In the final part of our ’94 retrospective, we look at two things from that year that probably have little value in 2016: baseball cards, and Major League II. Also included is a brief anecdote from the set of Angels in the Outfield.

In part 1, we went through the MLB season and Michael Jordan’s time in the minors. In part 2 we talk about what made Ken Griffey Jr’s original SNES game a classic. You can also check out our look at movies and cards in 1988.

 

1994: Dealing Cards

by Mike Carlucci

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1994 Topps base set

1994 was a transitional year for media. On the big screen it gave us The Lion King, Forrest Gump, Speed, Star Trek: Generations, and Dumb and Dumber, to name a few. Sports movies weren’t left out either: D2: The Mighty Ducks and of course Major League II delighted audiences, and Iceland for some reason replaced Russia as the bad guy in the generic definitely-not-Olympic-hockey competition. And for anyone who was a child in the 90s, Blank Check, which now looks completely unrealistic: a million dollars wouldn’t buy that house yet alone the race track, driver, etc. Why such a limit for what was undoubtedly a bulletproof plot otherwise? The first Sony PlayStation was released in Japan that December, kicking off a new era of console wars.

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1994 Upper Deck, Donruss base sets

It’s a good thing that video had a banner year because we were robbed of a World Series by a strike that would set back the sport three or four years in the public consciousness. Of course, if video could kill the radio star, what alternatives could challenge the humble baseball card? Beethoven may not have had his picture on a bubblegum card, but those iconic pieces of cardboard were approaching drastic changes – but that’s yet to come.

In 1994, Magic: The Gathering was only a year old and the legion of collectible card games that would follow it and give collectors and fans of paper products a brave new world to explore hadn’t yet begun to sink their teeth into the market.

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1994 Fleer base set

If you were collecting cards as a child in the ’80s and ’90s you probably heard stories from your parents about their collections that were either worth a lot of money or would have been but for their parents throwing or giving them away. The important part of these stories wasn’t about value or money but about heritage. Collecting cards, poring over the stats, looking at the sometimes hilarious or quirky pictures, putting them in the spokes of your bike (OK, I never did this and only saw it on TV and in movies).

Despite a variety of styles and designs, Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Score did not upload what was an informal social contract.

The exact financials aren’t quite so simple, as cards that were limited and in mint condition may have seen their value rise even though they were printed during an historic quantity era of sports cards. At some point, childhood collectors – no matter how formal or casual – usually end up reaching the same conclusion: their collection has more personal value than appraised value.

But that’s not what made card collecting fun. It was about learning all the teams in an age before the internet and widespread cable broadcast. It was about the American League and the National League (Brewers cards of that vintage still belong in the former, Bud Selig’s whims be damned).

If you did get into collecting for the collection though, 1994 wasn’t without its highlights.

Somewhat like Mark Twain coming into the world and leaving it with Halley’s Comet, A-Rod entered MLB in 1994 and left at the anniversary of the strike. He also gave his retirement (for now?) speech almost three years to the day as MLB announced his record-setting suspension in 2013.

There was also a pretty sweet Michael Jordan rookie card.

And who could forget Ellis Burks on the Colorado Rockies?

Or young Giants outfielder Barry Bonds?

1994 may not have ended how anyone would have wanted – players, fans, owners. Baseball has proven itself to be a lasting phenomenon and revenue generator through the decades, but an accord could not be reached. The Rockies and then-Florida Marlins were only a year old; collecting an entire franchise of cards was attainable for even the newest of newcomers. The then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks hadn’t even come into existence yet.

There was no home run chase. No Nomar, Jeter, and A-Rod redefining shortstop for a generation, although this was about to begin. The Red Sox were still cursed. Ditto the White Sox. But there were cards printed, read, statistics devoured, binders filled, and boxed stacked. The season, however, didn’t end on strike three, it ended on a player strike.

 

Ken Burns’ Baseball miniseries ran in September of ’94. The most fondly remembered baseball movies might be Little Big League (with the kid running the Twins) and the remake of Angels in the Outfield (with a precocious Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The forgotten ones might be Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Scout (with Brendan Fraser). The unforgettably bad one was the long-awaited sequel to 1989’s Major League… which is reviewed below. But first, a story from the filming of another of that year’s films.

Angels in the Outfield: Behind the Scenes

by Scott Kushner

My mom was great. She didn’t know much about baseball, but that didn’t stop her from trying to connect with me over my favorite sport. Sometimes, the results were fantastic (like going to Game 1 of the ’89 World Series). Other times, the results were underwhelming.

Such was the case when she gleefully dragged her 13-year old son to the Oakland Coliseum to be extras in the Tony Danza vehicle, Angels in the Outfield. Admittedly, I was pretty excited about being on the set of a baseball movie too… until we made it into the stadium. The first thing that struck me was that all references to my beloved Oakland A’s were removed, or worse yet, covered with California Angels logos (the Angels’ actual stadium was in use at the time by the LA Rams 1.0).

Oh, the ignominy! To add injury to insult, there was literally nothing to see. Rather than a baseball game between A-listers and magical guardians (as my mom promised), me and the 300 or so other schmucks crammed behind home plate were treated to a completely empty field, save for a director who occasionally barked orders at us through a megaphone.

“OKAY EVERYONE, CHEER LIKE YOUR FAVORITE PLAYER JUST HIT A HOME RUN” :::half-hearted cheering followed by 20 minutes of silence:::

“GREAT! GREAT! NOW PRETEND LIKE YOUR TEAM’S 3RD BASEMAN JUST MADE AN ERROR!” :::Macaulay Culkin-style hands on face in disbelief followed by 20 more minutes of silence:::

“WE’RE GONNA TRY THAT AGAIN! THIS IS A BIG PLAY! REALLY SHOW THAT DISAPPOINTMENT!” :::eye roll towards my still-enthusiastic mom, my most convincing acting of the day:::

“MUCH BETTER! OKAY, LAST ONE. EVERYONE STAND UP AND FLAP YOUR ARMS LIKE AN ANGEL IS HOVERING OVER YOUR TEAM’S BEST PLAYER!” :::stubbornly sit with arms crossed and scoff at all the arm-flapping people who were more eager to part with their dignity than this teenager:::

And that was it, for about two hours. Lots of sitting around. No action. No acting career launched. No A’s. No baseball. No Tony Danza. No Joseph Gordon-Levitt. No Danny Glover. No Angels. Plenty of outfield, though.

 

Major League II

by Alex Crisafulli

First things first, I believe Major League, the original, to be the greatest baseball movie of all time (even better than Brewster’s Millions!). Yes, the Cleveland Indians’ “ragtag group of underdogs rising up and conquering” had been played to death even when the movie debuted in 1988, but Major League plays it perfectly. More importantly, the film seems 100% authentic. The players are perfectly simple-minded, raunchy, and of the womanizing sort – basically exactly what I’ve been led to believe a major league clubhouse is like. The baseball scenes for the most part look real. In fact, in an oral history on the film in Sports Illustrated a few years back, Charlie Sheen mentioned he took steroids (oral history) specifically so he could improve his velocity on the mound.

Simply put, there’s not a single bad scene in this film. And by my estimation I’ve seen it more times than any other movie that’s ever been made.

And the cursing, swearing, cussing, whatever you choose to call it, in this film is somehow mesmerizing. This movie came out when I was nine-years old and I was able to sneak in a viewing soon thereafter at the house of a friend whose parents were pretty laissez-faire on young, impressionable children watching an R-rated movie – certainly more than mine were – and I swear it was one of the best nights of my childhood. Such language! This is one of the few movies that is fundamentally altered when the bad words are removed. Hearing Jake Taylor telling Roger Dorn that he’s going to “rip your freaking guts out and stuff them down your freaking throat!” never quite did it for me when I’d catch this movie on TV. I need the real stuff.

So you can imagine my excitement, around my sophomore year of high school, I believe, when I first heard they were making a sequel. And then imagine how nonplussed I was when I saw that it was going to be rated PG-13. The hell? How could that be possible?

Oh, it was possible – I saw this thing in the theater the weekend it came out – and it remains my least favorite movie in the history of cinema. I haven’t seen it since. And I did no research for this piece and am going entirely on memory because if I log on to IMDb and read about this film I’m just going to get mad all over again.

But here goes… Replace the Yankees, the perfectly suited bad guys from the first film, with the White Sox for some reason. The filmmakers were banking on the audience being ready to cheer against the ChiSox because they now had black uniforms, I guess. Hey, the White Sox haven’t won a World Series in nearly 80 years, almost moved to Florida a few years ago, and play second fiddle in their own home town. They’ll be the perfect bullies!

The Clu Haywood-like player for the White Sox is played by another idiot looking guy (again, not looking it up). Willie Mays Hayes is back. Sort of. He’s played by Omar Epps this time because Wesley Snipes thought himself too good for this movie, and he was. Jake Taylor, protagonist and co-hero from the first film, is also back but he’s now too old (according to my memory), and he’s replaced by a total boob behind the plate – the type who would have ruined any other movie that wasn’t already ruined. Taylor, I think, moves into the role of manager because Lou Brown is sick. Or something.

Rick Vaughn is here (add in Bob Uecker and I think that about does it for the returnees from the first film), and he’s a neutered version of his original self. There’s a scene that includes him, a bunch of school kids, and a birthday cake (again, I think) and Vaughn gets chewed out by his girlfriend because he doesn’t spend much time with the kids and leaves without taking a bit of the cake. It’s supposed to be a teachable moment from the movie but instead plays like they took a bunch of perfectly good anti-heroes from the first film and put them in the middle of an episode of Full House.

The plot is a familiar one. At first the Indians are not good and the White Sox kick them around. Then the Tribe get good and take down the Sox in dramatic fashion at the end of the movie. Yay.

And here’s the worst part: The audience is informed at some point in the film that the setting is just one year after the events depicted in the original, which likely happened circa 1988, I guess (we’re supposed to ignore the continuity errors with the new White Sox uniforms which they were clearly not wearing in 1989), AND in that we learn that after the Indians beat the Yankees in the one-game playoff to advance to the postseason, they lost in the very next round.

Unforgiveable. The great part about the ending of the first film is we, the audience, were left to decide how far we wanted that team to advance. In my mind they won the World Series. Maybe you thought differently or didn’t think about it at all. It doesn’t matter, point is, Major League II stole that from us. This was not only a bad film, but was so bad it tainted an otherwise perfect movie. Yeah, Godfather III was a mess but at least Francis Ford Coppola didn’t force us to believe that Tom Hagan left the Corleone Family to join the circus.

I hate this movie.

 

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