Edelman: Baseball film to 1920

From SABR member Rob Edelman at Our Game on May 22, 2012:

Every motion picture is a time capsule, a moment in the life of a culture. But unless it is two minutes or ten hours long and non-narrative—in other words, decidedly non-commercial—a film is usually produced for one purpose: to make money. In this regard, a motion picture is no different from an automobile, a roll of bathroom tissue, or a can of beer. This profit motive also explains why, in the parlance of the business, individual films are referred to as “product.”

Motion pictures that feature baseball-related settings have been produced since the late 1890s and early 1900s, when movie-going was as novel as watching television was in 1950 or renting movies on videotape was in 1985. From the very beginning, baseball was depicted in motion pictures primarily because of the burgeoning popularity of the sport. It made sense to filmmakers that fans of the game would fork over their hard-earned nickels to gaze at comedies or dramas depicting speedballing hurlers, ninth-inning heroics, and likable underdogs triumphing against the odds. In particular, in this era before the advent of radio and television, motion pictures allowed moviegoers—especially those who lived outside the major league cities—to see and admire the baseball stars they only could read about in newspapers or hear about while chatting with their cronies at the corner barbershop. Such films generally were newsreels spotlighting major leaguers, or one- and two-reelers featuring ballplayers in what were little more than cameo appearances, or highly fictionalized “biographical” features in which scenarists transformed ballplayers into fairy-tale heroes. Whether in a story that was fact or fiction, however, seeing Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth up-close on a movie screen in 1917 or 1920 must have been a transcendent experience for the average baseball fan.

Read the full article here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/05/22/baseball-film-to-1920/

Related links: You can find Part 2 of Rob’s article here at Our Game. Part 3 can be found here.

Originally published: May 23, 2012. Last Updated: May 23, 2012.