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April 24, 2020
Baseball fans looking for something to watch during the COVID-19 lockdown might turn to films about the game to help scratch that itch. Opinions are strong over which movies about America’s pastime are the best, but there is an overall consensus on what the roster should be.
Casual fans of the game know Bull Durham, the No.1 pick at MLB.com, as well as the film review site Rotten Tomatoes. The rest of the lineup includes, in no particular order, A League of Their Own, The Natural, Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, Moneyball, The Bad News Bears, and of course, Major League. One highly-rated baseball film that gets overlooked, though, is Eight Men Out. It comes in at No. 5 on the MLB.com list, No. 7 on the Bleacher Reports rankings and No. 12 at Rotten Tomatoes.
The film, based on the 1963 book of the same name by Eliot Asinof, has a Cincinnati connection both in plot and production. The book and film are about the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, which saw members of the American League champion White Sox accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
The film was released in 1988 and was primarily filmed in Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinnati, the latter, oddly, filled in for Chicago. Indeed, the opening scene was shot in front of the Woodward Theater on Main Street, just two blocks from Cincy Shirts’ present-day OTR location. The rest of that scene was shot along 14th Street. Many of the movie’s other exterior shots were filmed in the area, as well as across the river in Covington.
The scenes at the New York horse racing track were shot at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Most of the train travel sequences were filmed at Louisville’s Union Station. The rest of the train-related bits were filmed in Covington, including those on the train cars.
The game scenes were filmed in Indianapolis at old Bush Stadium. The former home of the AAA Indianapolis Indians, as well as the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns, the ballpark had to double for Comiskey Park in Chicago as well as Redland (later called Crosley) Field in Cincinnati.
The Indians moved to Victory Field in 1996. After falling into a state of disrepair, the property was converted into a baseball stadium-shaped apartment complex, complete with stadium lights and a restored diamond.
Though partially filmed in the Queen City, and based on an event involving the Reds, Cincinnati figured very little into the film. Even during the game scenes, Reds players were hardly seen and had no lines. That makes sense, though, considering the film focused on the White Sox players and how they were implicated in the fix.
Though found not guilty in a jury trial in 1920, the eight players were banned for life from baseball by the sports first commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. Born in Millvale, Ohio (between Cincinnati and Oxford), Landis accepted the job only after he was granted ultimate authority over the sport by the owners, who were desperate to clean up the game's image. The guilt of six of the eight is unquestioned. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver knew of the plan but were not part of it, with Jackson allegedly receiving a payment of $5,000. He later recanted this admission.
The upshot for Cincinnati is the team’s first World Series win came with an asterisk. It would be another 21 years before the club returned to the Fall Classic, capturing a World Championship over the Detroit Tigers.
Eight Men Out can be streamed for free on a variety of platforms including, Tubi and Pluto TV. It’s also available to stream free on Amazon Prime.
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