The Rookie (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I guess you're wondering why a site with a "nudity report" is devoting any ink to a family-oriented Disney flick. Fair question.

I watched it because it's one of the top 25 movies of the year, and because I watch every baseball movie.

The material they had to work with here was outstanding. The story is true, and you'd never believe it if it were not. Jim Morris was a mid-30ish chemistry teacher who also coached the high school baseball team in a small town in West Texas. He had once played a little pro ball on a low level, before his arm gave out. When his pitching days were over, he set baseball aside and got himself an education.



While he was coaching, the kids on his team noticed that he had a pretty damned good fastball, but nobody, including Jim, knew how good it was. When Jim had been in pro ball, his fastball was in the 85-86 range, and middle-aged guys don't suddenly get faster after 10 years of inactivity, twinkie consumption, several operations, and a sedentary life correcting papers. But this guy did. Some pitchers need five days of rest to pitch their best. Jim needed 10 years. Although he didn't know it right away, he was suddenly chucking the ol' aspereen at 98 MPH.

Miracle #1 - nobody can explain this. It is approximately equivalent to my suddenly discovering that I can now jump like Michael Jordan, when I could barely get above the rim in my prime. There has never been anything like it in sports history, to my knowledge.

If you don't know anything about baseball, that's about as fast as any lefty in history. Randy Johnson has about the same velocity. Major league teams are always desperate for left-handed pitching, and will hang on to mediocre guys just to maintain a lefty reserve. So when there's a lefty who can throw 98 in the strike zone - he's just about a dead lock for a major league roster.

The problem was, of course, that no major league team find out that Jim existed when Jim himself didn't know. They kids said "wow, you are fast", but Jim just figured any professional pitcher would look overpowering to high school kids, so he blew it off.

Until his team forced the issue.

They were a disappointing team, coming off two consecutive seasons with only a single win each year. They lost the first game of 1999 by ten runs. Jim told them they were a bunch of quitters unwilling to reach for more. They said - "what about you coach? Where is your dream?". So they struck a deal - if the kids could win their district championship, Jim, who was 35 but looked 45, would try out for pro ball again.

Miracle #2 - Jim's team of former no-hopers did win their district championship.

In fact, they won much more impressively than shown in the movie. The movie shows them with some last minute heroics, but does not show that there were some games in which they scored 30+ runs. The author said in the DVD documentary that he couldn't include that in the story because it didn't sound truthful, even though it happened. How did they do it? Were they simply inspired? Not at all. Jim started pitching batting practice in the form of game simulations. After the kids faced the fastest lefthander on the planet, the opposing high school pitchers seemed to be throwing beach balls.

So what happened? After the district tournament, Jim found a professional tryout, showed up, and ...

Miracle #3 - the Tampa Bay Devil Rays took a chance on him.

They knew how fast he was, and they didn't have much to lose. Besides, Jim's story provided a great publicity opportunity for an obscure team, and gave the Rays a chance to fill some seats. In the 125 years of major league baseball, only the legendary Satchel Paige was officially an older rookie than Jim (* See below). The film concludes on the day of Jim's first major league game. He struck out his first major league opponent with his entire home town in the stands. It was a road game against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

Jim's entire major league career consisted of only 15 innings, but the fact that he got there was truly inspirational.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director John Lee Hancock and actor Dennis Quaid

  • "The Inspirational Story of Jim Morris" - Meet the Real "Rookie"

  • Spring Training: Tips from the Pros

  • Deleted Scenes Introduced by the Director

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.85

The film tells his story skillfully. The Disney guys know what they are doing, and Dennis Quaid seemed to inhabit the role completely. I really have only one complaint. The movie is more than two hours long, and my attention wandered a few times when the story stalled. You have to understand that in context. I'm a baseball fanatic. That leads me to think you'll find some rough sledding here if you don't love baseball. For the benefit of general audiences and family groups, I think this would be better as a 90 minute film, cutting back on Jim's talks with his wife and his dad, and the irrelevant prologue, all of which which simply hit all the familiar notes required of all clichéd sports movies. If you do love the game, however, watch this movie with your kids (it is rated G) and have a good time.

Don't miss the documentary, featuring the real Jim Morris and the screenwriter. Jim seems like a great guy.

* SIDEBAR: Satchel Paige's former Negro league colleague, Luscious Easter, was also older than Jim, but fudged his birthday by four years so he could play. According to the official records, Easter debuted seven days after his 34th birthday, but that was actually seven days after his 38th. Still playing AAA ball in 1963, Big Luke admitted that he was born in 1911, not 1915.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 3/5


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: a winner. Budget $22 million. Gross $75 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. The only thing that makes it special is the fact that it is true. If you forget that it's true and just concentrate on whether it is a good movie, it's really just another manipulative sports movie, with nothing original at all. If you thought it was all made up, you'd say "what's the big deal?" But you have to admit it's kinda cool that it is true, and Quaid is absolutely perfect.

Return to the Movie House home page