A Little Bit About Charlie Sheen and His Baseball Movies

Here are some lines from an early 1986 Chicago Sun-Times profile of Sheen, headlined “Charlie Sheen now looks for different kind of hit” (pun obviously not intended):

Acting professionally never entered his head, Sheen says. “How could I play for the Reds and act, too? Couldn’t be done. Besides, my old man took me to the Philippines with him when I was 10 and he was making ‘Apocalypse Now.’ I’m witnessing this $50 million epic with my old man at the center of it, and then he has a heart attack. This is what happens if you go into the movies?”

[High] school existed as a reason for sports.

“My attendance record in three years was 32 percent,” he says. “Three-day weekends were mandatory. The last book I took home was midway through my sophomore year. But I never missed baseball practice, because I was the next Cincinnati shortstop.”

Sheen was good enough to win a baseball scholarship to the University of Kansas. He was about to graduate when he was arrested for credit-card fraud. Why?

“Curiosity. Boredom. Sudden profit. My buddy showed me the things he’d heisted. There was no gun at my head. I saw no flaws. I did it. My crime spree lasted a week. My friend had found some credit-card receipts in a wastebasket. It made perfect sense to both of us to call up and order a couple of portable TVs. As I told the high-class Beverly Hills lawyer who got me off, it was an identity thing. There was the excitement of having someone ask you ‘Do you want it gift-wrapped?’ when you’re robbing them blind.”

Are there any other sins, my son?

“There was the episode that led to my acting career, when I threatened the life of my English teacher,” Sheen says. “It was the last day of classes my senior year. I needed a C to graduate. She wouldn’t let me take the final because I didn’t have the re-admit, the slip re-admitting me to the classroom. I crumpled up the exam paper and threw it in her face and left.”

No re-admit, no final. No final, no graduation. No graduation, no baseball scholarship. No baseball career, nothing left but acting. When Sheen might have been in court on a fraud rap if he hadn’t been a minor, when he might have been turning double plays in Kansas, he was in Budapest in the fall of 1983 making his movie debut in “Grizzly” – “mercifully unreleased to this day,” as Sheen says.

A year and a half later, the Chicago Sun-Times paid another visit to Sheen, and D.B. Sweeney, as they made “Eight Men Out,” the John Sayles film about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in Indianapolis:

Sweeney and Sheen played baseball together last spring before “Eight Men Out” started production, and they led several shopping raids on downtown Indianapolis this fall during the shooting of the film.

You could say Sweeney is a little to the left of center.

“What Charlie and I do together is completely complementary,” Sweeney said during an interview in the third-base box seats of Bush Stadium. “We understand each other in an unspoken way when we’re working together. We like each other’s style, and we trust the other guy. You know he’s there for you.”

Not unlike a left fielder and his center fielder.

In a separate conversation in the home dugout, Sheen said, “We just clicked from Day 1. We have a lot of similar interests and a lot of similar attitudes. And we put that sense of reality of our friendship on the screen. Not that we could be objective and judge that. But from whatever positive actions we’ve received – few and far between – people have said it looked like we became buddies on film. I guess we’ve transcended that.”

Sheen, 21, said he took the role of Felsch because of a tip from Sweeney and because of his affection for baseball. “It’s not a career move,” he said, peering through dark sunglasses that complemented his scruffy black hair. “It’s not really about performance. I love the game. I wanted to share in this experience.

“I first heard about the film from Emilio (Estevez, his brother) about two years ago and was jealous because I was the baseball player in the family and he wasn’t. ( Sheen ‘s real name is Carlos Irwin Estevez.) Then about five months ago when I was doing ‘Wall Street,’ D. B. and I were hanging out one day, and he mentioned he had signed to do ‘Eight Men Out.’ I finally met Sayles, and he offered me the role of center fielder.”

While playing Little League baseball in Malibu, Calif., and then at Santa Monica High School, Sheen was a shortstop and pitcher. His father, Martin Sheen, would send him to the Mickey Owen baseball school in Springfield, Mo., every summer. “I finally got scouted in my final (high school) summer and had an offer for a University to Kansas scholarship,” Sheen said. “But it kind of fell apart for academic reasons, you know?”

