The good people at Disney are releasing a film called “Million Dollar Arm,” which opens in India this weekend and stateside May 16. In the movie, Don Draper, I mean, Jon Hamm plays a sports agent who goes looking for the next big thing in baseball by scouting Indian cricket players. Having raise three kids on Disney’s “Mighty Ducks” franchise, I know how the film goes, saccharin ending and all. Mercifully, my kids no longer want to see Disney films, and they certainly don’t want to go to the movies with their Dad.
Nevertheless, there is an inherent flaw in the premise of the movie, namely, that cricket and baseball are enough alike that players who are good at one can excel at the other. Both games use bats to hit balls, and then you run. Surely the skills crossover enough. Well, no they don’t, and stop calling me Shirley.
A bit of background here is in order. For three generations, my family has bled Brooklyn (later Los Angeles) Dodger Blue. I have played Little League baseball and coached it. I love the game and have been known to watch pickup games where I don’t even know a single player.
As for cricket, I came to it later in life, while a student in London. The main attraction was that the beer tent opened at 10.30 a.m. and stayed open all day. This was back when the pubs had to close at 2 p.m. and couldn’t re-open until 5.30 p.m. (getting rid of that is the only thing Mrs. Thatcher did that I liked). But I quickly became a fan of the West Indies side (Sir Viv Richards and Brian Lara were God-like in person), and I have cheered my way through all five days of play in test matches at both Lords Cricket Ground and The Oval. I even played a bit (very badly).
Let’s start with putting the ball in play: The baseball pitcher vs. the cricket bowler. The delivery is completely different. A bowler runs, delivers the ball without bending the elbow and can bounce the ball. Hitting the batsman is OK; indeed, a ball hitting the leg before wicket (LBW) means the batsman is out. In baseball, you have to stand on the pitcher’s mound, throw however is comfortable, and you can’t hit the batter. Physically and psychologically, they are very different.
That is true of batting, but even more so. In cricket, the ball can bounce, your head and soft spots are fair game, and there are no foul balls. On the plus side, you don’t have to run if you don’t like where the ball goes. In baseball, the strike zone means you don’t have to swing if the ball isn’t easy to hit, your body is out of bounds to the pitcher and foul balls are common. On the down side, if you hit a fair ball, you have to run it out even if it’s badly hit.
In both games, running is the key to scoring, but again, they aren’t very much alike. In cricket, you run between the wickets, but there are two runners going opposite directions. What runner A does will affect runner B. And you’re standing there batting for hours (literally) in a five-day match — keeping your concentration isn’t easy. In baseball, running requires a knowledge of where the ball is, where the “best play” for the fielders is, when to tag up and a thousand other small things. Cricket requires the long-term concentration of a runner, whereas baseball requires instantaneous reaction to numerous possibilities.
And finally, there is fielding. Cricket players, save for the wicket-keeper (like baseball’s catcher), don’t use gloves. When they stop a ball, there is usually just one throw to be made if that many. In baseball, gloves are de rigeur, and four or five throws can happen on a single play.
Back in July 1932, cricket great Don Bradman sat with Babe Ruth for a baseball game. Allegedly, Bradman jumped up at one point and yelled, “Jove! A double-play!” Ruth is supposed to have replied, “Hey! What’s this? I was told to point out the tricks of the game, and you holler ‘double-play’? You don’t need any teaching!”
That following winter, the Babe came to England and tried his hand at cricket. He didn’t do too well in batting practice with the usual cricket stance, but when he switched to a baseball stance, he tore the place up. “Sure I could smack the ball alright,” he told the press afterward. “How could I help it when you have a great wide board to swing?” When he learned cricket players made about $40 a week, he returned to Yankee Stadium. Bradman never tried his hand at baseball.
So, the fact that “Million Dollar Arm” is based on a true story doesn’t tell me that crossing over is all that easy. Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, whose real-life story was the basis for this film, did get tryout and got signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but I don’t think their cricket background helped much. Of greater relevance was their experience throwing the javelin in college, a motion just like pitching.
And, for the record, golf isn’t much like ice hockey either.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.