While mustering up the strength to stay awake for a three-hour long 990WBOB fantasy baseball draft, I found myself deliriously looking through available players in the 14th round and stumbled upon someone I mistook for Jack Parkman, the power-hitting catcher from the Chicago White Sox. After realizing I was thinking of a fictional character from Major League II, and not an actual baseball player, I started thinking of how the most notable baseball figures from the silver screen would actually fare playing at the real Major League Baseball level.
I started researching the movies and reading the scripts to find any hint towards stats given out during the motion pictures, and it turns out that some of the most beloved pitchers and hitters from the box office could actually play at the top of the sport on the diamond.
In the next few paragraphs you will find the answers to whether Willie Mays Hayes could play in the big leagues or whether Lou Collins was the great hitter the Cubs claimed him to be but it’s worth noting that the stats kept in The Sandlot that summer when Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez and Ham Porter were playing do not translate to playing in the actual majors. Other movies such as Bull Durham are about minor league ball, so if Crash Davis can’t make the majors in the movies, he won’t in real life either.
Steve Nebraska, the American who was discovered playing baseball in Mexico in the 2004 movie The Scout, made his Major League debut in Game 1 of the World Series and pitched a perfect game, throwing 81 consecutive strikes and retiring all 27 batters. Not only did he set a record with a 112 MPH fastball, but he also hit two solo homeruns in the contest and the Yankees won 2-0. While we only have nine-innings of work to digest, it was the most dominant game of baseball ever played. Those 81 pitches are the least amount of balls thrown in a perfect game in the big leagues since 1908. It’s to believe that he would have started the 2005 season as the Yankees ace.
That year Greg Maddux lead the league with 19 wins,David Cone led with 229.1 innings pitched, and Randy Johnson topped with 294 strikeouts. Jack McDowell was the Yankees’ ace with a record of 15-10 with 217.2 innings pitched and 157 strikeouts. In his ten losses, he gave up 73 earned runs. Steve Nebraska would not have given up anywhere near that many runs. If he gave up even 2 runs per game in those ten, the Yankees would have won 7 of those, meaning the win total for the ace goes from 15 to 22, thus being the league leader.
David Cone pitched a lot of innings that season and it’s tough to tell Nebraska’s durability, but if he can throw a complete game with only 81 pitches, he should be able to log a lot frames. The strikeouts tally will be up there, especially since he clocks in fastballs consistently over 100 MPH. Earlier that season, when he was trying out for all 32 baseball clubs, Nebraska is seen striking out Keith Hernandez on three straight pitches.
While Hernandez wasn’t actually playing baseball that season, for a career he only struck out once every ten at-bats. Getting him out on three straight fastballs is impressive. He also strikes out Ozzie Smith to finish the perfect game. How impressive was that feat? Smith only struck out 26 times that regular season in 433 plate appearances, meaning he only went down on strikes just 6% of his at-bats.
Willie Mays Hayes was the base-stealing center fielder for the Cleveland Indians in the first two Major League movies. There is a scene in the second film where they show him nailing a pair of batting gloves to his wall for every base he has stolen so far that season, and when pausing the movie and counting, it appears to be roughly 50 pair. This scene takes place about two-thirds of the way through the 1989 season, so it’s likely he recorded over 70 stolen bases that year. Hayes finished with a .291 batting average heading into the playoffs.
That same year Ricky Henderson hit .274 and stole a league-high 77 bases. How good was Hayes? He had a better average than the best leadoff hitter in the game and stole roughly the same amount of bases. I’m sure Hayes accounted for it on his wall, but this is also the season when he stole two bases at once, going from first to third on one pitch.
In 2005, Donruss came out with fantasy baseball cards, one of which included Hayes, and on the back of it, shows him leading the league that year with 100 steals and 103 walks. The center fielder vowed in the beginning of the film to steal that many bags, but that feat is never mentioned at any time during the script. It’s safe to say he stole over 70 and may have even led the league over 77, but 100 is a stretch.
