- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

When it comes to accuracy, Crystal's '61*' is a big winner

There is much to like and much to cherish in "61*," the HBO movie about the 1961 home run duel among Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth's ghost, which premieres Saturday night on the cable network. It qualifies as one of the best baseball films of all time not necessarily a compliment alongside "Pride of the Yankees," "The Natural," "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "Eight Men Out."
(Probably we should say something about "The Babe Ruth Story," which unfortunately came out shortly before the Bambino died in 1948: Bleagghh.)
What may impress true-blue fans the most about "61*" is the attention to accuracy paid by lifelong Yankees fan Billy Crystal, who directed the movie in his best cinematic contribution since he outlasted Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally." Perhaps the HBO picture should have been subtitled, "When Billy met Rog and the Mick."
As with all dramas, the script takes a few liberties in the interest of moving the story along. When it comes to horsehide matters, however, the movie is, well, Crystal clear.
Example: The uniforms of 1961 are flawlessly reproduced. You might argue that the Yankees' classic duds look almost the same now, but the ones in the picture are flannel so obviously hot that we want to sweat along with the actors. Other team suits are equally flawless, especially in the case of the Baltimore Orioles.
And when Maris played by lookalike Barry Pepper steps up to bat, the third-base camera shows the scoreboard and right-field stands at Yankee Stadium exactly as they were before the park's renovation in the mid-1970s. Although these images were computer generated (most of the movie actually was shot at Detroit's Tiger Stadium), they are perfect enough to bring tears to the eyes of Noo Yawk fans with some age on them.
It's nice to have a baseball movie that shows so much respect for the game itself, as well as the unforgettable drama of the memorable 1961 season. For this Billy Crystal deserves our heartfelt thanks.

Where's Tim?

In the latest issue of ESPN's oversized magazine, a two-page ad depicts the cable network's "Baseball Tonight" program as a movie starring commentators Harold Reynolds, Peter Gammons, Karl Ravech and Dave Campbell. That's OK as far as it goes, but why no mention of Darnestown's Tim Kurkjian, easily the most knowledgeable person on the show?
The ad also says the "movie" is "PG Peter Gammons approved." Has anyone in the network's advertising department ever heard the term "sickeningly cute?

Those never-ending O's

Speaking of Tim Kurkjian, I gotta quarrel with him just a little on his statement that the Mets might lead the majors in four-hour games this season because of bad pitching. Hey, Tim, maybe you need to spend a little more time at Camden Yards.

Welsh's withdrawal

What do football coaches do when they're no longer football coaches after nearly 40 years of stalking the sideline? If you know, tell George Welsh.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Welsh, 67, who retired in December after serving since 1963 as an assistant coach at Penn State and head man at first Navy and then Virginia. "I have a lot of time to decide, though."
Welsh, who became the winningest coach in ACC history during 19 seasons in Charlottesville, concedes, "I've had a little withdrawal problem, I think. I've always liked the idea of spring practice and teaching and coaching and going on the field."
Welsh still has an office at Virginia. Usually he arrives by 7 a.m. for his daily workout, but "at other times, I don't come in till after the traffic's gone, 8:30 or so. I have that luxury now."
And he's earned it after a coaching lifetime as one of his sport's more honorable and respected practitioners.

Books and birdies

Apparently bored after siring the world's greatest golfer (ever?), Earl Woods is now telling other parents how to bring up children. In an interview with the Birmingham News, Woods said he stressed getting an education over sports for Tiger Woods and that he always made sure the young man did his homework.
"He could not practice or play golf until [then]," Earl said. "He bought into that and fully subscribed to it. I can say that never in my life have I asked Tiger, 'Do you have your homework done?' Not many parents can say that."
And how did Earl make sure Tiger always did his homework if he never asked? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of "Earl and the Kid."

Eminently quotable

San Francisco manager Dusty Baker, on a recent hot streak by Giants slugger Barry Bonds: "This is Barry's week. "Hopefully, it will turn into Barry's month, and then Barry's year." …
Michael Vick, on why he returned to his college last week to launch a line of Vick collectible items: "Virginia Tech has been a big part of my life, and I wanted to do something to give back to them and let them know my appreciation for what they've done for me." (Presumably, he also gets a share of any profits.)

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