5 Questions I Have After Rewatching ‘The Sandlot’ To Distract Myself As The 2020 MLB Season Continues To Implode

the sandlot movie appreciation

20th Century Studios

There was skepticism concerning every plan that was constructed by leagues trying to salvage their season this year but none of them opted for a bolder strategy than Major League Baseball. However, as was the case with every approach, we’were just going to have to wait and see if it’d pay off.

Welp, we didn’t have to wait long to discover it did not pay off, as the Marlins were able to play *checks schedule, goes to another website to make sure that schedule is right* three games after COVID-19 started to make its way around the clubhouse.

In fairness, it’s not like we could’ve seen this coming. It’s not like any similar organizations spent months examining the safest way to play sports while a pandemic rages and didn’t let the impractical nature of constructing isolated bubbles get in the way of taking the proper precautions. Of course, the only way to know if the “slightly less travel than usual” strategy could work was to put it to the test and the MLB failed with colors that crashed and burned almost immediately after attempting to fly.

This is all such a bummer. Call me old-fashioned, but I love baseball. It’s the ideal summer sport and it perfectly captures the essence of the season; at times relaxing to watch and at others absolutely excruciating. I dig the erratic pace, the idiosyncrasies, the way white home uniforms look on a bright July afternoon, and the ebbs and flows of the unnecessarily long season. I’m also a sucker for hot dogs, overpriced beers, and doing the wave, so going to games is a truly delightful experience.

Baseball should be associated with nothing but happiness and good thoughts, but this season (and the mind-numbing series of events that led up to it) have treated us to the exact opposite. When baseball comes to mind now, all you can do is shake your head and check and see how things are looking for football season, which probably won’t make you feel much better (on the bright side, you can’t lose money in your fantasy league if there isn’t a season to begin with).

I don’t want to be bummed when I think about baseball. There are so many other things I can reflect on if I’m in the mood to sigh deeply, like politics, the general state of the world, and the looming threat of summer beers being pulled from the shelves. But baseball? No way, dude.

So, instead of thinking about the ill-fated 2020 MLB season, I have elected to think of The Sandlot instead. In all honesty, it just makes sense. The Sandlot makes me happy. This year’s baseball season does not. It’s kind of an open and shut case.

Is “You’re Killing Me, Smalls” One Of The Best Lines In Movie History?

I have pulled out this line roughly 3,478 times in various situations in life (which is probably a conservative estimate). I found myself using it even more frequently after becoming the father of a small child and there’s a good chance I might encounter another scenario where it applies before I finish writing this, so please be aware that number may have changed by the time you read this.

I’m not even being hyperbolic when I say I think it might be up there as one of the greatest lines in movie history. If I had to throw together a quick top five, it’d probably look something like:

  1. “No, I am your father”
  2. “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”
  3. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”
  4. “Life, uh, finds a way”
  5. “You’re killing me, Smalls”

It’d actually been a while since I’d seen The Sandlot in its entirety, and despite how frequently I quote this historically magnificent line, I had actually kind of forgotten the context surrounding it. For some reason, I assumed it was referring to a boneheaded play during a game but it’s actually from the scene where Ham is slinging s’mores in front of a clueless Scotty Smalls, who had somehow never had one before.

Also, HIS NAME IS SMALLS. I forgot that too! Man, what is wrong with me?

I feel like s’mores deserve more appreciation than they get. They conjure up a lot of the same feelings inside me as baseball does; a reminder of simpler times that are forever associated with the summer. There’s nothing quite like cranking up the fire pit and just inhaling gooey goodness in sandwich form, but unlike baseball, the only possible ways s’mores can make you sad is if you run out of the ingredients to make them.

That’s going to happen at some point because I dare you to eat just one s’more. t’s impossible—almost as impossible as me not saying “You’re killing me, Smalls” at least five more times this week.

What Was Benny’s Pro Career Like?

the sandlot movie appreciation

20th Century Studios

The Sandlot ends with Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in what appears to be the twilight of his career. Smalls (hopefully now well-versed in the Way of the s’more) is the team’s radio guy…I think. He could be calling the game on TV but Smalls gives off some serious “radio” vibes, and when you consider The Sandlot is a love letter to the beauty of baseball and its place in American life, I’m almost positive he’s working for an AM station.

Nothing pulls on those nostalgia strings like listening to baseball on the radio. I still don’t really know what 4K is aside from the fact that I’m supposed to be impressed by it, but even with all the technology we have today, there’s something uniquely wonderful about just listening to a baseball game. It lulls you in and immerses you in a way that no other sport can replicate. The only time I’d turn to radio coverage of basketball, football, or hockey is if I had no other option but there are times where I almost prefer to listen to a baseball game on the radio and paint a picture in my head.

I promise you this is the last ranking I’ll pull out, but if I had to list the most ideal ways to take in a game, this is my official hierarchy (at least until the playoffs roll around):

  1. On the radio
  2. Laying on the couch on a lazy summer Saturday afternoon
  3. At the ballpark

So, we’re going to say Smalls is the radio guy for the Dodgers, which also tracks because A) There is no way he was taking away television duties from Vin Scully and B) You couldn’t get away with wearing a beat-to-shit-fishing hat with a perplexingly large rim if your image was being broadcast to the masses.

We don’t know much about the details concerning Benny’s career prior to this point aside from “they say the Jet’s lost a step or two,” which Smalls shares while also informing us his friend has taken a “suicide lead” at third base—a term I’m pretty sure never existed before this movie and has never been used after based on the zero other occasions I can remember hearing an announcer pull it out.

The Jet ends up stealing home and winning the game for the Dodgers to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside but I have so many questions about everything that led up to this Hollywood ending. Was he a slugger or a guy who just knew how to get on base?  Was he a perennial all-star or more of a role player? Was he a lifelong Dodger or a journeyman who ended up in Los Angeles with retirement looming?

