhere). To me, it is a movie you could watch anytime.

  2. David H.

    Like many, I’ve searched high and low for any copy of this film. I saw it when HBO released it in 1987, and I consider it to be one the the top three baseball movies of all time. I’m going to send an e-mail to HBO and inquire as to how we can obtain a copy of it. There’s got to be some contractual stumbling block in the way of its re-release. I know too many baseball buffs who are searching for this film.

    • djpostl

      I went to HBO’s site and they have a feedback form where you can ask/suggest programming to be released on DVD. Please do so!! =)

  3. Ron Miller

    Having ridden the rickety buses and fixed the flats so as to reach the next god forsaken town in time for a twilight double header I know how revelent this movie is. The bonus babies of today will never know the love,comradarie, and pure baseball that was played when there were only sixteen major league teams and a minor league team of some designation, D,B,C,A,AA,AAA in towns all over the country. If you think baseball wasn’t good in those days,dig this —-Mickey Mantle signed for eleven hundred dollars and was sent to class C Sally league. Does that tell you anything about how tough the low minors were? Yes it is the best baseball movie ever made.

    • djpostl

      Indeed. I just wish more people could get the chance to see it. Hopefully HBO will get around to releasing it on DVD or allowing Netflix and others to stream it.

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