In the midst of a BttP staff discussion on the merits of Field of Dreams, I found myself on an IMDB list of ‘baseball movies’ (in the traditional sense, not the Sam Miller definition). The usual suspects were all there: Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural, and so on.

With a 7.8 rating, higher than of all of these, and many more classic baseball movies, was Long Gone, starring William Petersen of CSI and Manhunter fame. I had never heard of, let alone seen this film; nor had most IMDB users, judging by the 813 total ratings – Field of Dreams has 88,806. I asked a number of baseball fans if they were familiar with the film; none of them were. What’s more, there appeared to be no clear way of obtaining a copy; there was no obvious DVD release, and it certainly wasn’t on Netflix. This only made the topic more fascinating. I had to get this film. Eventually, after much searching through the typical channels in which you might buy DVDs, I obtained a (presumably unofficial, as we’ll see) copy from an eBay international seller, the listing for which featured the unattributed quote “The greatest baseball movie ever made!”

Why was this apparently acclaimed production so hard to find? Tampa Bay Times movie critic Steve Persall wrote about the film a couple of years ago and dug up a number of interesting nuggets. A brief history from his article is instructive: Long Gone was made for TV by HBO, based on a 1979 novel by Paul Hemphill. It cost $5 million to make and filming largely took place in the Ybor City area of Tampa Bay. The movie aired on May 23rd, 1987 to an almost universally positive reception, but was barely aired on HBO after those early years and had not been shown for over a decade by the time they lost the rights in 2004.

With no significant fanbase from its straight-to-TV release, and no network to produce and distribute the film, it’s hardly surprising that Long Gone slipped into obscurity relative to the other baseball movies of the time. It is now largely infamous for exactly that: being the best baseball movie you never saw. The good news is that there is a version available online, at least while this link remains on Youtube; however, it’s still blocked in the U.S., so American readers will have to find another option. For anyone who can view that version, be aware that it is extremely low-resolution (not that the original is in HD) and it still isn’t quite the full version: the channel owner notes that around two minutes of sound had to be removed from a scene for music copyright issues. If you’re really curious to know the exact dialogue in that scene, I will reproduce it in the comments.

On to the film itself (spoiler alert!). The year is 1957. Petersen plays Cecil ‘Stud’ Cantrell, the player-manager of the Tampico Stogies, a team based in the Gulf Coast League. It emerges that Stud was once a hot prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals system, set to compete with Stan Musial for a major league job when Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. Instead he joined the Marines, got wounded in battle, and missed his chance at a big-league career. Here’s Stud with the tale of how he came so close to battling Stan the Man for an outfield spot.

Fifteen years later, Stud spends his days drinking, smoking cigars, womanizing and playing ball. He’s still the best player (both as hitter and pitcher) on the team, which is not doing all that well. Stud also has a contact in the Cardinals organization, who is helping him to find new Stogies players, and perhaps also a way back in to the system.

Change for Stud and the basement-dwelling Stogies arrives in the form of three characters: newly-crowned Miss Strawberry Blossom 1957, the implausibly-named Dixie Lee Boxx (Virginia Madsen); slick-fielding but inexperienced (both in baseball and life) second baseman Jamie Weeks (Dermot Mulroney); and powerful catcher Joe Louis Brown (Larry Riley). As the Stogies begin to turn their fortunes around as a result of this new injection of talent, Dixie sets out to make sure she isn’t just another Cantrell one night stand.

There are plenty of laughs, from Weeks muddling his way through everything beyond fielding a ground ball, to Stud’s commitment to doing just about anything to disadvantage the opposition. There’s a sense of real unity amongst the team, perhaps helped by the fact that many of the actors were Petersen’s friends from the theatre.

At the same time, more serious social issues are touched on without forming a major focus of the film; for instance, when the issue of the African-American Joe Brown being targeted by the KKK in Alabama is brought up while Stud is trying to convince Tampico’s owners to sign him, I initially thought it would form a much more significant aspect of the story. It again becomes an issue when the team appears to be uncomfortable with Brown showering with them. The Klan do indeed surface while the team is on a road trip, but they band together to chase them off, Brown destroys their burning cross, and the topic does not come up again. It is at once a reassuring moment of team unity and inclusion, and yet a somewhat strange and inadequate acknowledgement of the racism still present at the time.

The tone of much of the film is not unlike Bull Durham, which was released just over a year later. From the team camaraderie to the world-worn Cantrell guiding the naive Weeks through life, the parallels aren’t hard to draw, even if Cantrell is a cruder, less mature version of Crash Davis and Weeks is mild-mannered where Nuke LaLoosh is brash. In comments from that Tampa Bay Times piece, Madsen actually claimed that Ron Shelton, the writer and director of Bull Durham, sat in the same row as her in a Los Angeles screening of Long Gone and took notes, then later confessed that they “stole every shot” from the film. Shelton unsurprisingly denied this, saying that he was only there to watch an actor he was thinking about casting. It would be difficult to make a movie about a veteran on a minor league team without some parallels. Whether Shelton drew anything from the film or not, fans of Crash will likely also enjoy the antics of Stud.

