4th Street Films presents
The Bases Are Loaded (2005)
"Baseball is life for Cuba. It's the most important thing in the world."- Connie Marrero
Stars: Monte Irvin, Connie Marrero
Director: Jeffrey Nagel
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:05m:21s
Release Date: 2006-10-31
DVD ReviewBaseball may or may not have been invented by Abner Doubleday, but whatever its origins, the national pastime has long since taken hold beyond the U.S. borders—major league rosters are increasingly international, and the sport is wildly popular in (among other regions) Asia and in Central America, even if more and more U.S. kids are forsaking the game for soccer and other more sedentary diversions. This documentary is a nice quick look at the history of the game's popularity in Cuba, and uses baseball as a prism through which to view the differences between that country and the United States.
The principal talking head is Kit Kreiger, an American historian of Cuban baseball—especially interesting are the tales of Negro League players who, pre-Jackie Robinson, played integrated ball in Cuba, accepted as equals in another country and, shamefully, not in their own. The twin pillars of the documentary are Monte Irvin, an African American who played Cuban winter ball back in the day; and Connie Marrero, a Cuban star who excelled later in life (and before the revolution) in the States, a 39-year-old rookie with the Washington Senators. Kreiger and Irvin are part of a barnstorming troop of sorts, coming to Cuba with bats and gloves and catching gear, to try and regain the camaraderie between Cuban and American ballplayers that have been all but severed by a half century of cold war. Especially moving in this group is Linda Manning, whose late father was a Negro League player and who was unable to return to Cuba to reconnect with old friends before his death.
So the movie is a sort of an AARP road trip, and it's a travelogue of sorts, with a look at Cuban daily life—the only cars on the roads are Hudsons and De Sotos and the like, and one of the principal topics of conversation is the ineffectiveness of the decades-long Cuban embargo. It's a kick to see how the traditions of the game are different—after the fifth inning, for instance, young women come onto the field with cups of coffee for the umpiring crew, and the dusty fields and threadbare uniforms and equipment compare poorly even to any weekend softball league in the U.S.
What's missing, unfortunately is much footage of Cuban baseball being played, either from back in the day (perhaps none exists) or currently (perhaps the Castro regime wasn't entirely cooperative). What we're left with too often instead, then, are self-satisfied sabermetricians rattling on, pasty guys with a mix of condescension, statistics, and ersatz nostalgia, who think they're smarter about the game than you are, and are on some sort of quest for baseball purity. (Whatever the sport, whenever anyone starts to talk about "the way the game ought to be played," I want to throw up, or slug them, or both.) The upshot: there are fewer home runs in the Cuban game. Also lacking is any discussion of the handful of Cuban ballplayers, like Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez, who have recently traveled the same path to the major leagues that Marrero trod back in the day. But the documentary runs only an hour, enough only to give us a taste of the game and its pedigree in Cuba.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The documentary was shot on video, and the contrast level is mighty high; the transfer is adequate.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The PCM track is a little heavy on the static, and the Cuban music, though a good listen, is jacked up a little too high.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Extras Review: Only chapter stops, and no menu to get to them.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsIgnore the occasional bits of egghead condescension and concentrate only on the game, and you'll find this to be a nice little primer on Cuban baseball and its history.
Jon Danziger 2006-10-31