I am saddened to report that the Mets are faring no better in fiction than they are in reality this offseason.
Keeping an eye out for any appearance by our logo or laundry in the popular culture, I sat through an ABC telepic Sunday night called Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. With a title like Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, you may infer that you wouldn’t watch this if not for the participation of people of whom you’ve heard and perhaps have some positive association (along the lines of Rod Torkelson’s Armada Featuring Herman Menderchuk). If the network had little faith in Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day beyond the brands associated with the presenter and the author (on whose book the script was based), there is a reason for it.
Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day failed to be good. Any good. At all. Although its running time, with commercials, was two hours, it felt like it went on For One More Day.
I never would have known Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day existed except I had seen a couple of still pictures that indicated it was a baseball movie. Well, no baseball movie is ever a baseball movie. God forbid anybody should think a movie that involves baseball is about baseball. I’ve never once heard anybody connected to a baseball movie, even the best baseball movie of all-time, call what they wrote or directed or starred in a baseball movie. They are always quite anxious to tell you that it is not a baseball movie…it just happens to focus a good part of its story on baseball and/or a baseball player.
In the case of Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, the baseball player in question was a New York Met. Michael Imperioli, who played Spider in Goodfellas (and had a recurring role in a television series that covered the same general milieu), showed up in those stills wearing a Mets uniform. He played, I had read, a Met. I didn’t know anything else about Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. I didn’t have to in order to sit down at 9 o’clock Sunday night so I could see somebody in December wearing a Mets uniform.
I would have liked to have known in advance that it would take until about 10:30 for Imperioli to appear in that uniform. So right away, I’m an hour-and-a-half in the hole because, like I said, Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day failed to be good. Any good. At all. For More Than Two Hours, or it so felt.
Especially disappointing were the parts in which Imperioli played a New York Met — which apparently wouldn’t have been the actor’s first choice, judging by his recent sitdown with Sports Illustrated:
In acting, everything is OK. If it’s all right that I put someone’s head through a window, than I guess it’s OK to wear a Met uniform.
Get that? Imperioli the non-Mets fan is granted the privilege of wearing a Mets uniform and being paid for it yet seems to find negative connotations in the job. Tsk tsk, Spider.
If you’ve seen this actor’s previous TV work, you know he plays a gangster pretty well. I think that’s it for him, however. As his portrayal of a drunk, regretful, suicidal ballplayer in Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day shows, Michael Imperioli has all the range of Mo Vaughn during his 2003 stay on the Disabled List.
I’ll spare you the plot details of Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day since, quite frankly, they elude me (everybody dies…or do they?) and get right to the Mets parts.
FIRST METS PART OF OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS: MITCH ALBOM’S FOR ONE MORE DAY
Imperioli’s character is a college ballplayer, which is pretty funny considering Imperioli is almost as old as Shea Stadium. Anyway, it’s the early ’70s judging by his hair and his old man who has been a pain in the ass every time he’s been onscreen, shows up at batting practice with a baseball scout. You can tell he’s a scout because he wears a hat and is called Wally. Wally the scout praises Imperioli and tells the father he’ll send him “some gear,” which is something else scouts must do. Scout leaves. Asspain father asks Imperioli:
“Want some gear…FROM THE NEW YORK METS?”
To which Imperioli, pretending to act, emotes fake surprise. “You’re kiddin’!” young Imperioli who looks every bit the demographic peer of Julio Franco says. “He’s a scout?” (Of course! Look at his hat!) Dad tells him to take more BP and he’s gonna arrange everything, amateur draft be damned.
Next scene, Imperioli acts with a pay phone; the pay phone acts better. He calls dead mom (or is she?) Ellen Burstyn to break the bad news: he’s been signed by the Mets and he’s playing ball in San Juan, where the Mets have never, to the best of my knowledge, had a farm club. Ellen’s surprised, I guess. “It happened really fast,” Imperioli says, which is a lie. It’s taken 90 sludgy minutes to get to Puerto Rico.
Next Imperioli is telling a girl in the bleachers in his old hometown, played without consequence by the especially dull actress who used to play Mackenzie on Y&R (not that I watch soaps or anything), “I couldn’t have hurt her more if I tried.” In Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day, there is no greater pain a son can inflict on a mother than signing with the Mets. But the not good Mackenzie from Y&R counters that where baseball (as opposed to acting) is concerned, “You were good at it. You made the Majors! A World Series!”
