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This film tells the true story of the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team, fed up with being underpaid by their boss, accepted bribes to throw games and deliberately lose the World Series. The first half of the movie concentrates mainly on the setting up of the bribes and the games themselves, and the second half of the movie deals with the fall-out of the resulting scandal – the truth being uncovered by suspicious journalists.

There is a stellar cast, including John Cusack as ‘Buck’ Weaver (a player who knew about the bribery but refused to become involved or take any money; sadly he suffered the same punishment as the other team members); D.B. Sweeney as ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, an illiterate but brilliant baseball player; Gordon Clapp as Ray Schalk, the ‘catcher’ for the team who did not know about the bribery and was frustrated at the teams’ apparent inability to play well; and John Mahoney as ‘Kid’ Gleason, retired baseball player and now coach of the team, who had no knowledge (but maybe some suspicions) about the bribes. Charlie Sheen also stars – normally an actor who can be painful to watch, but he’s actually pretty good in this.

The film was enjoyable and far more compelling than I expected.  Although the players were obviously in the wrong to take the bribes, their reasons for doing so were made clear and their actions were somewhat understandable (if not excusable).  These men were playing their hearts out, but only succeeding in making other people rich, while being double crossed and cheated out of a fair wage.

The film was not told from any specific player’s point of view, but perhaps centred most on that of Buck Weaver, and certainly he is the character whose story stuck out the most for me.  He was invited to take the bribe, but refused to do so, and also refused to play at any less than the best of his ability. However, because he chose not to reveal the actions of his fellow team players, he suffered the same punishment of eventually being banned from professional baseball (something which he apparently challenged many times up until his death in 1956).

Overall, an interesting and enjoyable film, which tells a huge part of baseball history.

Year of release: 1988

Director: John Sayles

Writers: Eliot Asinof (book), John Sayles

Main cast: John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, Gordon Clapp, D.B. Sweeney

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