Former White Sox and California Angels center fielder Ken Berry served as a behind-the-scenes baseball coach to the actors of “Eight Men Out.” In a separate interview, he rated Sweeney as having the “best raw talent” of all the actors, with Sheen not far behind.

One of Berry’s essential contributions on the set of “Eight Men Out” was teaching the players to forget about contemporary baseball fundamentals. The actors had to learn how to play a more seminal 1919 style of baseball. Sheen said, “That’s what I had trouble with, like leaving the Charlie Lau theories of hitting and the weight distribution and eye-hand coordination. That’s very valid and applied today, but it didn’t exist then. I was trying to work with Berry on trying to develop a decent and wholesome power swing. It’s what he calls a ‘farm boy’ cut.”

With the autumn sun sketching shadows of the towering Bush Stadium lights over home plate at 11:30 in morning, Sayles squinted in isolation down the third-base line, seemingly off in a singular world of his own. This detachment was common during my visit to the set of “Eight Men Out.”

“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say the role I’m playing is demanding performance-wise,” Sheen added. “I’ve got three or four dialogue scenes and lots of baseball.”

Before “Eight Men Out” is released next summer, Sheen will be seen in “Wall Street,” another Oliver Stone film, where Sheen plays a struggling and hungry broker. He’s been calling on a powerful client, modeled after Donald Trump, for 61 days. He finally gives the client an inside tip and he capitalizes on it. “The client seduces him and brings him into this world of financial corruptive involvement,” he said. “It’s basically my character’s rise and fall through this world and how he has to come to grips with the reality of his morals and his tainted ethical standards at that point.”

Sheen found “Wall Street” as exhausting as “Platoon.”

“It was a tough shoot,” he said. “Unlike ‘Platoon,’ we were more physically exhausted in the Philippines than we were in the concrete jungle. If I’m physically tired, I can take a nap and relax. But if I’m mentally fatigued, it’s tough to put the brain to rest. It was exhausting. Out of 61 shooting days on ‘Wall Street,’ I worked 59. And I only had a month off before I started this. But this is such a nice change of pace.

“This is baseball.”

When “Eight Men Out” was released, many of the reviews were not admiring. The Washington Post said:

If John Sayles were a ballplayer, they’d call him Lefty — not for his pitching arm but for his politics. The devoutly liberal filmmaker’s political point of view is certain. It’s his dramatic focus that sometimes gets fuzzy, as in the diffuse baseball drama “Eight Men Out.

Sayles gives virtually everyone involved in the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal — bat boy to baseball commissioner — a say in this overcrowded movie. Based on Eliot Asinof’s 1963 best seller, the movie documents every last detail of the White Sox conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. The names and faces run together like the hum-babe-hum-babe of dugout chatter.

It doesn’t help that the cast — Brat Pack 2: We Came to Act — looks as alike as American cheese slices in their White Sox uniforms. David Strathairn is an exception, an older, darker actor who has a meatier part as the pitcher Eddie Cicotte. And John Cusack stands out as Buck Weaver, a third baseman who maintains his innocence when the eight alleged cheaters are brought to trial.

D.B. Sweeney, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, Don Harvey, James Read and Perry Lang have only Smurfesque characteristics to set them apart — the dumb one, the dapper one, the strong one and so on. And that’s not counting Bill Irwin, Gordon Clapp and Jace Alexander as their honest teammates.

The gamblers, their goons and the go-betweens who pay off the players are more intriguing and easier to sort out, as are the sportswriters (Sayles as Ring Lardner and Studs Terkel as Hugh Fullerton) who discover the scam. These characters are a catalogue of missed opportunities: Lardner and Fullerton might have been baseball ‘s Woodward and Bernstein, giving the movie suspense, focus and momentum. Kid Gleason, the manager, played by the excellent John Mahoney, would have been another natural.

