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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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"Baseball in Chicago" Dream Documentary

Posted 04-26-2009 at 01:13 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 04-26-2009 at 10:08 PM by TommyJohn

"MLB Network is proud to present....Ken Burns' 'Baseball!" Thus sayeth the voiceover announcer on the network. Ah, yes. The definitive documentary of our National Pastime...if you are from New York or Boston and want to see the doc pay an inordinate amount of attention to Boston blowing Game 6 or Doris Kearns Goodwin wax rhapsodic about how she chose Boston to root for after the Dodgers left Brooklyn because she couldn't root for the Yankees, or some such nonsense.

The documentary itself planted a seed of desire inside of me. I have lots of seeds of desire inside me, none have ever borne fruit. I am like Antonio Salieri in that regard-infused with a passionate desire, but given no talent to go with it. I have several ideas for stories and movies, but cannot develop them beyond just an idea. Bad luck, I guess. Mediocrities of the world, I absolve you.

Back on track. The Burns doc planted a desire in me that is no more than a fantasy-but one that I'd give anything to develop into fruition-a documentary entitled "Baseball in Chicago." And I mean exactly what the title says-baseball. White Sox, Cubs, Negro Leagues, amateur teams such as the Logan Squares, you name it, it would be in there.

Why all of Chicago baseball? Because I wouldn't want to confine myself to just the White Sox. Such a doc may not sell. (Sneering media ass says-The Home Shopping Network would draw higher ratings. *sneer*). Besides, I would want a documentary as breathtaking and epic in scope as the Burns doc about the beloved Yankees and Red Sox. Chicago history is rich and overflowing with baseball, it is as steeped into our culture and identity as anything else about the city. We identify ourselves by who we root for-North Side-Cubs, South Side-White Sox. It is almost a religion to most people. Chicago baseball history is as epic as anything in sports and I feel it is worthy of its own documentary.

So why include the Cubs? Simple. It would sell better to include ALL Chicago baseball. And recruiting people to be in it would be easier-famous Cub fans would lend their talents to it for next-to-nothing, another selling point. Why we'd have William Peterson and Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise for starters. On the South Side we lack national appeal, but local guys like Roeper and Kass would be asked, and a special invite would go out to President Obama. Whether he could do it or not is another matter.

Second reason to include the Cubs is doubles storylines and possibilities for the documentary. I am groping now but you get the idea. It would be a look at the history of the game as played here in Chi.

It would start basically by exploring how the game reached here, probably before or during the Civil War. It would talk about the first professional team-the Chicago White Stockings, and how they were formed to play against Cincinnati. Then the first league formation in 1871. The origins of the National League in 1876.

Obviously, I don't have all that stuff outlined. Here are some topics that would be portrayed:

*19th century Cub teams and their impact on the National League.

*Cap Anson and exploring his role in erecting baseball's racial barrier. Is he the main bad guy in that, or does he simply bear the brunt of history?

*World Tours by the Cubs in 1888 and the White Sox in 1914 and 1924 and their efforts to globalize baseball for countries who just didn't get it.

*The "Chicago Pirates" of the Players' League of 1890 led by player-manager Charles Comiskey-the first challenge by the players to the Reserve Clause.

*Albert G. Spaulding and Charles Comiskey-baseball would not exist in the form it does today if not for the significant contributions of these men.

*Rube Foster and the formation of black baseball. Foster was the founding father of the modern Negro National League. For many years, Chicago was the capital of black baseball. 19 of the first 20 East-West All-Star Games were played in Comiskey Park.

*The Black Sox Scandal-no doc on baseball would be complete without it! It would explore the reason behind it, ask questions about gambling and throwing games in general, and issue a direct challenge to the cartoonish notion that the players were oppressed by a greedy owner. Motivations would be explored. Myths about bonuses exploded. Charles Comiskey would be reassessed as a complicated man of the times, not the moustache-twirling villian portrayed now. I wouldn't let him entirely off the hook-he did treat players badly. He would also be mentioned as a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game-Burns & Co. failed to mention this at all in their "Boston-New York Uber Alles" Epic.

Other significant events in Chicago baseball history, or just plain fun ones-the 1906 World Series, the annual "City Series." The Cubs of 1906-10 and their dominance of the NL. The Hitless Wonder White Sox. 1908, when both teams were in tight pennant races down to the last game of the season.
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