Strike?

If I were making a list of my all-time favorite movies, The Naked Gun would be on it somewhere. I also loved Airplane!, and the “Police Squad” series that was on TV very briefly after that. But a movie based on that series was about as good as it gets.

Leslie Nielsen, the actor who played Lt. Frank Drebin, was so good in these comedic roles. How he could keep a straight face during some of these scenes is beyond me. The scene where he sings the National Anthem at a baseball game, under the guise of being famed opera singer Enrico Pallazo, was funny enough. But the next scene, where he pretends to be an umpire, is the inspiration for this post, and the reason why Jay Johnstone is shown above.

The backstory is that Drebin was trying to investigate some kind of plot that had to do with Ricardo Montalban and “the Queen” at a baseball game. Drebin came onto the field disguised as the home plate umpire, and the first batter announced was Jay Johnstone.

Johnstone had recently retired from baseball after a 20 year career, meaning that almost everyone who was familiar with baseball knew his name. Casting him in a movie with a baseball scene, and using his real name instead of an alias, made perfect sense.

I don’t really have the words to describe this scene, but here it is

There are a few goofs with Jay Johnstone in this at bat, and I’m sure they’re all intentional. For starters, Johnstone played with eight different teams in his career, but never with the Seattle Mariners, as he did in the movie. Also, Johnstone wore several different numbers over the course of his playing career, but never #29, as he did here. And, finally, Johnstone was one of those rare people who threw the ball right handed, but batted as a left hander. Not as a switch hitter, either. He only batted left-handed throughout his big league career. So, even though he was technically right handed, this seems to be the only time he batted that way. It’s a movie, so why not?

One of the best things I ever learned from a DVD commentary was for Field Of Dreams, when it was pointed out that some concerns were raised during the shooting of the movie that Ray Liotta batted right-handed, while the real Joe Jackson batted left-handed. These concerns were put to rest by the realization that the real Joe Jackson probably didn’t come from out of a cornfield, either.

Movies are essentially fantasies, and anyone who quibbles about right-handers and left-handers was missing the larger point. And what’s good for Joe Jackson is also good for Jay Johnstone.

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