But instead Sayles gives us “Matewan” at Comiskey Park. It’s wage earners versus employers, his same old pitch. No curveballs, no spitballs, no surprises. He blames the whole affair on team owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), so stingy that he paid his pennant-winners’ bonuses in stale champagne. The fat old tightwad is Scrooge and Sayles is Dickens with a Louisville Slugger.

And the Chicago Tribune added: “It figures. Hollywood finally gets around to doing another major movie featuring the White Sox, and the worst moment in the franchise’s history, if not the history of major league baseball, is the subject.”

Late in the 1991 baseball season, Charles Salter of the Raleigh News and Observer, for whatever reason, did a profile/interview of Sheen, and once again, the unfortunate word “hits” showed up in the headline: “Charlie Sheen and the Big Red Machine – The only hits on this star’s mind are out of the ballpark”

Here’s some of what he wrote:

LOS ANGELES — Hidden under midnight black shades and a Reds cap, Charlie Sheen trooped through Dodger Stadium as if it were the set of another Oliver Stone movie.

What focus.

What purpose.

What an actor.

He walked right past me on the way to his seat, three rows behind home plate. No one stopped him for an autograph. In fact, no one seemed to notice.

No one but me. I don’t know if this qualifies me for the Olympics, but I can spot the Sheen Jaw from 100 yards.

I couldn’t resist going over, shaking hands and sitting down. And one thing became clear: If you’re going to interrupt a movie star while his favorite team is having batting practice, you better know your baseball.

Mr. Sheen brings the same intensity to the game that he’s known for on film. And the Cincinnati Reds is his favorite topic.

“I’ve been a Reds fan since ’75,” he said, a Reds T-shirt worn under a black tux jacket giving weight to his words. “Of course, we all know what happened that year.”

He narrowed his eyes into The Sheen Squint.

“The Big Red Machine,” I replied.

The Sheen Nod.

“My dad’s from Dayton, which explains the Ohio connection,” he said in a nasal voice not unlike that of his father, actor Martin Sheen. “So that’s how the Reds thing happened.”

His favorite player of the 1975 World Championship Reds is Joe Morgan, the team’s arm-pumping, feisty second baseman.

“Morgan played the same way whether it was the first inning or the ninth,” Mr. Sheen said. “He had this incredible passion.”

Mr. Sheen does, too. He almost chose baseball over acting, in fact. At Santa Monica High School, he was a hard-throwing pitcher. He told the Los Angeles Times that he was even offered a scholarship to play at the University of Kansas.

Instead he took a role in “Grizzly II, The Predator.” And, a few years later, “Eight Men Out,” in which he played Black Sox center fielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch, and “Major League,” which featured him as a delinquent pitcher dubbed “Wild Thing.”

“It’s still conceivable,” he said. “You gotta think back to like the ’69 Mets or others who made tremendous comeback teams. The ’78 Yankees. There can be that one play or one game that turns them around.”

Charlie Sheen knows something about comebacks. After starring in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and “Wall Street,” the scowling young actor fell into a deep slump. “Men at Work.” “Navy SEALS.” “The Rookie.” Whiff. Whiff. Whiff.

To close, here’s a list of Sheen’s three baseball features: Major League, Major League II, Eight Men Out. Do you have a preference among the three?

Published in: Uncategorized on March 10, 2011 at 7:27 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great stuff!

    My favorite of the 3 is Major League. My memory of 8 Men Out is that its storytelling was pretty muddled.

    Interesting to hear that Sweeney had the most baseball talent in that movie.

    I want to go back and watch Sheen in Major League to see what his pitching looked like. If it was good enough for the University of Kansas, I’d be curious to see it again.

    Thanks for these great posts.

  2. To this day, I love “Major League.” I’ve probably seen it 15 or 20 times dating back to early childhood, and I watched it again just recently.

    I wonder if in some parallel celluloid universe, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn is having anywhere near the same problems as Sheen.

  3. Or maybe in that parallel universe, Wild Thing cooled down, got it together, and is now in Cooperstown.

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