“Million Dollar Arm”
I distinctly remember hearing my high school track coach lamenting the fact that those of us who showed up for tryouts were distinctly untalented. He said, “It seems like in a school this size we should have several guys who could run a 10-second hundred (yard dash, back before it was commonly measured in meters). We don’t even have anybody here who could do an 11.”
Well, we did have a guy who ran a 4:20 mile that year, but I would venture to say that a distance runner is more about grit than native talent. But this brings up the whole nature/nurture argument in sports, especially among coaches. I’ve heard coaches say that they can take anyone with talent and make them better, but I’ve also heard coaches say that there are some things you can’t teach. Like speed.
Well, the whole assumption in the movie “Million Dollar Arm” is that out of all those millions of people in India, surely there are a couple of guys who could actually throw a baseball hard enough to be legitimate major league prospects. The trick would be finding out who they are, and then getting them to a place where their skills could be developed.
Based on a true story from 2008, Jon Hamm plays JB, a sports agent who made a lot of money, enough to buy a luxurious house in L.A. , before he decided to branch out and form his own agency, and now he’s struggling to sign players. He’s even having to rent out the pool cabana at his house to a medical student, Brenda ( Lake Bell ). With his partner, Aash (Aasif Mandvi), a big cricket fan who says that everyone in India plays cricket, he concocts a plan to travel to India to hold pitching tryouts. The guy who could throw the hardest (measured by the radar gun) would win a million dollars, and a chance to go to America to learn baseball. They assume that the experienced cricket “bowlers” (pitchers) would be their top prospects, but that’s not the way it turned out.
The contest generates incredible media interest in India , and they receive a lot of free publicity, which causes hundreds to show up for their tryouts, but alas, most were distinctly untalented. They did, in fact, find a couple of guys who could throw in the 80’s: Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), plus a wannabe-coach who also offered to serve as a free translator, Amit (Pitobash). JB brings the three of them back to L.A. amid great fanfare, and the definite interest of Major League Baseball, always eager to tap new markets, both for talent and for fan base.
But the two young Indian guys are not only nervous, but homesick. There is much to learn about living in a different culture and a different part of the world, besides also needing to learn English. The transition to being real ball players, wasn’t easy, either. But eventually they are both signed by the Pirates, JB’s sports agency is saved, but more importantly, he strikes up a romance with Brenda, who’s also unafraid to tell him when he’s just being a selfish jerk.
It’s one of those cute and heartwarming films that is actually based on a true story. It will also spark much debate among the sports-minded types about the old nature/nurture dichotomy, which has plenty of application in other fields, as well: like Education. And Religion: do we have faith because it’s “in” us, or because it was nurtured? And how many ministers do you know who weren’t raised in church? Oh, and just to expand the debate a little further: “untapped markets” used to cause Christians to send out missionaries to “convert,” but now we think more about “partnerships with the indigenous.” Does our culture now have more missionary zeal for baseball than religion?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas