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A Movie Recommendation

We're suckers for sports movies, so maybe our opinion doesn't really matter much, but if you haven't seen 61*, we really recommend it.

The film is about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and the chase for Babe Ruth's single season home run record, but really, it focuses in more on Roger Maris and his insistence on human dignity in even the most trying of situations.

The film was directed by baseball lover Billy Crystal. Crystal actually played college baseball, at East Tennessee State if we remember correctly, for a time.

His movies often have father-son relationships as a theme, and though it is submerged, it does come up in this one, first when Mantle talks about his father, again when Maris brings up his family, and finally at the end, when Crystal salutes his own father.

Still, though, the movie at heart is about the differences between Mantle and Maris and the differing ways they dealt with the pressure.

Mantle was a bon vivant, a guy who fully expected to die by 45 like most men in his family, only to live a fairly long life. He would have lived longer had he taken care of himself, and he would have been an even greater baseball player had he slowed down some off the field. But that's all well known, and even though most everyone knows of his excesses, most everyone forgave them as well.

Still, the story came down to Maris, watching Mantle make New York his oyster, and wondering why it was so hard for him to be like the Mick, and Mantle, watching Maris plow ahead in pursuit of Ruth, wishing he was more grounded than he was. The saddest scene in the movie was Mantle callng home, drunk, during baseball season, asking about the kids in school. In the summer.

Anyway, while it gets tiresome sometimes seeing the hackneyed storylines of sports movies, and the boring linear progression along predictable paths, this movie manages to catch enough of Crystal's passion for the game to make it exceptional. And the guys who play Mantle and Maris are utterly believable. It's really an impressive film, and we recommend it highly. It's yet another coup for HBO. They seem to be doing better work on a consistent basis than almost anyone else in the business.