Petersen is excellent as Cantrell, combining a questionable collection of morals with a genuine passion for the game and a hint of desperation to maintain any connection he might have to the big leagues. The supporting cast is similarly strong, from Mulroney’s comically inexperienced Weeks to Madsen’s witty, forceful Boxx. The biggest pity might be the lack of focus on Dixie, whose personal backstory and motivations for latching on to Stud as a partner for life aren’t really fleshed out, and she serves more as Cantrell’s moral compass. The same goes for the relationship between Weeks and similarly innocent Esther Wrenn, which is used more as a coming-of-age narrative for Weeks without really developing Esther as an independent character.

The baseball itself is largely convincing. The fielding and baserunning generally look like proper baseball, with Mulroney and Riley looking the part as defensive wizard and slugger respectively. However, as the film reaches its climax, realism is sacrificed for drama. In the final game of the season to decide the pennant, Brown is being intentionally walked by rivals Dotham in the ninth with Tampico down by one, when he steps in front of the plate and launches an intentional ball for a home run to right-center. This is, of course, an automatic out. There are some other questionable decisions and plot twists taken in the name of increasing the drama, but that is the one most likely to irritate sticklers for realism. On the topic of the baseball itself, fans of the Stogies uniform are in luck: you can actually buy a pretty accurate replica online. Whether anyone will shell out $140 for a jersey that almost no-one will recognise is another matter.

Long Gone is in many ways a very predictable underdog story that lacks for depth in many areas, but it’s also a fun tale that encapsulates the experience of baseball outside of the majors, and what the plot might lack in substance is made up for by the film’s main characters. Thirty years on from its release, it doesn’t seem as though the film will ever be widely available, which is all the more reason to watch it. After all, it’s probably the best baseball movie you’ve never seen.

Next post:
Previous post:

22 Responses to “Baseball Movie: Long Gone”

  1. Thomas Desmidt

    I remember seeing this film when it first aired on HBO…really good baseball movie. Great catch!

  2. Kevin Pascoe

    Yep, saw it when it first came out, then some friends had it on VHS, a bunch of the team used to watch it on a pretty regular basis. Would imagine its probably out there on VHS tape they had official one in case, not just recorded off TV, just get it and convert to DVD?

  3. Sheila

    My granddaughter got the movie Long Gone for me on eBay. It said she got the last one as soon as she ordered it .. I have already enjoyed it several times. The movie is the BEST base ball movie ever.

  4. DL

    my husband and i worked on LONG GONE and it was one of the most fun films to work on, with a great cast and crew! we have an old VHS copy that was recorded off TV but would love for HBO to release it on DVD. we also have stogie jackets!

    • Darius Austin

      That’s amazing, great to hear from someone who worked on it, and that you still have the jackets! Really enjoyed watching it. Sadly I don’t think that DVD is likely to come out. Were the hours as long as the comments in that Tampa Bay Times article made out?

    • Nursebretty

      Any idea who would have the rights? The masters? This is stupid that it’s not available.

  5. DD

    The timing of this article is great, being so recent and this unknown movie being so old; I was cleaning up an old PC with some old bookmark files and one of the bookmarks was the IMDB page for Long Gone, I bookmarked it 12 years ago. I was 14 (I’m 44 now) when I originally caught the movie on HBO one day and absolutely loved it, being a big baseball player myself at that age, when Bull Durham came out the next year I saw it with my youth all star team on a road trip and that was instantly my favorite sports movie. I vaguely remember now 12 years ago BD came on one night and for some reason another old baseball movie similar to BD came to mind and it must have taken me two hours on Google until I narrowed it down to being Long Gone, hopefully I’ll stumble across a decent copy one day it was a great movie, thanks for the article.

  6. Martha Walker

    One of our all-time favorite movies. We still quote lines from it and we’re old! Stud Cantrell and Dixie Boxx! Love this movie. We have the VHS and a CD.

  7. Keith Payne

    DL, yall worked on it? Most of the cast and crew stayed at my hotel, Harbour Island Hotel in Tampa. Billy and Virginia were relatively newcomers, LOL! It was fun hearing what had happened during the day when a bunch of them got together in my main bar………..I had the AV department bring up a big screen for them each day in the living room decor! Their last day, Billy gave me his dogeared script! And he also gave me the largest vase of roses I was ever given. Great baseball movie and fun to know the youngsters in it.

  8. Janet

    I have Long Gone on laserdisc. The quality is obviously better than VHS. Just don’t know how to transfer it to DVD.

  9. Todd K

    This is, without question, my favorite baseball movie, my favorite “Made for TV” movie, and the best thing HBO ever gave us, including Game of Thrones.

    The film itself has some of my favorite lines of dialogue that my friends and I quote all the time: “Show me you can hit and I’ll call you what your momma calls you”, Stud tells Joe. “Hell, it’s all a lie, Stud. I never even faced him.” Peaches tells Stud when he finally confesses that his backstory about striking out Ted Williams in the minors was made up. “I reach, but I don’t jump”, the groundskeeper yells at Stud during Jamie Don’s tryout.

    The mute magician Teller, as Henry Gibson’s son and co-owner of the Stogies has some great dialogue. Heck, the film could have been distributed with the tagline “Teller speaks”.

    Then, Virginia Madsden, as Dixie Lee Boxx, girl nut roaster, is about as beautiful an ingenue as I have ever seen on screen. The humanity that she gives her character is brilliant and I expected her to become an A-lister at the time. I am still surprised she never really broke bigger than she did.

    Anyway, I have had several VHS copies over the years. I was in college when the film originally aired and we watched it probably more than 100 times from 87-91 or 92. I haven’t watched it in years, but can still recall almost every scene.

    I have introduced this film to dozens of people over the years, and nobody has ever had much bad to say about it. While I’m probably a more committed fan than most, I’m sure there are probably some folks who have more to say about it.

    Why wasn’t it every more widely distributed? Probably two reasons.

    First, the distribution deal, as explained in the article above, means that whoever holds the rights may not have a quality print to distribute. HBO would not have had need of a hi-def print at the time, as HDTV was 15 years in the future at the time.

    I can’t imagine that the film wasn’t originally shot in some wider format than 35 mm. So, it’s possible that some original print exists in some warehouse somewhere.

    The Second point contains spoilers: The script is not at all Politically Correct and would likely not make it past the censors today. Every alphabet word “N-“, “C-” and “F-” are used in abundance. The subplot of making Joe Louis Brown pretend to be “Jose Brown of Caracas Venezuela” would not stand up to scrutiny in today’s overly sensitive world. And the subplot about Don and Esther’s unplanned pregnancy, include some comments from Stud that would enflame the censor crowd nowadays.

    Finally, Teller speaks. While he has had dialogue in other films and TV guest roles, I can’t recall any to this extent. As the whiny son of the team owner, played by Henry Gibson of Laugh-In and the Blues Brothers, he is brilliant. So is Gibson, who at one point feels generous and allows Stud to get a few of the team’s uniforms washed, “but just the ones that smell the worst.”

    This film changed my life. I still almost shed a tear when I hear “the grooms were handsomer than shit in white flannel.”

  10. Martin Davidson

    As the director of Long Gone, I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me to discover there are still fans out there who remember our little film with such warm regard. Having grown up in Brooklyn at the very same moment Jackie Robinson was making his historic difference to the world, it was the joy of my life to have been given the opportunity to direct a story that meant so much to me and to get to work with all those great actors.

    • Eric Walker

      This post was such a joy to have found. As I sat here awaiting the now delayed MLB season I saw a post somewhere about the best baseball movies of all time and immediately thought of this movie. Very under rated in all aspects; story, cast, acting and even to an extent realism and of course direction. I will always consider this movie in my top 4 baseball movies. Tell your bird dog mucho grassy ass for me.

    • Laura Wichmann Dore

      Our family loved it and wore out more than a few VHS tapes of it. Definitely all of our # 1 baseball movie. I do watch the copy on You Tube but would love getting a CD version. So sad it hasn’t happened yet.

  11. Eric Walker

    I remember fondly just getting HBO as a kid and seeing this movie in ’87. As an 11 year old growing up in Chicago I was infatuated with the Cubs and baseball in general. Also, at 12 years old the vision of Virginia nude was amazing, lol. This was a very underrated movie and one I enjoyed much more than Bull Durham. In my late teens or very early 20’s and before the internet as we know it now I actually went to a Suncoast Video in my local mall and special ordered a VHS copy of this movie. It took forever to get in but I watched that movie at least once a week for years it seemed. HBO dropped the ball on this one. Netflix or HULU would do their customers a great service to find a way to get this film on their platforms. Thanks for the walk down memory lane Darius.

  12. Richard Barnes

    Great movie- as good as The Sandlot- A real sweetness to the movie like Sandlot- I lived in Tampa and know the area well – perfect setting- time and place



  1.  Pen Poll: Favorite Baseball Characters | Banished to the Pen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.