T-Rex Pennebaker had a break out season in 2004 for the Milwaukee Brewers during Mr. 3000. He hit .330 with 50 home runs. In real life baseball, Icharo Suzuki led the league with a .372 average and Adrian Beltre hit the most home runs with 48. Pennebaker would have finished fifth in the National League in batting and first in all of baseball in homeruns. That is a solid season for not only the big screen, but also the big leagues.
Clu Haywood was the New York Yankee in Major League who came to the plate in in the final at bat of the 1989 divisional playoff series. It is announced upon his introduction that he is the American League Triple Crown winner with a .341 batting average, 48 home runs and 121 RBI. His stats would not have actually won the real Triple Crown, but it would have got him real close. That season Kirby Puckett let the real league with a .339 average, while Kevin Mitchell hit 47 home runs and 125 RBI. Haywood would have topped the sport in two of the three major statistics, falling only 4 RBI short of the crown. Haywood is one of the players from this list who you can’t question “if” he could play in the majors, because he actually did for 11 seasons.
Between 1975-1986, Pete Vuckovich, who plays Clu, was a Cy Young award winner who pitched for four different teams and recorded 882 strikes and a career 93-69 record and 3.66 ERA. A fun fact about Pete, he actually recorded the first save in Toronto Blue Jay franchise history in 1977. He was a career .159 hitter, far from his triple-crown days on the big screen.
Roger Dorn played third base for the Cleveland Indians (Major League) that same year, and he hit .272 with 86 RBI. Jerry Browne led the real Indians that season with a .299 average in 153 games while center fielder Joe Carter topped the team with 105 RBI. Dorn would have come in second that season in RBI and tied for second in batting average, ironically to the actual third baseman Brook Jacoby, who batted exactly .272. How did Dorn’s stats compare to the rest of the league? Hall of Famers Wade Boggs hit .330, Paul Molitor .315 and George Brett .282. Dorn didn’t come close to them in average but his 86 RBI did top Boggs’ 54, Molitor’s 56 and Brett’s 80, although to be fair, those three guys did not have Willie Mays Hayes on base every time they got up like Dorn did. It would have been a successful season, but nowhere near an All-Star vote.
Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn was the star of the California Penal League before joining the Cleveland Indians in Major League as a fast pitch hurler with nothing else to fall back on. In the second movie he recorded 221 strikeouts to lead the American league during the 1994 season. That year Hall of Famer Randy Johnson led the real majors with 204 strikeouts and Andy Benes finished in second with 189. To put that number in perspective, last season Jon Lester had 220 Ks and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner had 219. Vaughn had an up and down season but still manage to load up on K’s and take the strikeout crown back to Cleveland.
Kenny Powers was the loud mouth, trash-talking pitcher in the HBO series “Eastbound and Down.” The show features Powers at the tail end of his career but the opening scenes lead viewers to believe he was a stud pitcher in seasons past. A quick flash of a trading card featuring Powers during an episode proves the opposite. Kenny played for 5 different teams in five years stating in 2002, his rookie campaign with the Atlanta Braves. That year he went 7-3 with 49 saves and 2.85 ERA. The real closer for the Braves, John Smoltz, had 55 saves, but also 4 less wins and 13 more innings pitched. Powers also had 106 strikeouts that year while Smoltz had 87. In his second year, playing for the New York Yankees, Powers had only 39 saves and his ERA jumped almost 2 runs. Eric Gagne led the league that year with 55 saves and ironically the real Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, had only one more save than Powers. In 2004 and 2005 the real trouble on the mound begins as he puts up a 3-10, 30 save season, followed by a 0-6, 3 save season. Combined, he allowed 52 earned runs in 66 innings. These numbers aren’t even comparable to real life major leaguers, who would be sent to the minors, or the unemployment line, mid-season putting up those stats.
In 1994, Lou Collins led the American League in batting average while playing first base for the Minnesota Twins in Little Big League. That’s an impressive stat as the real batting champion, Paul O’Neil, hit .359 that season. Collins would have had to hit .360 or better. Years later, in a separate movie, Roger Dorn becomes the owner of the Twins and Collins’ jersey is hung on the wall in the owner’s suite. Lou was so good he transcended across movies.
