Baseball at the Movies: Captain America: The First Avenger

Capt. Rogers is feeling deja vu all over again.

Captain America: The First Avenger was a really great movie. It was the fourth movie in what was then a still burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. A year later, The Avengers really blew everyone away, and Marvel Studios has been printing money ever since, but up until that point, things weren’t on as steady ground. Iron Man, the first MCU film, was a huge success, — it scored a 94 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomato Meter. Thor, the third, did well. In between, the Edward Norton-led The Incredible Hulk was OK, but mostly it can be summed up as, “it was better than the Eric Bana one,” which was sort of a disaster at the time, and in retrospect feels cartoonish.

So, while the MCU was holding its own when Captain America debuted on July 22, 2011, its success was far from assured. But the storytelling and attention to detail helped set it apart from The Incredible Hulk and Thor, and really primed the pump for The Avengers movie that it teased in its closing credits. One of the final details in the movie, one where the Captain discovers a deception — though not a nefarious one — involves our great game of baseball.

In the movie’s final scene, (SPOILER ALERT! Although not really; the movie is nearly six years old, you should have seen it by now), our hero, Capt. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, wakes up from nearly 70 years as a “Capsicle,” as Tony Stark would put it a movie later in The Avengers. He is in a room that Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hope will be very familiar — a room that was decorated to look like the 1940s, the last decade he was alive and well in the world. One of the things they use to make it feel like home is a radio. There’s a baseball game on.

The first words I can make out from the broadcast are, “The big fella sets, Pearson pitches … a curve ball, high and outside, for ball one. So, the Dodgers are tied, 4-4.” When he hears “Dodgers,” Rogers blinks his eyes open, and the scene begins in earnest. