The New York Giants are hosting their annual training camp, and young men from all over the country have come for the chance to win a spot on the team. Hans Lobert (Edward G. Robinson), a retired third baseman, runs the camp and greets the hopefuls when they arrive. Hans’ neice, Christy (Vera-Ellen), will also be working at the camp — a transplant from the Giants’ front office.
Unfortunately for Hans, Christy has come to break some bad news: the Giants want to replace him as the program’s leader, with someone who can get better results.
Tippy Mitchell (Bill Crandall), Bobby Bronson (Richard Jaeckel), Julie Davies (William Campbell), and Adam Polachuk (Jeff Richards) are a few of the men hoping to prove their baseball talents at the camp. Hans is hopeful that these trainees will allow him to prove himself to the front office.
Meanwhile, columnist Brian McLennan (Paul Langton) arrives to cover the camp for his paper, and Christy finds herself becoming close friends with Adam.
Robert Aldrich directs 1953’s Big Leaguer. The film’s screenplay was written by Herbert Baker from a story by John McNulty and Louis Morheim.
Big Leaguer opens with an introduction from a newspaperman who says the story being told here would never make the front page, but is still an important story to tell. This statement speaks well to the tone and pace of the film. It’s no highly emotional or fast-paced tale of one young player’s rise to stardom, nor an ultra-dramatic story of rivalry between trainees. Instead, what we have here is an ensemble piece about young men with big dreams, and the devoted efforts of their training coach.
Edward G.’s character is based on a real-life former player/training camp leader. Robinson’s performance does a lot to elevate the film, which without him would be somewhat dull. Much of the film is filled with scenes of training exercises like batting practice, which is fun to watch if you love baseball but of course doesn’t add much to the film’s narrative.
Vera-Ellen also gives a nice performance in the role of Christy. I wish she was given a bit more to do, but I like the character — a smart woman with an interesting career, who helps Adam as he deals with problems that have followed him to camp from home. They share a sweet romance which adds a bit more interest to the film, along with Hans and his career troubles.
All of the small story threads that make up Big Leaguer are wrapped up with a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers rookies and the Giants trainees — an event much more exciting than the rest of the film.
Had more time been spent establishing the back stories and character growth of the trainees aside from Adam, this ending (and the story on the whole) could have had much more of an impact. But as it stands, Big Leaguer is a decent sports flick — sure to be enjoyed by baseball devotees, but a much less thrilling watch for the average viewer. I liked the film well enough, but wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. The score: 2/5