Billy Chapel was the pitcher everyone wanted to see do well in For the Love of the Game. During the movie there is a flashback five years prior to when Chapel was in his 14th year of professional baseball. It is mentioned at that time that he had 134 career losses. That is an average of 9.5 losses per season. I’d have to imagine for a pitcher to play the most important position in baseball for 19 seasons, and to be as beloved as he was in his home city, he had to have at least a .600 career winning percentage. Through the first 14 years he would have averaged 13.5 wins per season, which would mean he had over 187 wins with 5 years remaining in his career. At worst, he was a 200 game winner and if he kept up with his career average he likely finished with a record of 256-171. Pitchers do tend to lean more towards .500 seasons as they get older so even if you skew those numbers a bit, he still had a very good career, winning more games than Roy Halladay, Orel Hershiser, Whitey Ford, Pedro Martinez and Luis Tiant.
Bobby Rayburn was the struggling All-Star outfielder for the San Francisco Giants in 2006 when his teammate Juan Primo was murdered by Robert De Niro’s character in The Fan. Rayburn is batting only .184 by Memorial Day and it’s remarked how a three-time MVP could play so bad. We find out earlier in the movie that he was the RBI leader in four of the five previous seasons, between 2001-2005. Looking at the actual number of RBI that led each of those five seasons (160, 128, 141, 131, 128), Rayburn had to have hit at least 528 RBI in those four years he led the majors in that category. I will give Sammy Sosa the benefit of saying his 160 RBI in 2001 was likely higher than Rayburn’s. That is very high number of RBI in the following four-year period. Looking at Alex Rodriguez’s career, his best four-year span was 520 RBI. Albert Puljos’ was 472. Rayburn could drive in a lot of runs and would have fit right in at the real majors.
There are very few stats given in the movie Summer Catch other than Eric Van Leemer being a 2001 All-American at Wichita State. That same year long-time MLB veteran Mark Prior was also an All-American.
Roy Hobbs, from The Natural, had a great 1939 season, playing in 115 games and hitting .350 with 92 runs, 140 hits, 44 homeruns and 106 RBI. That year there were only 16 teams in all of baseball. Hobbs would have finished in third that season in batting behind Joe DiMaggio (.381) and Jimmy Foxx (.360). His 44 home runs would have been the league leader by far that year as Foxx led the real majors with 35. Aside from those stats, he would have fallen outside the top ten in runs, hits and RBI. A great season of long ball swings but the rest of his offensive stat line is below the league greats.
Stan Ross, Mr. 3000, led the league in batting three times in his 20-year career. He had a .314 lifetime average and was the 21st major leaguer in history to record 3,000 hits. His career stats included 312 home runs, 1,606 RBI and 2,021 runs scored. Years later a stat correction dropped his hit total to 2,997, where he currently sits in 28th place in baseball history. His career average would have been 76th all-time, while his homeruns place him 123rd, RBI 33rd and runs scored 8th. He played for two decades and statistically was up there with the greats of that time.
Out of the all these comparisons between movie players and real life league leaders, one thing is blatantly clear; the writers of the these scripts paid close attention to the real players and their stats while deciding on the numbers to associate with their characters. It can’t be a coincidence that Roger Dorn had the same batting average as the actual Indians third baseman or that Willie Mayes Hayes had roughly the same stats as Ricky Henderson. The writers of Kenny Powers’ career have his stats so close to Jon Smoltz and Mariano Rivera in the seasons he pitched for their respective clubs, that they are almost identical. To make the storylines more realistic, the fictional characters mimicked the real life game not just in highlights and behind the scene drama, but also in the stat book. Could Omar Epps have really played in the majors? Of course not, but it’s fun to compare the seasons he had as Hayes (Major League I and II) and Bobby Rayburn (The Fan) to the real life league leaders.
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