HBO's “Long Gone," The Best Baseball Movie Most of You Never Saw

Joseph JonesContributor IIIMarch 28, 2011

“Kid. You got a lot of time to get ‘experience.’ Take your time.”
“Kid. You got a lot of time to get ‘experience.’ Take your time.”

You guys know me.  I love baseball.  I often say “it ain’t a sport, it’s a religion” and have been known to turn my pursuit of quality baseball films into an all out quest of epic proportions.

For what is now going on 25 years, I have quietly craved a DVD quality copy of a beautiful little gem of a movie called Long Gone.

It’s my freakin' Holy Grail.

And just like those who made the pursuit of that fabled object their life’s work, I have been left with nothing but bitterness and disappointment.

Considering the fact that there are so few good baseball movies, it’s inexcusable that Long Gone, a made-for-HBO baseball movie from the mid 80s (1987 to be exact, the year before Bull Durham was released) is not available on DVD.

It isn’t a great movie, at least not in a historical context of film, but it is a very, very, good one.  It offers numerous satisfactions, most notably the performances by William Petersen (Stud Cantrell), Virginia Madsen (Dixie Lee Boxx) and Durmot Mulroney (Jamie Donn Weeks), who have rarely, if ever, been as good.

At the heart of the Tampico Stogies baseball team, we find Cecil “Stud” Cantrell (Petersen), a long-time minor-league pitcher, manager and slugger who almost made the big leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in his youth.

"I never said she had orange juice stains on her ----! they just taste that way!"
"I never said she had orange juice stains on her ----! they just taste that way!"

He competed with Stan Musial. Cantrell says that he "hit the ball harder, but Stan the Man had a prettier swing". But it was at the dawn of World War II and after the attack on Pearl Harbor Cantrell served his country, suffering war injuries that wound up preventing him from going farther than minor league ball.

As with Bull Durham, this comedy has the feeling of taking place in a world larger than that of baseball, and thus provides useful perspective into why the game is so central in people’s lives each spring.

Another similarity is the farm-team milieu, a life of abridged hopes and stardom outside “the Show”—the thematic implication being that most of us have some kind of “Show” we can only admire from a distance (Underscoring the point is a nice performance by Madsen as a small-town beauty queen.).

But hope does come in Long Gone, and because of its sharp dialogue and enjoyable acting  this film deserves to be included in anyone’s collection of baseball features.

In an absolutely wonderful bit of casting, William Gibson and Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) play the father and son ownership team of a low-minor league team in the 1950s.  Seriously, these two alone make the movie worth watching.

The script is based on the short, but wonderful, baseball novel by the veteran journalist and Hank Williams biographer Paul Hemphill. While the screenplay isn’t as sharp as the book, it is far better than most of the crap one finds on TV or in film today.

Subplots involving a black player posing as a Latino and a young player knocking up a local girl, as well as the standard big-game finish, might actually be the movies weak points, but the movie retains the inherent charms of the book all the same.

The locker-room scenes here are vulgar and more rogueish than the ones in Bull Durham (though they aren’t as lewd as the ones in Slap Shot).

Unfortunately, HBO has not aired the movie in years, and, again, it is not available on DVD. The only way to see it is on an old VHS tape or if you are one of the three people known to have purchased it on Laser Disc.

Perhaps one day, HBO will decide to re-run it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. It’s an incredible baseball film. Not the great baseball movie that we know can (and will) be made one day, but still, a very appealing one.

Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from Hemphill’s book, where Cantrell dispenses wisdom to Jamie Weeks, his rookie second baseman:

“What’s wrong?”

"Me,” Stud told him. “That’s what’s wrong. Me.”

“I don’t understand.”

Stud rolled his eyes. He leaned back and lit a cigar and looked at Jamie. “Fuckin’ 39 years old, sitting in a goddamn diner ins some piss-ant town like this, reading about myself in the Birmingham News on a Sunday morning before going out to play the fuckin’ Fort Walton Beach Jets. Class-D. Goddamn bottom of the line.”

“Well, hell, Stud, we got a chance at the pennant.”

“And a goddamn kid who in two months time has learned to say ‘goddamn’ and “Jesus’ and ‘hell’ and ‘by God’ sitting in front of me.”

“What’s that mean?” Jamie said.

“It means everything, kid.” Stud was in a melancholy mood, which Jamie and the others had noticed more and more in recent days.

“You know why me and you get along so good?”

He didn’t wait for a response.

“It’s because you’ve got what I want and I’ve got what you want. I got experience and you got innocence. Boy, I tell you.”

“Kid. You got a lot of time to get ‘experience.’ Take your time.”

Unfortunately for Long Gone, it was a made for HBO movie, back when that didn’t carry as much weight as it does now. In those days, “made for pay TV” was much like our “straight to DVD” is now.

In other words, it’s not good enough or it doesn’t have enough star power to be in theatrical release.

I have long asked myself if it was really made for HBO or if it was picked up by them as a movie too good to be shelved? IMDB says it was an HBO production, so one can assume it truly was made for TV until proven otherwise.

BUT they also say Petersen turned down the Tom Berenger role in Platoon to be in Long Gone, which will always leave me wondering if he would have done that for a film that he knew was only going to play on Pay TV.

Whatever the case, it would have been a success in theaters; I firmly believe that.

Sadly, the film never got the chance to prove me right on that, but here’s to hoping that HBO comes to its senses in the not-too-distant future and releases this sparkling lil’ gem on DVD soon.

Long Gone the film may have passed most of you by, but for those of us who were fortunate enough to catch it, she will never be forgotten.

This article is also featured on You're Killin' Me, Smalls!


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