Did I mention that Michael Imperioli played on the 1973 Mets? It’s alluded to a couple of times early in the second or third month of Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day. He was in “the Series,” the Series for which he was given only two tickets and neither of them was used by Ellen Burstyn, but I’m getting way ahead of the story, which isn’t difficult.
“I got called up in September to replace a guy who got hurt. The team was great before I got there. I just went along for the ride.”
Now this is where the movie has the potential to get interesting for us. True, somebody (Oprah? Mitch? The tedious Mackenzie?) is fiddling with history. We all know the team was never great in 1973, not until September at any rate. Considering the timing of Imperioli’s promotion, he could have played a key role in securing the Eastern Division, a title not won until the day after the regular season was supposed to end. He could have been Ron Hodges. Or Jerry May at least.
“The World Series,” Imperioli says without much elaboration. “It never leaves your head.”
Opportunity wasted because instead of a great backstory about a pinch-hit in the 14th inning against the Expos or something, we get a flashback (we get a flashback every 20 seconds) to what is supposed to be the 1973 World Series. That could also be interesting. Could be.
Props to Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day for filming at Shea Stadium, site of scenes from The Odd Couple, Men In Black, Two Weeks Notice and the most overrated baseball movie (that wasn’t a baseball movie) of all-time, Bang The Drum Slowly (not to be confused with simply the worst baseball movie of all-time). It’s really Shea, not a back lot or anything. And it’s the 1973 World Series! Sort of!
OK, this is where I get all kinds of picky, which is as it should be. You’re going to go to the trouble of staging the 1973 World Series where some of it took place, it shouldn’t be sort of. It should be as close to the real thing as possible. Most viewers of Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day won’t care one way or the other, but for the handful of Mets fans suckered in by the publicity stills, it’s all we’re going to care about. So get it right or get a move on already.
1) The stands are full of fans setting off flashbulbs. I never saw a crowd anywhere do that until the great home run chase of 1998.
2) It’s daylight. The 1973 World Series games that were played at Shea were famously at night. At night and Arctic.
3) While the public address announcer introduces the lineup featuring No. 15, Jerry Grote; No. 25, Don Hahn; No. 3, Bud Harrelson, who were indeed the 6-7-8 hitters in the World Series opener (which was in Oakland, but one miracle at a time) and indeed wore those numbers, we see Imperioli (No. 26 and in a mustache so thick you’d think he should have been introduced with the A’s) chillin’ in the dugout with “the remaining players and coaches”. Once they are called to line up, Imperioli trots out among 41 and 45, which would be really cool except the backs of their more or less 1973 home uniforms (more like the ’95-’97 revivals, actually) sport the style of numbers that were on the backs of the road jerseys in those days. I ask you: If you’re going to go to enough trouble to work Don Hahn’s name into a World Series scene, why get that detail wrong?
4) Imperioli lines up between 24 and 41, Mays and Seaver. Seaver reaches over to slap hands with Mays. They ignore Imperioli between them who seems just unhappy to be there.
“We lost the Series,” Imperioli recollects to the bad Mackenzie, “and I never even got to bat. Didn’t matter. I thought there’d be a World Series every year. Until the next spring.”
Would it have killed Oprah’s and Mitch’s people to have inserted a line like “you know what they said in ’73, right? ‘You Gotta Believe!’” But no, that would make me like Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day the least little bit. And next spring, we see Imperioli grinding out a triple in “an exhibition game” (the same field they used for his Little League scenes except with a tarp on the outfield wall) and doing something horrible to his ankle as he collides with the Pirate third baseman who ruins his career (meaning we have something else we can pin on Richie Hebner). Imperioli’s wearing a road uniform here in faux Bradenton, a top that looks like the Rico Brogna-era model (the Mets switched out of the block-letter NEW YORK in ’74), but at least the numbers are 1973ish.
How good a movie is Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day? Good enough so that the most dynamic presence is the uniforms.
Imperioli endures two surgeries, three months on crutches and “I never saw the Majors again.” To which bad Mackenzie tells mopey, dopey Imperioli, “Still, your dream came true.” But mopey, dopey Imperioli won’t have any of it.
“That just means you have to change dreams. I stayed in the minors for years trying to get back to a place I’d already been.”
Ya don’t think a catcher on the World Series roster couldn’t have snagged an extra ticket to at least one of the games?
SECOND METS PART OF OPRAH WINFREY PRESENTS: MITCH ALBOM’S FOR ONE MORE DAY
Dad has disappeared on Imperioli because he has “no sympathy for losers”. But at Ellen Burstyn’s birthday party years later (I mean in the script, though the movie itself lasted several decades), he calls and Imperioli answers. He’s been trying to get in touch with his loser son everywhere.
“The Mets have their Old Timers Game, right? I was talking to Harrelson. He told me Fitzgerald crapped out. He ain’t comin’.”
In case you’re curious, Imperioli’s bastard of a father owns a liquor store or two. He’s not in baseball, he’s never been in baseball, he’s not John Hernandez with contacts throughout the game telling Keith to stick with the Mets, they have lots of talent on the farm. So I have no idea why he’s “talking to Harrelson” or why Harrelson would care who’s going to play in an Old Timers Game or why the presence of Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald? Mike Fitzgerald? The catcher traded for Carter, both of whose careers were still in progress while Harrelson was managing the Mets? What the Fitz?) was so crucial to it.
In any event, “it’s too late to get a replacement,” so this is Imperioli’s chance. He’s gotta leave for Shea right now if he doesn’t want to disappoint his nasty father.
“They want me to play in an Old Timers Game?” Imperioli asks with more of that pretend surprise he displays so consistently. “But I only played a month.”
“That don’t mean nothin’,” his father assures him, double-negatives and all. “You were on the World Series team. They’ll take you.”
I must interject here that I attended the 1993 Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball game that commemorated the 1973 World Series. There was no Seaver, no Mays, no Berra. And really, nobody raised much of a fuss. Whoever came came, waved, maybe played a couple of innings. My whole life, as much as I dig Old Timers Days, I can’t recall any import attached to who plays in the games.
But Imperioli hauls ass, motivated by “the connections you can make” if you show up and “throw the bull,” according to that horrible father of his. Maybe he can “get back in the game.” To do so, however, he will have to leave that birthday party Ellen Burstyn is having, and she’s pretty pissy about it especially since he makes up a story about needing to meet a client so he can squirm away (joke’s on him a few minutes later when she dies probably because he decided he wanted to be a Met one more time, but again, I’m getting ahead of the story).
It’s noon the next day, the Old Timers Game, the all-important Old Timers Game at Shea Stadium in progress. True to form for any occasion kicked off at noon at Shea, the stands are half-empty (they sometimes shoot unpromising movies there before real games). Imperioli comes to bat in an early-’90s uniform where again, something is sartorially amiss. The racing stripe associated so strongly with the Mets of ’83 through ’92 is in place…except it’s out of whack. That racing stripe, as we were reminded recently when we admired our greatest fictional pitching rotation, was orange-blue-orange. The racing stripe on the Mets uniforms in this Old Timers Game is blue-orange-blue.
Talk about your crappy Mets gear.
Urgh! Again, WHY BOTHER? WHY BOTHER TO GET IT ALMOST RIGHT? The Old Timers Game of unmatched importance is apparently played in 1990 or ’91 because “Harrelson” is the manager and when it’s over we see GOODEN 16; DARLING 15 (not 44 or 12, mind you); and McREYNOLDS 22 pass Imperioli and the other Old Timers as the modern-day players take the field. Even that they have to screw up because SASSER is wearing 11 even though he was 2 in real life, but never mind that. And never mind the bizarre appearance of GOOSSEN 10 behind the plate (quick aside: Greg Goossen, the would-be 30-year-old of Casey Stengel’s rosy projections cultivated a career as an extra in Hollywood and I accidentally saw his name in the credits of Mr. Baseball and The Firm over the weekend) or FERRER 3 in the infield (as opposed to on the bench that Sergio called home for parts of two seasons). How do you go to the lengths of getting Ron Darling’s number exactly right, of injecting Bud Harrelson’s presence throughout, of renting Shea Stadium and being decent enough to CGI out the Citi Field construction and create a Pan Am ad for the DiamondVision but NOT REPLICATE THE RACING STRIPE CORRECTLY?
Imperioli pops up in his Old Timers Game appearance, leaves the clubhouse without throwing the bull or making connections, estranges from his father for the last time and hides his blue-orange-blue racing-striped Mets uniform deep in his travel bag when he returns to his mother’s home only to discover Ellen Burstyn has died of shame from appearing in Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day.
Better bet for a Met movie, from what reliable sources tell me, is Mathematically Alive, the award-winning documentary about Met fandom, now available on DVD.