Stan Ross is a world-class slugger with baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers. He’s also a world-class creep. Rude to fans. Uncooperative with the media. Insensitive to his teammates. His trademark is an arrogant scowl and his claim to fame is that he just collected his 3,000th career hit. After intimidating a young fan into giving him the ball, Stan tells the press he’s walking away from the game and leaving his team to finish a pennant race without him. He just wanted to reach 3,000—a personal milestone all but guaranteeing him entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Nine years pass. Stan owns a chain of stores in a Milwaukee strip mall, all of which have the number 3,000 in the name. But he’s still not in the Hall of Fame. He has alienated his peers to the point that they’ve refused to vote him in. So he and his buddy Boca (the only former teammate who’ll put up with his garbage) convince the Brewers’ ownership to ceremoniously retire his number and shame the selection committee into honoring him for his statistics. It works. That is until a record-keeping error is found that docks Stan three of his 3,000 career hits, making him “Mr. 2,997” and forcing him back into the game at age 47 to try to scrounge up a few more hits.
Stan joins the Brewers late in the season and quickly learns that his eye and bat speed aren’t what they used to be. His fellow athletes resent him, especially a young hotshot named T-Rex who is shaping up to be the same sort of arrogant individualist Stan has been. For Stan, it’s a wake-up call. In time, hindsight and maturity help him make the most of this second chance at leaving a more honorable legacy.
Stan’s selfish antics are treated as a serious moral flaw. Meanwhile, Boca is a tolerant, faithful friend who doesn’t approve of Stan’s arrogance, but isn’t quick to write him off either. Stan works very hard to get back into game shape. When he sees his teammates showing a lack of fire and hustle on the field, he chides T-Rex for not setting the right example. T-Rex rejects the advice at first, but later rises to the occasion. Stan comforts a pitcher worried about getting cut and bails him out of a jam. As time goes on, more and more evidence suggests that Stan is truly sorry for his decades-long lousy attitude. He apologizes to his manager and ultimately puts the team ahead of his personal ambitions (which is rewarded).
Stan comes on to a woman at his bar, and slyly propositions another while appearing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. He and Mo (a female ESPN reporter covering his comeback) allude to sexual trysts they had in several cities during Stan’s playing days. A sore spot is a casual fling he had with a “groupie” in Canada that Mo accidentally walked in on. Desperate for another night with Mo, he even offers to pay for it. One night, after a few drinks and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” she is plenty willing to sleep with him (they slow dance and kiss passionately as she starts undressing him) until his wounded pride spoils the mood and leads him to take a rain check. Eventually they get around to spending the whole night together and are shown wrapped in sheets the morning after. Mo wears a low-cut dress and bikini underwear. The towel wrapped around Stan slides halfway down his backside. In addition to sharing double entendres and nights of passion, the unmarried couple also appears in a Viagra commercial.
Mo slaps Stan. A vicious line drive drills a pitcher in the leg. Stan throws things out of the dugout in anger and hurls his batting helmet to the ground in frustration.
More than 80 crass expressions or profanities. Among them are crude references to male genitalia and about a dozen s-words. Stan teaches a Japanese pitcher still learning English how to curse more effectively.
The Milwaukee Brewers play in Miller Park, so numerous signs and logos offer the beer maker free advertising. Alcohol is consumed throughout, usually at bars (one of which is owned by Stan). A patron shows signs of drunkenness. Stan and Mo share drinks on several occasions. He tells her, “I remember when you used to drink half the American League under the table.”
Stan’s new twentysomething teammates resent him for having been stingy with autographs and disrespectful to young fans when they were kids. That history of selfishness creeps back into Stan’s behavior, at one point causing him to blow off an important practice because of a TV appearance. Mostly kidding, Stan asks his pal Boca to marry him. Real-life Brewers fans might take offense at the portrayal of them as losers with no self-respect who repeatedly get abused by Stan yet adore him anyway.
A month prior to this film’s release, NBA players drew national ire and lots of iron by failing to employ a team concept at the summer Olympics. Just a week before it opened, professional football teams were forced to start the 2004 season without key players still holding out for juicier contracts. Several days before, the National Hockey League entered a lockout when owners and athletes failed to put the game and its fans ahead of egos and greed. And the same day Bernie Mac fans started flocking to theaters, an infamously surly, ungenerous (real) major leaguer achieved a career home run milestone. Ironic, isn’t it? Mr. 3000’s commentary on me-first jocks couldn’t be timelier.
As for the substance of the movie, its creators understand and love baseball. That’s obvious from the tone and attention to detail which cater to audiences who have ESPN’s PTI (Pardon the Interruption) in their DNA. This is a movie for sports fans. Sure, the premise is a little far-fetched, but it’s not dumbed-down. The sharp writing tries very hard to respect the crowd’s intelligence and accurately represent the game. So Mr. 3000 gets high points for its savvy and authenticity. Also, it adroitly diagnoses the egocentrism that’s ruining sports, taking a moral position by having one very sick athlete find redemption. But that’s about all the praise I can muster.
Although it grooves its social message right down the middle, Mr. 3000 has control problems in other areas. It’s full of off-color language. Alcohol is the beverage of choice. There’s also sexual innuendo and activity between Stan and his sometime-girlfriend, Mo. About halfway into the movie, a mother and her preteen son got up and walked out of the theater, never to return. She must’ve purchased their tickets thinking she was treating her boy to a baseball movie. Yeah, the way Bull Durham is a baseball movie; fair when focused on the diamond, but foul when it’s not.
There are plenty of guys like Stan Ross getting nightly highlights on SportsCenter. They treat the fans, the media and their teammates shabbily because they think putting up numbers is all they owe us in return for their million-dollar salaries. But hitting a baseball, albeit impressive, isn’t the same as being an athlete of character who gives of himself and treats people with respect. Those are the markings of a true all-star. And while that’s a message young people need to hear, they’d be better off not learning it from Mr. 3000.