Monday, July 20, 2015

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 225: Watch “61*” (2001)

“61*” is generally considered to be one of the finest baseball movies of all-time, and it’s one that I’ve wanted to watch for a long time. For whatever reason, I didn’t watch this movie when it first came out, and I officially put it on my bucket list last year. Thanks to NetFlix, I finally took the time to watch it on July 12. (This post was originally intended for Monday of last week, but I didn’t post it due to an oversight.)

Originally aired on HBO on April 28, 2001, this 129-minute long baseball movie was directed by Hollywood legend (and huge baseball fan) Billy Crystal. The entire movie is about how Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle competed in 1961 to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season. Barry Pepper plays Maris, and Thomas Jane plays Mantle.

The movie’s title – the number 61 followed by an asterisk – is a reference to the fact that while Maris broke Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by hitting 61 home runs during the 1961 season, Maris did in eight more games. The major league season lasted 154 games in 1927, but the season had been expanded to 162 games by 1961. When Maris failed to break Ruth’s record within 154 games, but went on to break it later, an asterisk was added to his record to denote the difference.

I thought this movie was interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it showed how lonely, despite their fame across the nation, famous ball players like Mantle and Maris can be. They were often misunderstood by fans, the media, the teammates and families. More than once, the movie will make you question why they do it all and if it’s worth it.

The movie really did a great job of showing how big of a role the media played in the Mantle and Maris home run race. Mantle, who was apparently the more likeable of the two players, was more at ease with reporters, but Maris, who was often grim-faced, was not a media darling. According to the movie, just about ever move Maris made was negatively spun by the media.

I enjoyed the movie because it really brought to life the competition (real and perceived) between Mantle and Maris as they struggled to beat Ruth’s home run record. To me, this movie was mostly about Maris, who actually broke the record, after Mantle was sidelined by injury. This movie is full of detailed nuggets of information that most people have probably only read about. I’m not a Yankees fan, but I am a baseball fan, and I highly recommend “61*” to the other baseball fans in the reading audience. Check it out when you get a chance. You will not be disappointed.

In the end, how many of you have seen “61*”? What did you think about it? Where would you rank it among your favorite baseball movies? Which other baseball movies would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

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