Funky buttloving, the early 90’s had a bunch of family movies about baseball. There was Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield, and The Sandlot. There was also Rookie of the Year, the tale of twelve-year-old Henry Rowengarter who gains the ability to throw 100 mph fastballs after he breaks his arm in a freak accident. Thomas Ian Nichols plays the title character, Gary Busey plays an aging pitcher, and Daniel Stern plays the annoying pitching coach and directs the movie as well. If you didn’t see this movie when you were a kid, you probably think that this movie sucks. And you’re right. It does.
Henry Rowengarter is an average kid who loves baseball. The problem is that he sucks at baseball. He spends his days hanging out with his two friends just having fun and being a kid. He lives with his single mom, and is annoyed with her new douchey boyfriend, Jack. Henry is the worst player on his Little League team and gets made fun of. One day he breaks his arm. When he finally gets his cast removed, the tendons in his arm have constricted, which gives him the awesome side effect of being able to throw a baseball at a hundred miles an hour.
Henry discovers his new ability when he’s at a Cubs game and the visiting team hits a homerun and he throws the ball back. The Cubs are a little desperate for talent and attendance and hiring a kid with an arm like Nolan Ryan would fill the seats. Jack sees dollar signs and becomes Henry’s agent.
Henry joins the Chicago Cubs without being drafted or playing a single game in the minors or even being of legal age. In his first game he comes in to relieve his pitching idol, the fading Chet “Rocket” Steadman (Gary Busey). He gives up a homerun, hits a batter, and throws a wild pitch on his first three professional pitches, but ends up with the win.
With the help of Rocket and the weird pitching coach Phil Brickma (Daniel Stern), Henry learns how to pitch. He starts to get sucked into the glamorous lifestyle of being a professional prepubescent pitcher and starts neglecting his friends. His sleazy agent hatches a plot to trade Henry to the Yankees, but Henry finds out and fires him. Henry realizes that he was being a dick and makes up with his friends and decides that this will be his last season.
Before he quits he wants to send his team to the playoffs. He comes in to relieve his idol in the final game of the season. He pitches well, but then he slips on a ball and loses his arm. He uses his wits and cheap tactics and an illegal pitch to retire the side and send the Cubs into the post season. The movie jumps ahead to Henry winning a Little League game and pumping his fist in celebration, and the movie ends on a close-up of his World Series ring. I guess the Cubbies did it. Even if it’s fictional you gotta take what you can get.
For a movie about baseball, they sure don’t respect it. You never see Henry take a warm-up pitch. You hardly see any real baseball plays. You just see a bunch of obvious discrepancies, like Henry isn’t even eligible to play, and he’s not eligible to win Rookie of the Year because he joined the Cubs in August and you have to pitch at least fifty innings to qualify. Nitpicky stuff, but other movies like Little Big League pay attention to baseball rules and that’s kind of important in a fucking baseball movie.
Gary Busey is a great actor and he has a decent appearance as Chet “Rocket” Steadman. His character is gruff and surly in the beginning but warms up to Henry and become a father figure to him. His great transitional scene is his moment on the mound with Henry where he talks about “hattitude” in a rambling attempt at a pep talk. Daniel Stern does a pretty good job directing this movie, but he insists on ruining it by playing the most annoying character in cinematic history. He is desperately trying to be funny, but even kids can tell when an actor is phoning it in. I know it’s a kid’s movie, but you can at least try to portray a character with a little respect for the audience. John Candy plays the announcer for the Cubs. It’s not his best role, but John Candy is always a plus. He made movies better just with his presence.
This movie is kind of lame. You might have fond memories of it, but if you study this film for its artistic merit you wont find any. It has its moments, but so do most movies. If this is your favorite 90’s kid’s baseball movie, you have obviously never seen The Sandlot.
Critically Rated at 10/17