Picture This

Fade into swanky movie executive’s office. Gorgeous view of Hollywood hills outside the huge window. We see a nattily dressed exec sitting behind his ultra-chic desk. His telephone beeps, and he punches the speakerphone button.

“You got me. Talk to me,” he snaps.

“Andy? It’s Phil,” replies the voice from the speakerphone. “I got the answer to all your problems here today.”

“Sure you do, Phil,” says the exec.

“Don’t I always, Andy? I’ve never sent you a loser.”

“There’s always a first time. Talk fast, Phil, I got lunch with Tarantino in five.”

“You’ll be in a good mood for Quentin, then. And you’ll thank me that I pitched this one to you instead of to him.”

“The meter’s running, Phil.”

“I got a beauty of a sports picture. Not just a sports picture, either: a baseball picture. Those always kill. Fat demographics.”

“You’d pitch a baseball picture to Tarantino?”

“Not just baseball. A great racial angle, too. Tough black kid from the ‘hood overcomes prejudice and makes it big.”

“Okay, Phil. Gimme the arc.”

“Sweeping multi-decade saga. Starts off in the mean streets of Oakland, late forties, early fifties. Our hero’s tall and slim, with a dazzling smile. Plenty of locker room shots with his shirt off so we get the ladies.”

“I know my business, Phil. Arc.”

“Arc, okay. Our hero’s name is Robinson, Frank Robinson. He’s a bright kid -”

“That name’s all wrong, Phil. ‘Frank Robinson?’ How bland can you get? We’d need to fix that right away. But keep going.”

“As I always say, you know your stuff! So this kid, he’s a bright kid, but he’s growing up tough in a tough neighborhood. Some gang stuff, some scrapes, but he’s smart, and he’s a star jock, and baseball is his ticket out of the slum, and he takes it. He signs with the pros, and he goes to play in the minor leagues, in the South, before Civil Rights. We got some confrontations. Our kid is tough and brave in the face of racism. Then at the age of twenty he makes it to the big league. Right away he’s a sensation, Rookie of the Year, sets the record for home runs by a rookie.”

“I can’t say I’m crazy about this so far, Phil. Too perfect, too corny.”

“Follow me here, Andy. This is Act One. Frank, or whatever we call him, he makes it big, he’s a star, in a couple years he leads his team to the World Series, is Most Valuable Player in the league, all that. But now we got our Second Act: there’s some trouble with the press, some trouble with management. This is the Sixties, all the Civil Rights stuff is going on, he’s playing ball in a city with some racial tension, racial problems, and things –”

“Woah, woah, woah. First you’re too sweet, now you’re too sour. Is this a sports picture or a race relations picture?”

“It’s both, Andy, that’s what’s so special about it. It’s a sports picture that has the serious stuff, too. The critics’ll have to call it ‘important.’”

“All right, all right. Gimme more arc.”

“Okay, so things get unpleasant. There’s threats of violence, our guy starts carrying a pistol, some controversial stuff. Things go sour. Our hero gets traded away. It looks like things won’t turn out so nice after all. He gets traded to a team that never won anything before. They’re the underdogs, the nobodies. Our hero joins ‘em, and he’s determined to prove that he isn’t washed up. So his first year with the new team he wins the Triple Crown, the MVP, and his new team wins the World Series, in a four-game sweep over the defending champs, the heavy favorite.”

“You’re killing me, Phil. Please tell me you aren’t serious with this.”

“I’m as serious as a heart attack, Andy. And I got more! It’s a great Third Act. He plays a few more years, his team wins some more titles. Now everybody knows what a great player he is, one of the all-time great stars. And then it’s the Seventies, and he’s near the end of his playing days. He gets traded again, and his new team makes him the playing manager!”

“The playing manager? They still do that in baseball?”

“Not just the playing manager – the very first black manager in major league baseball history!”

“Oh, Christ, Phil.”

“And he goes on to have a long career as a manager, and then finally, when he’s in his sixties, he’s so highly respected by everyone now, still handsome as hell, distinguished-looking, gray at the temples – I’m thinking Denzel with a little playing-older makeup, or maybe we go Jamie Foxx – our hero is all distinguished and respected now, but still has kind of that tough-guy-from-the-projects thing going too, so Major League Baseball makes him their Vice President in Charge of Player Discipline, or something.”

“Phil. Seriously. I thought you quit doing drugs after that time on Sherry Lansing’s yacht. In the Caribbean? Remember? The business with the lobster forks?”

“Don’t you see it, Andy? We got the sweeping saga of racial conflict and societal progress and all. Black kid from the streets grows up to be a responsible, respected authority figure. Plus we got all the sports action, the big game scenes -”

“Nobody’s gonna buy this at all, Phil. There isn’t one thing the audience believes, not for a second.”

“If we go Jamie Foxx, he’s so hot right now, he sells the picture by himself! We make sure we get some a those bare-chested shower room shots into the trailer, plus a hot bedroom kiss, push it to PG-13, but not all the way to R, so we don’t lose the twelve-to-sixteens …”

“Damn it, Phil. You used to be good, too.”

“And oh, yeah, I almost forgot! At the very end, we have a coda, an epilogue. There’s this sadsack team that’s almost gone kaput, it’s been taken over and run by the rest of the league. Major League Baseball needs someone to come in and be the manager of this team, a difficult job, a thankless task. And so, in his late sixties now, our hero’s the one they choose, and in the final scene it’s springtime, spring training, and he’s back out there on the ball field, still tough as ever, but teaching and leading a whole new generation of young kid players …”

“I’m hanging up now, Phil.”

“Andy!”

“Bye, Phil.”

“Okay, forget that one. I got another one, another baseball picture, an even better one!”

“Phil.”

“There’s this team that hasn’t won the World Series in something like eighty-six years. So they’re in this playoff against the New York Yankees, and –”

< Click. >

The studio exec gazes out his window, and slowly shakes his head.

Fade to black.

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