Sports Movies: “61*” (2001)

Screenshot Barry Pepper as Roger Maris in 61 movie

There was a time when baseball’s home run record really meant something. It was mythical. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, hitting more home runs than 12 teams that year!

Ruth’s home run record stood for 34 years, until Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961, though Major League Baseball shamefully put an asterisk next to Maris’s record. The Babe had set the record during a 154-game season, while Maris broke the record during a 162-game season. Maris also broke the record in a season following expansion, further angering baseball purists who felt he didn’t deserve to be labeled the Home Run King.

The steroid era made discussions of the record even more controversial. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shattered the record in the memorable 1998 season when McGwire hit 70 home runs and Sosa hit 66. Barry Bonds followed that with an amazing 73 in the 2001 season. But the steroid scandal exposed McGuire, Sosa and Bonds, making a mockery of the home run record. This context helps explain why so many wanted to crown Aaron Judge as the “true” holder of the record with his 62 home runs in the 2022 season.

“61*” is a historical drama that tells the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as they chased the Babe’s record in the 1961 season. Mantle was already a legend in the minds of most baseball fans, while Maris was the new kid on the block on New York even though he won the MVP in 1960 in his first season as a Yankee.

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Review of The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons

I’ve always had a tough time doing book reviews. I’m only able to devote a few minutes here and there to actually sitting down and reading, so it takes me a while to get through a typical book. Combine that with the kind of turnaround that people want for a (or any) review, and I often wonder if someone that claims to have read an entire book is actually telling the truth.

In the interest of full disclosure, when Bill Simmons’ 700-page The Book of Basketball landed on my front stoop, I decided then and there that I’d read the first few chapters and then post about it. After all, Christmas is coming up and people are probably wondering if this opus is a worthwhile gift for the beloved basketball fan in their life. (It is.)

Anyone familiar with Simmons’ work on ESPN knows that he’s an engaging writer who uses an easy-to-read, conversational style littered with funny pop culture references. His book is no different. As a former collegiate player, I often take exception to his knowledge of the game. I’m not talking about history — if there’s one thing that’s clear about this book, it’s that Simmons understands how the NBA got from Point A to Point Z.

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“The League” debuts on FX

FX’s original broadcasting has a reputation for being pretty racy and adult-oriented — after all, this is the network that brought us “The Shield,” “Rescue Me,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Nip/Tuck” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Last night, “The League” debuted. It’s a half-hour comedy that follows a group of friends that are all in a fantasy football league together. One guy is the defending league champ, and his wife doesn’t want him to play, even going so far as giving away his lucky draft shirt. Another’s wife is supportive, and actually runs his team for him. Then there are the two clueless friends that are either too high or too ill-informed to compete in the league.

But fantasy football doesn’t dominate “The League,” which is more like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” for the married, suburban set. It’s raunchy, but often funny.

FX is replaying the premiere tomorrow (Saturday) night and before the second episode next Thursday.

Review of “Shooting Stars,” the LeBron James autobiography

TrueHoop isn’t fond of it.

There are fascinating elements of the James story that have not been told. He was an amateur high-school player worth millions, and for years he was on rails to be an NBA superstar. What was the role of William Wesley (whom James called, in a GQ article, a “great role model”?) How did James navigate that forest of those who congregated to influence him, give him things and skirt the rules? Can he tell us more about the fascinating character of his mother? Did he know Sonny Vaccaro, Phil Knight or any of the various other stars in the constellation of youth basketball? What kinds of overtures did he get from colleges? Did anyone ever offer to help him cheat on his SATs? How did agents, financial advisers and the like approach him? How did he build the most important financial relationship of his life, with Nike? How did he choose his first agent, Aaron Goodwin? How is it LeBron’s close friend Maverick Carter got a job at Nike while James was in school?

But James and Bissinger essentially passed. If you’re looking for a dose of reality, look elsewhere.

Instead we get some touching but shallow insight into how much he likes his friends. Some pretty basic denials of wrongdoing in the little controversies that were in the paper (the expensive Humvee he drove with no visible means of support, the retro jerseys he accepted as a gift) and a little story about getting in trouble for once smoking marijuana.

It’s safe to the point of glossy. Barack Obama, running for the highest office in the land, took more chances.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that James took the safe way out. His persona is generally calculated and anytime he does speak off the cuff (not shaking hands after the Magic series, rooting for the Yankees, being loyal to Akron, etc.), he usually gets in trouble. Maybe we’ll get the real story in 10 or 20 years after he hangs ’em up.

DVD Review – March Madness: The Greatest Moments of the NCAA Tournament

March Madness is arguably the greatest sporting event in the world, so when the NCAA decided to put together a highlights package, there was plenty to choose from. The DVD has four distinct parts: Great Comebacks (including the 1998 “Comeback ‘Cats” of Kentucky), Buzzer Beaters (Bryce Drew, Christian Laettner, etc.), Cinderella Stories (’66 Texas Western, ’06 George Mason) and Legendary Performances (Magic/Bird in ’79, Isiah Thomas in ’81). Jim Nantz narrates and does a nice job of setting up the action, whether it took place in 1966 or in 2006.

In addition to the aforementioned topics, the documentary covers the ’05 comebacks by Louisville and Illinois to make the Final Four, Michael Jordan’s clutch shot in the ’82 finals, Keith Smart’s game-winner in the ’87 finals, Dwyane Wade’s triple-double as well as Jim Valvano’s N.C. State team that took down Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma. The film also highlights Shaquille O’Neal’s single-game record for blocks, Bo Kimble’s touching tribute to Hank Gathers and Bill Walton’s astonishing 21 for 22 performance in 1973.

Special features include highlights of three championship games: ’79 (Michigan State/Indiana State), ’82 (North Carolina/Georgetown) and ’83 (N.C. State/Houston). There is also an in-depth, uncut interview with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

All in all, this is a nice one-disc package that covers just about every buzzer beater and Cinderella story in the last four decades of the NCAA tournament.

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