The Rundown: Bang the Drum Slowly, Trade Talks Gaining Steam

The first baseball movie I ever saw was 1973’s Bang the Drum Slowly starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty, a film that was a favorite of my father. It’s a bittersweet story, and DeNiro was a little-known actor when it was made.

Bobby D played Bruce Pearson, a young catcher for the New York Mammoths who was informed he was dying of Hodgkin’s Disease right before spring training and had just a short time to live. His best friend on the team was ace pitcher Henry “Author” Wiggen, played by Moriarty.

Wiggen was in the middle of a tenuous holdout (hey, free agency wasn’t even a thing yet, so holdouts actually happened!) and seemed unlikely to sign until he forced Mammoths GM Dutch Schnell into a few concessions. The first was that Pearson, who was about to be released from the big club in favor of a hot prospect, had to remain with the team and be Wiggen’s personal catcher. And if one player was traded or released the other had to be included. Finally, Pearson’s terminal prognosis was to be kept from their teammates.

It gets a little sappy and cliched after that; the team grossly underperforms and bickers while it sleepwalks through the first half of the season. The, after finding out about Pearson’s illness, everyone suddenly starts getting along and the New York Nine starts winning. Of course, the hotshot prospect joins the team and plays an integral part in helping the Mammoths win the pennant. There’s a little more to the ending but I don’t want to spoil it.

DeNiro is great as Pearson, and, as I grew up in a home in which my father’s job from 1966-74 was to help Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks players get offseason jobs, it was pretty cool to see that part of baseball history portrayed cinematically. Remember, back then all of the players had offseason jobs, even the stars. 

We can talk about Dad’s job in another post, but the point is that free agency changed baseball very drastically and very quickly. The first collective bargaining agreement in 1968 guaranteed a minimum salary of $6,000 for MLB players and the average salary that season was $19,000. That equates to roughly $136,000 in today’s economy.

The average MLB salary in 2017 was somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5 million dollars. Baseball salaries have risen 16 times faster than the U.S. as a whole since 1968. I may need to hire Scott Boras to negotiate my own salary increase next month.

I also bring up the 1973 baseball movie because more and more facts are surfacing regarding Daniel Flores, the 17-year-old Red Sox catching prospect who recently passed away. Flores only received his cancer diagnosis on October 28 before passing on November 8, so he was obviously very sick (testicular cancer had metastasized to his lungs) by the time he first went for medical attention after complaining of back pain.

“There’s nothing much to say,” trainer Jose Salas, Jr. said in an interview, his voice cracking. “Two Tuesdays ago he was hitting line drives to 95 mile-per-hour fastballs.”

Pitching prospect Alex Scherff added, “You literally couldn’t have been able to see that he was in that condition at all. He completely dominates the game. He’s the best catcher I’ve ever seen, no doubt in my mind at all.” 

The article by Alex Speier of the Boston Globe is definitely worth reading. And if you get a chance to catch Bang the Drum Slowly, I highly recommend it. 

Friday Stove

SP Alex Cobb is openly courting the Cubs. Cubs Insider EIC Evan Altman has all the details.

Former Cubs hitting coach John Mallee was hired by the Phillies to replace Matt Stairs, who left for a similar position with the Padres. Mallee is a good signing for a team loaded with young power. 

Per Jon Morosi, the Miami Marlins have had preliminary trade talks with the Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, and Phillies. Talks are expected to intensify at next week’s GM Meetings. 

The Arizona Diamondbacks do not intend to significantly increase payroll in 2018. That likely means they will not try to re-sign slugger J.D. Martinez, who is reportedly seeking a $200M contract.

OF/DH Shin-Soo Choo of the Texas Rangers is owed $62M through 2020 and that may be a luxury the Rangers can’t afford. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News suggests finding a team willing to swap bad contracts.

The Chicago White Sox have decisions to make on 1B Jose Abreu and OF Avail Garcia and see 2020 as a reasonable target date for a return to dominance in the AL Central. Both players are controlled only through the 2019 season.

Byron Buxton was named the best defensive player in baseball.

The Twins are interested in reuniting with former closer Brandon Kintzler.

The World Series trophy was damaged at a fundraising event in Houston.

C’mon, Jake Arrieta doesn’t really have interest in going back to Baltimore, does he? Can they even afford him? John Heyman has all kinds of juicy hot stove nuggets.

Weekend Walk Up Song

Here I Go Again by Whitesnake. Somewhere Kenny Powers is smiling. Also, I’ve got my 35th high school reunion (Alan B. Shepard HS) today, so it’s almost obligatory that I choose a song from 1982. Just picked up my Astros jersey from the cleaners. That was our team name. See y’all Monday.

Back to top button