Trouble With The Curve
“Trouble With The Curve” is one of those predictable movies that is fun, anyway, especially for a baseball fan.
Clint Eastwood plays Gus, the old-school baseball scout who has spent his entire life in the backwaters, watching high school kids and scouting for the Atlanta Braves. He doesn’t own a computer. He’s not into the sabremetrics so prevalent in today game, evaluating talent by collecting mounds of stats. This is the opposite of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball,” which made fun of old-school scouts who liked the way a player “looked,” pointing out how deceiving appearances could be. Well, that’s true, but sometimes stats can be deceiving, also, particularly in high school. A slugger can be a “dead red” hitter, meaning he can only hit a fastball, and nobody ever think to throw him a curve, because he plays a different team every time, and nobody has any scouting reports on opposing players. Gus is the only scout who notices that this particular hot prospect not only drifts his hands on a curveball, he doesn’t hit it squarely, which Gus “hears” instead of sees. His front office doesn’t listen to him, and soon they realize their mistake: they’ve spent a high draft choice on a “project” who may or may not overcome his fundamental flaw.
Of course there are plenty of flaws in Gus, who has a bad temper, drinks too much, smokes big cigars, and doesn’t appear to be worried about diet or exercise. And he’s losing his eyesight. His beloved wife died years ago, and there’s a touching scene where he goes to talk to her tombstone (or is it maudlin and overweening?). He tried to raise his six-year-old daughter by himself, but felt inadequate because he didn’t know how, and he felt that his road trips were no place for her, anyway. So first he sends her to her Uncle, then to a boarding school. He feels like he did the best he could for her, and there’s no sense brooding about it now, but she’s grown now, and keeps bringing it up, because she wants him to know she felt abandoned and rejected. Mickey (Amy Adams) is named after Mickey Mantle. She loves baseball, also, but has tried to throw herself into a career as a lawyer, where she can’t seem to earn any respect except by overworking. That’s OK, she’s emotionally unavailable, anyway. But her father’s only loyal friend, front-office guy Pete (John Goodman) persuades her to go spend some time with Gus, even though it might jeopardize her making partner in the thankless firm.
There, in the baseball stands, she meets Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a Red Sox scout, who cautiously flirts with her, and Mickey realizes how terribly lonely she’s been, and also begins to understand that she’s much more like her Dad than she wanted to believe.
Don’t worry, the relationships all improve in the course of the movie. Gus is vindicated despite the fact that he’s an old curmudgeon who still prefers his own company and keeps his own counsel. And best of all, for the baseball fan, is the constant trivia, like, which team was the only one to have four 20-game-winning pitchers? (The Baltimore Orioles, 1975). Who was the only player to win the MVP in both leagues? (Frank Robinson). If baseball is in your bones, you gotta love it. And you probably like Eastwood, anyway, no matter what character he’s playing.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas