Markusen: The wonderful world of Manny Mota

From Bruce Markusen at The Hardball Times on June 21, 2013:

Few ballplayers, no matter how good or even great, will ever have their names mentioned in a major motion picture. That stuff is mostly reserved for the legends, the iconic likes of Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, and Robinson.

Yet, there are exceptions to this rule of celebrity. Manny Mota is one of those. If you remember the classic comedy hit of 1980, Airplane!, you might recall that the names of two journeymen ballplayers were mentioned during the film. As troubled pilot Ted Striker (played by Robert Hays) takes control of the damaged airplane, he starts to hear voices in his head. One of the voices is a public address announcer making the following irrelevant announcement. “Now batting for Pedro Borbon… Manny Mota… Mota… Mota.” The strange, immaterial announcement produces a moment of comedy while illustrating Stryker’s fragile mental state.

Mota and the late Borbon (who died in 2011) will never be confused for Ruth, Mantle, or Robinson. But they were sufficiently intertwined with baseball in the 1970s to merit inclusion in one of the funniest movies ever made. It also shouldn’t matter that Mota and Borbon were never teammates in the major leagues. (Perhaps the fact checkers for Airplane did not do their homework. Or more likely, they considered the small factual error irrelevant in a film that parodied the Airport movies of the 1970s.) What should matter is that Mota and Borbon managed to carve out a niche in the game while having an effect on American culture, when most players struggle to achieve any kind of social notoriety.

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Originally published: June 25, 2013. Last Updated: June 25, 2013.