About as far as imaginable from the warm fuzziness of Rookie of the Year, Abel Ferrara's tale of depravity and (somewhat) redemption none the less has baseball as a crucial component. The un-named police officer of the title (Harvey Keitel) is on a downward spiral of drugs, gambling and degeneracy, which has left him deep in debt to some very unsavory characters. A window out of his personal hell opens, in the vicious rape of a nun on the altar of her church. The $50,000 reward would solve a lot of the lieutenant's problems; but the victim doesn't want to co-operate, choosing instead to forgive her assailants.
Where does the baseball come in? Because the lieutenant is betting on the outcome of a playoff series between the Dodgers and the Mets. The Dodgers won the first three games, and he is betting on them to close out the series. The Mets, however, are no co-operating, and every victory for them, doubles the depth of the hole for the Lieutenant. I mean, we may think we have a lot invested in the Diamondbacks, but for him, "invested" is much more literal. It's not just a spiritual or mental thing: his very life actually depends on the Dodgers winning. This would certainly explain his extreme reaction when they don't. Witness the clip below [NSFW, due to language]. I'm sure we all felt the same at some point last season:
More analysis of the baseball in the film after the jump.
Despite the use of real baseball footage, featuring real players [must have been a trip explaining that to the MLB Licensing department!], the movie contains an entirely fictitious series. The film was made in 1992, a season both the Mets (72-90, 5th) and the Dodgers (63-99, 6th) will be happy to forget. And while it's generally short on period detail, it doesn't seem to be set in the past, with the Lords of Acid making an appearance on the soundtrack in a nightclub scene. At that point, the only time the Dodgers and Mets had faced off in the post-season was the 1988 NLCS. That series did go seven, but was won by the Dodgers, and neither team led by more than one game at any point. [As an aside, it's amusing how many film reviews refer to the baseball as the "World Series." Obviously, with both teams being National League, that could never happen]
The key figure in the series is Darryl Strawberry, the Dodgers slugger (he moved there, from the Mets, before the 1991 season) on whom the Lieutenant pins his hopes. This is a particularly-ironic and somewhat eerie choice, in the light of Strawberry's subsequent personal problems - in particular his own battle with drug addiction, which in some ways mirrors the Lieutenant's. At the time, however, all that was yet to come, and he was an eight-time All-Star. Just not in the Lieutenant's eyes, as Strawberry's performance is awful when it needs to be great, and great when it doesn't matter e.g. hitting a three-run homer when his team is down by eleven.
This almost willful disregard has lead some reviewers to equate Strawberry with Satan, tormenting the Christ-like figure of the Lieutenant, as he goes through his own Passion. [Nominations for the role of Satan on the 2009 Diamondbacks are now open] However, from a baseball fan perspective, the punishment is just. The Lieutenant's support of Los Angeles is impure: even as he tells his colleagues to bet on the Mets, he's betraying the local team for what he hopes will be mercenary gain. As we all (should) know, the baseball gods frown upon such shallow motives, and their wrath subsequently flows like Bud Light at a minor-league park on Nickel Beer Night. If only he'd made an offering to St. Penelope instead, he'd have been alright...
Ferrara does a very good job when it comes to fabricating the illusion of a series. The film opens with the credits rolling beneath Mike 'Mad Dog' Russo's unmistakeable voice, delivering his patented rant, saying the series ain't over till it's over. Meanwhile, one of the play-by-play announcers for the fictitious games is Hall of Fame broadcaster, the late Bob Murphy, who worked on broadcasts for the Mets from their inaugural season in 1962 all the way up until 2003. If you pay really close attention, you can occasionally spot cases where the footage and commentary do not quite match - when Strawberry hits his three-run homer, there's a flash of the scoreboard, and it doesn't tally with what the commentary say - but you really need to be paying attention.
Let's be clear: the film fully deserves its NC-17 rating. There is a lot of drug-use, with unflinching sequences of Keitel doing crack and heroin with Ferrara's co-writer, Zoe Lund (a long-term fan of both drugs, who'd not last the decade). There's also the scene where he wanders naked around his apartment, which leaves very little to the imagination, and an appallingly-sordid traffic-stop scene that I can't even describe here. I have to say, our reaction to some of the scenes was laughter - but it was a uncomfortable, defensive laughter, born of an awareness that Keitel is holding absolutely nothing back in his performance.
It is, certainly, the only baseball movie which features lengthy scenes of the central character shooting up with illegal drugs. Well, at least until they make The Barry Bonds* Story, starring Lil' Bow Wow as the young Bazza, and Michael Clark Duncan as the post-steroids one...