I never know what I’m going to be reading next online, and the other day next turned out to be the New York Times review of The Winning Team, the 1952 Warner Bros. biopic of Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Ronald Reagan played Alexander. Doris Day played his wife. Bosley Crowther wrote the review.
I didn’t realize it for several paragraphs, as his touch would never be mistaken for a feather’s, but Crowther’s judgment was that the movie was silly.
It climaxes, as it must, when broken-down “Old Pete” Alexander stumbles out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh inning of the seventh game of the 1926 World Series and strikes out Tony Lazzeri. The baseball legend has it that Alexander was nursing a hangover, having celebrated to excess his win in the sixth game the day before. In the movie, notes Crowther, he merely suffers from occasional “fainting spells,” and is rejuvenated when his wife arrives in Yankee Stadium just in time to see him nail down the victory. Doris Day—I’m sorry, Aimee Alexander—is the rock on which his Hall of Fame career was built. Crowther’s review begins:
The one thing about baseball heroes that the sports pages never seem to tell is how dependent they are for their courage and their competence upon their wives. When a sports writer pens a glowing story of how this diamond hero or that has pulled through a tight situation or banged out a winning home-run, he seldom if ever mentions the “little women” to whom the credit is really due. We must depend for this sort of intimate knowledge upon the much more appreciative screen.
Unlike most of his film criticism, Crowther’s point about sports wives still holds. Even today, sportswriters determined to get to the bottom of the failures of say, the Bears and Cubs, blame the coaches, the players, and the front office, but refuse to explore the obvious question: what if their wives aren’t inspiring them enough? The success of the Blackhawks might boil down to strong marriages, but who’s going to dig into that one?
What’s changed since Crowther’s day is that wives have found at least one way of making themselves part of the story. When their husbands knock them unconscious and drag them feet first out of elevators, they’re woven into the coverage. Even so, there’s a long way to go.