Cards on Film: “Mermaids”

Many of you likely know of my passions for both baseball and film. It is often assumed that I therefore must love baseball films — films about the game — but usually I do not. But I do love movies where characters attend baseball games, like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward do in A New Kind of Love, or when there is an unexpected baseball photo in the background, as in Lauren Bacall’s iconic scene in To Have and Have Not. In the two preceding examples I link to the blog of my friend Tom Shieber because no one knows more about this subject than Tom, and no one is better than Tom at rooting out the details. I love stumbling across the scenes, but often I just pass them off to Tom to let him do all the hard work.

In recent years I have been especially on the lookout for films that use baseball cards in some way. I am not aware of a film in which baseball card collecting is a central theme, but that is really not what I am after. I want the baseball cards or related memorabilia to either be completely random, or perhaps to help us understand the character or the time and place.

My favorite such scene is from Arthur Hiller’s “Penelope” (1966). I have explained this in depth many times, so I will just wait until you read this link. The movie has nothing to do with baseball, or baseball cards, but it is wonderful.

I wrote about a second example last year, “Skipped Parts,” a rather obscure film from 2000. In this movie, the cards are used as evidence that the main character, a 14-year-old boy, is not appropriately growing up. Imagine collecting cards at 14? Incroyable!

I actually enjoy both of those films on their merits. That is not the case with “Poison Ivy” from 1985. I did not think it worthy of a blog post, but last week I linked to it on Twitter and directed people to go to time stamps 1:02:32 and then 1:03:05 (each scene lasts 2 seconds). Two boys are sitting on their camp bed and playing with a box of 1985 Fleer cards.

My latest entry in the Cards on Film Hall of Fame is Richard Benjamin’s “Mermaids” from 1990. The film is principally about a single mother (played by Cher) and her two daughters (Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci, in her debut). The family moves around a lot, for reasons explained, and early in the film they are newly arrived in a small town in Massachusetts. This is the fall of 1963. They soon meet a local shoe store owner (Bob Hoskins) who becomes the fourth principal character in the movie.

The Hoskins character is a big baseball fan, which is the reason I am writing this post. Here is the scene where the family goes shoe shopping.

As they walk into the shoe store the radio is playing a Red Sox game, and the Yankees appear to be the opponent. It sounds like Mickey Mantle might be batting. (After a few seconds the game goes silent, though no one turns the radio off.) More importantly, there are a lot of baseball photos behind the cash register, and several baseball cards — all Red Sox from 1962 and 1963. How many can you pick out?

Later in the film the whole gang is back in the store and you see the cash register from the side. There are even more Red Sox baseball cards.

Hoskins becomes Cher’s love interest, as you likely guessed. She is very reluctant to commit to him or anyone else (a central theme of the film), but as a way of finally giving in just a bit, the entire crew heads to Cooperstown and visits the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is one very brief scene on Main Street and at the museum.

There are lot of talented actors on display, and all of the characters are somewhat quirky. Ryder’s character, who is 16, is the narrator and turns into the central character of the film. Ryder was a pretty big deal in 1990, and this film was part of her meteoric rise. Unfortunately, her character has zero interest in baseball.

But she does go to Cooperstown. How cool is that?

If you have any other nominees for the Hall of Fame, please pass them on and I will investigate. Or you can blog about them yourself.

 

 

Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, co-chair of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

8 thoughts on “Cards on Film: “Mermaids””

  1. I have not gotten around to viewing it, but in the 2010 film “Cop Out” apparently the central plot line is about a stolen 1952 Topps #1 Andy Pafko card. I did look into the movie briefly a few years back – It was made by Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) and stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385867/

    Sort of related, I enjoy the Card/memorabilia references on the TV Show the Goldbergs, which happen periodically. The show being set in Philadelphia w/ minor recurring character Ruben Amaro Jr also helps my interest.

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  2. “Blast From The Past” (1999). Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek as parents who, believing a nuclear holocaust has occurred in 1962, raise their child (Brendan Fraser) in a fallout shelter for 35 years. Walken, quite proud of his baseball card collection, gives them to Fraser along with assorted stocks (which, Walken notes, are worthless now), and attempts to explain the game of baseball (“because he must”). The cards serve to introduce Fraser to his love interest in the film, Alicia Silverstone.

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  3. Ruby Cairo (1993) was a movie where Topps baseball cards were used in a money laundering scheme,I can’t recall what year the cards were.

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  4. I’m sure this has been said many times in many places, but one of the best “baseball movies” is the first ten minutes of “Woman of the Year” with Tracy and Hepburn verbally jousting after being introduced and Hepburn without a clue about the game. It’s close to perfect.

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  5. “Mask” The main character is a teenage boy with a misshapen face from birth. He collects 50s era Dodgers and many characters take pride in adding to his collection.
    An outstanding movie with a phenomenal cast.

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