If I had to guess, I’d bet Benny was drafted out of high school after impressing scouts with his all-around talent even though there was plenty of skepticism his power would translate to a higher level of competition. They really liked his skills and his baseball I.Q. and viewed him as a solid corner outfielder who could bat anywhere in the lineup. Benny had a few good years—and maybe one really good year—but he was never an All-Star (although he did come close once or twice). In his last few seasons before hanging up his cleats, he was basically just used as a pinch-runner while playing outfield when a team didn’t really have any other options to turn to.

As for life after baseball? I imagine he got a gig as a first base coach in the minors before making his way back to the bigs and eventually settling into the role of a gym teacher who coaches a high school team, turning down the occasional offer to return to the minors or coach at the college level because they can’t provide the same joy as the job that reminds him of where it all started.

How Much Was The Ball Mr. Mertle Gave Smalls Worth?

You know, the one signed by the entire 1927 Yankees? Man, talk about an uneven trade.

Smalls foolishly brings a ball signed by Babe Ruth that belongs to his stepfather to a game only to see promptly get launched over the fence and into the waiting clutches of The Beast, a guard dog with an insatiable appetite for human flesh confined to a single backyard for eternity.

As we all know, Benny rescues the chewed up ball and outruns the large animal before he and Smalls become homies with Mr. Mertle, the owner of The Beast, who used to be a ballplayer himself (I kind of assume everyone born between the years 1905 and 1974 played baseball at some point; I mean, the teams are pretty big, so this makes sense).

Mr. Mertle proceeds to give Smalls a new baseball—one not just signed by The Babe but all of his teammates on the legendary 1927 Yankees squad, which included Lou Gehrig in addition to five other future Hall of Famers and is widely considered to be one of the best baseball teams ever. I know that Smalls’ stepfather Bill had a right to be pissed about losing the Babe Ruth ball but this was a pretty solid consolation prize.

What is that consolation prize worth, though? Of course, the memories are priceless and the story is a keeper but stories and memories don’t pay the bills.

Today, a baseball signed by the 1927 New York Yankees would be worth at least $125,000. Not bad. However, The Sandlot takes place in 1962, meaning that the ball would have been worth over $14,000. $100 in 1962 is worth about $900 today, so without getting too into the weeds here, it’s safe to say Bill did pretty well for himself.

How Does Smalls Not Know Who Babe Ruth Was?

The Sandlot really kicks into high gear when it becomes a rescue mission for the Babe Ruth ball, which only ended up being used in a game in the first place because Smalls didn’t know who Babe Ruth was.

Wait, Smalls didn’t know who Babe Ruth was? Did he think Grover Cleveland’s daughter had a habit of signing baseballs for adoring fans of the candy bar named after her but forgot how to spell her own name? It’s Babe Ruth for crying out loud! You’re killing me, Smalls.

Ruth’s legendary career ended in 1935 and he passed away toward the end of the following decade. As we previously discussed, The Sandlot takes place in 1962, which is less than 15 years after The Babe’s death. When you consider we’re still talking about the Great Bambino almost 75 years later, I can’t even fathom how Smalls had no knowledge of his existence.

I know that he’s something of a nerd and that his total ignorance of baseball is a pretty big plot point in the early going, but again, this is Babe Ruth we’re talking about. Baseball was still the most popular sport in America in 1962, and not only had the Sultan of Swat left a lasting mark, he was one of those athletes that transcended sports and became a cultural icon even the most athletically ignorant people would know. Smalls might’ve been slightly out of step with the zeitgeist but how do you live with a guy who has a signed Babe Ruth ball and not understand the significance?

If anything, this is just the result of poor step-parenting. Do better, Bill. Do better.

Is Squints The Hero Of The Sandlot Or An Incredibly Problematic Villain? 

It’s safe to say that the stunt Squints pulled in order to get mouth-to-mouth from Wendy Peffercorn would not fly in 2020. I don’t know if he’d get arrested but he’d probably have someone film it so he could put it on TikTok before learning the hard way that colleges aren’t lining up to accept applicants that went viral because they’re as unfamiliar with the concept of “consent” as Smalls was with Babe Ruth.

I mean, if we’re being honest, it wasn’t really that cool in 1962. Should we really be praising what Squints did to an unsuspecting Wendy? That was quite the unwanted advance, Squints. You took advantage of her and her good intentions as a trusted community lifeguard just to steal a kiss in front of your boys. The more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I get.

However, you can’t just look at the incident in a vacuum. It’s worth noting Squints didn’t go undisciplined and I think getting banned from the pool for life was a punishment as harsh as it was justified. Also, as bold as the move was, it paid off, as it earned him a permanent spot on Wendy’s radar. Not only did they end up getting married, they enjoyed each other’s company enough to have nine kids together.

Again, I’m not excusing what he did, but if you’re looking to cancel someone, there are plenty of other candidates you should go after before you set your sights on an eleven-year-old who only knows the word “agency” because of spy movies who didn’t have almost sixty years of societal enlightenment on his side when resorting to the dubious method he used to score a kiss with his future wife.

Now, the pessimist in me knows that the eponymous sandlot was probably purchased by a developer in the 1980s that proceeded to pave over a field paved with memories and erect a bunch of ugly condos on top of it, but reality is depressing enough as it is without throwing sad hypotheticals into the mix.

As a result, we’re going to dwell on what makes The Sandlot perfect for these imperfect times: it’s never going to change. You’re not going to turn it on one day to discover a camera focusing on an empty patch of dirt because everyone was forced to quarantine after they got together for a game a few days before Smalls was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator.

Baseball might also be on the verge of being placed on life support, but no matter what, we’ll always have The Sandlot…for-ev-er.

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