Gus Lobel may be an old codger who doesn’t know the first thing about modern tech, such as computers or that crazy “Interweb” stuff, but he’s still one of the best scouts in baseball. If he were half blind he could tell if a kid’s got what it takes to be in the majors. He can see the heart. He can sense the intangibles. He can hear that sweet, pure sound of a perfectly thrown ball or swung bat.
The trouble is, he’s an old old codger. And he is half blind. He’s developing what the doc calls macular degeneration. And that makes things tough. In fact, the front office of the Atlanta Braves is wondering whether or not it might be best to put Gus out to pasture once his contract expires in a couple of months.
Gus has got one last chance to prove his worth. There’s this hotshot kid who some are calling a hitting phenom. And the Braves are wondering if he’s worth their top draft pick. But if the scowling scout messes this one up …
There is one person who could help Gus out: His daughter Mickey. And, no, her name’s not short for Michelle; it’s Mickey, as in Mantle. She knows baseball like Gus knows baseball. She was weaned on the stuff. Cut her teeth on it. But Gus would never ask her to step away from her high-powered law firm, even for just a weekend. Besides, things have been strained between the two of them for a long while now.
When Mickey gets wind of Gus’ situation from an old family friend, though, she’s quick to fly to her dad’s side. It may be jeopardizing her upwardly mobile path at the firm. And it may be over the old man’s objections. But it feels like the right thing to do. And, well, that’s about all Mickey and Gus have right now—a few fond feelings for each other, buried under a pile of years.
For all of the difficulty Gus and Mickey have with each other, the movie slowly unfolds just how much they truly and deeply love each other. In fact, the film delivers a very strong, at times emotional message about the lifelong and powerful connections between dads and kids, and between husbands and wives too. Never mind that Gus’ beloved wife passed years and years before this movie starts.
An example: In one brief scene at his wife’s gravesite, the usually stoic and gruff Gus sings (you can say rasps if you want) to his dearly departed spouse and weeps over her absence. Later, we see that that same simple, sweet song has an important role in he and his daughter’s relationship too—even though she’s unaware of its connection with her mom.
Johnny, one of Gus’ former pitcher recruits, shows up out on the road as a beginner scout for another franchise. He and Gus reunite, and Johnny takes an instant liking to Mickey. Mickey has a bit of trouble with emotional closeness, but Johnny proves himself to be a sincere guy who’s willing to give the relationship all the time it needs. He also starts understanding the struggle Mickey and Gus are having, and he gives out solid suggestions about being patient and not expecting more than someone can give.
Gus’ old friend Pete keeps an ever-watchful eye on his pal. And he goes out of his way to cheer for Gus’ skills in the Braves’ front office.
During a ball game a young player longs to get on base, and he does … when he’s hit by a pitch. On the way to first base he winces from the pain, looks skyward and whispers, “I guess you misunderstood me.” When Mickey says she just came from yoga class, Gus grumbles about her doing all that voodoo stuff. She jokes about getting a “666” tattoo.
Gus’ wife’s gravestone bears the inscription, “May the Lord grant you extra innings.”
When Mickey and Johnny go out to a lake at night, he strips to his undershorts, she strips to panties and a tank, and they both jump into the water. They kiss in the lake and again later on. The camera looks down Mickey shirt when she bends over a pool table.
A young ballplayer crudely mentions that he really only has baseball and “banging” chicks on his mind. He’s certain that becoming a big leaguer will put him in line for plenty of both. Even cruder jokes are traded about “yo’ mother.”
[Spoiler Warning] We find out that a man tried to molest Mickey when she was 6. And in a flashback we see him caressing the young girl’s back.
Back then, we watch Gus beat the predator senseless when he discovers what’s going on. And it’s why he reacts so violently in the present time when a guy grabs Mickey’s arm in a forceful come-on at a bar. Gus slams the much younger man into a wall and threatens him with a broken bottle. “Get out,” Gus snarls. “Before I have a heart attack trying to kill you.”
Gus and Mickey get into a fender bender. The next day he sports a black eye and a small cut on his brow. A catcher pulls his hand out of his glove to show his bruised hand—the result of working with a powerful fastball pitcher.
Gus states that before he gets really old and useless he’ll put a bullet in his own head.
One f-word and a half-dozen s-words. A dozen uses each of “h‑‑‑” and “a‑‑.” We also hear “b‑‑ch” and “b‑‑tard.” Mickey calls her bosses at the law firm “jerk-offs.” God’s and Jesus’ names are misused about 15 times, with God’s getting combined with “d‑‑n” on five or six occasions.
Gus regularly smokes a cigar. And we see all the central characters tossing back beer, wine and shots of harder stuff in bar, baseball field and casual settings. In fact, Gus has beer with pizza for breakfast one morning, and he brings some brew with him when he visits his wife’s grave, pouring her a glass. Mickey drinks straight from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s when she’s frustrated. One baseball fan is obviously very tipsy while watching a game.
Mickey speaks of being raised by a man who “drank, swore and farted,” offering the factoid up to show that she can stand up to difficult situations as an adult. When we first meet Gus, we watch him trying to urinate (the camera focuses on his shoulders and head) while he grumbles at his uncooperative lower extremities.
Baseball, romance and a grumbling, gruff old Clint Eastwood. What more could you ask for in a movie? Well, maybe just one little thing: less bad language.
This is a pic with an outfield piled high with appeal. The characters are so nicely defined that you’re almost instantly drawn to them. The story of a dad and daughter’s tug-and-pull relationship—full of communication hurdles, painful loss, pride, past protectiveness, love and emotional distance—is well-written and wonderfully acted. Gus’ grousing struggle with growing old is both poignant and funny. And Mickey’s slow simmer of a love story with baseball and a former flame-armed pitcher is enjoyable.
The only real problem here is a bit of heavy drinking and a bunch of bad language curves. Some might say they add to the ball field spit-and-scratch texture and humor. But I’d have to slip on my umpire’s mask and call them foul balls instead of fair.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.