Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cubs on Screen

Well, it's finally been announced.  After a few years of rumors and hearsay, word has finally dropped that Space Jam 2 is officially in the works, with director Justin Lin heading the project.  Of course, the mostly hotly debated part of this whole announcement is who will be filling the role of Air Jordan, that being Lebron James.

Now, setting the whole Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James debate aside, this movie really doesn't need to happen anyway.  Of course, in this age where it seems like every movie is a remake or a sequel and long-dead franchises are being resuscitated in a desperate attempt to make money (i.e., Independence Day), I guess we shouldn't be all that surprised that this is happening.  Such is the state of the movie biz.

However, rather than wallow about seeing a favorite movie from my childhood getting this treatment, I decided to take this as an opportunity to discuss athletes in movies and television.  Since the early days of the sport, when deadball stars would make rounds on the vaudeville circuit, acting and baseball have overlapped countless times.  Both are in the business of entertainment, after all.

Now, since this is a Cub-centric blog, why don't we go ahead and take a gander at the best Cubs to make an appearance on the big and small screens.  Who is the greatest Cubs actor of all time?

6)  Leon Durham as Leon Alexander in Little Big League (1994)

Another childhood favorite of mine (should I be looking for Little Big League 2 next summer?) hypothesizes what would happen if a child inherited a MLB franchise from a dead relative.  The answer is, install himself as manager and lead the team to the promised land - duh.  One of the men on the field under the thumb of this pre-teen is first baseman Leon Alexander.

Leon Alexander is none other than former Cubs first baseman Leon Durham.  Mostly, he just stands around in the background and only speaks a couple of lines.  However, they do have him make a key error in a crucial, late-season game, where an easy ground ball goes between his legs at first base...

5)  Jay Johnstone as Seattle "First Up" in The Naked Gun (1988)

I am not ashamed to say that this slapstick comedy is one of my favorite movies ever made - it still makes me laugh out loud to this day.  Now, we all remember the iconic climax of this film, where our hero Lt. Frank Drebin poses as an umpire during a game between the Mariners and the Angels in order to foil an assassination attempt on the Queen of England.  Hilarity ensues.

While Reggie Jackson stole the show as the mindless drone who tried to pull the trigger, what you might have forgotten was that the first man to bat with Drebin behind the dish was none other than Jay Johnstone.  With his wacky reputation for pranks and clubhouse buffoonery, this really was the perfect movie for his on-screen debut:

4)  Leo Durocher as himself on Mr. Ed ('63), The Beverly Hillbillies ('63) & The Munsters ('65)

Leo the Lip was also Leo the Hollywood schmoozer.  As a good friend of the one and only Frank Sinatra, Leo parlayed this relationship into a few bit parts of some iconic television shows.  

The future Cubs manager receives some helpful batting tips from a surprisingly baseball-savvy talking horse and tries to recruit both Jethro Clampett and Herman Munster to pitcher for the Dodgers, due to their abnormally strong throwing arms.  He sure didn't have much range as an actor, but he sure did know where to stick his nose in.

3) Tim Stoddard as Dodger Pitcher in Rookie of the Year (1993)

*Bias alert* Major bonus points for starring in a movie that features the Chicago Cubs and a film that was in hot rotation in my house as a child!  Tim Stoddard was a key cog in the bullpen for the 1984 NL East championship club and an intimidating presence on the mound.  He was able to parlay that fearsomeness into a cameo as a tough guy hurler who gets psyched out by a pre-teen on the basepaths.

It wasn't until recently that I came to realize that the "underwear snitcher" on the mound was actually a Major League pitcher... and a former Cub at that.  It's also got the janitor from Scrubs and one of the Wet Bandits from Home Alone as the director/pitching coach.  Funky butt-lovin'!

2)  Jophery Brown as Worker in the Raptor Pen in Jurassic Park (1993)

Jophery Brown was a one-game wonder in the Major Leagues, pitching two innings and giving up a run in a 1968 contest against the Pirates.  His career was so brief, that he never had an official baseball card made in his honor; thankfully, well-known blog reader Stubby stepped in and created one, which he generously donated to my collection.

While his time on the diamond wasn't too notable, he was a trailblazer in the movie business.  Jophery became one of the first black stunt men and smashed down a lot of boundaries for minorities in stunt work.  His credit roll is miles long, but one of his best moments was being behind the wheel for the famous bus-jumping scene in Speed.  His quality work often lead to him getting bit parts in the films he worked on, including being the first victim of Jurassic Park:

It all comes down to this... who will win the Oscar for the best Cubs actor of all-time??? 


1)  Chuck Connors as Lucas "the Rifleman" McCain in The Rifleman (1958-1963)

Chuck had brief trials in the Major Leagues with both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs, not to mention a shot with the original Boston Celtics in old Basketball Association of America.  Hell, the guy was even drafted by the Chicago Bears (but never suited up).  In short, he was an all-around athlete.

That said, his true calling was as an actor.  Chuck broke into the biz after his pro-sports career fizzled and played bit parts in television and movies for the next 40 years.  Of course, his most iconic role was that as "the Rifleman" in the popular western program by the same name.  He's by far and away the most most decorated actor on this list.

Before we call it a day though, I have two honorable mentions that deserve to be... ummmmm.... mentioned:

I'm told that this Ferrell character starred in a few movies both before and after his try out with the Cubs in Spring Training last year.  Fun fact, he was apparently traded to the Cubs for a washing machine and then subsequently traded away for a churro dog.  Speaking of which, if anyone has that card available, I sure wouldn't mind talking trade.

Furthermore, former Cubs broadcaster Ronald Reagan had a long and successful Hollywood career, he even played the lead role in a film about Cubs legend Grover Cleveland Alexander (from which the image on this cards dates).  His last credit was in 1964... I wonder what ever happened to him?

So there you have it - the greatest actors in Chicago Cubs history.  All of this because it was announced that Lebron James will be starring in Space Jam 2.  Here's hoping that Lebron can live up to the Shakespearean quality of acting set forth by Michael Jordan in the original and by the athletes you see above.

Please don't ruin my childhood.


  1. No love for Gracie???


    1. Ah dang, I've never seen that movie. Oopsy.

    2. Figured, glad I pointed it out. No lines, more of a cameo but at least he played a Cub!

  2. Damn. I didn't know that about some of the newer movies, especially Stoddard. You lost me with the older shows/movies, but cool facts!

  3. I still maintain that Little Big League and Rookie of the Year are two of the best baseball movies ever made...but that's probably my '90s bias talking. Didn't realize the Cub connections between the two.

  4. Can't believe I didn't know about that great bit of Jurassic Park trivia!

  5. Fun post... even if I'm a few days late... and the winner was a ringer.

    This doesn't really count, but there was an episode of The Flintstones called "Big League Freddie" and one of the characters was "Leo Ferocious". IMDB says that Mel Blanc voiced Leo.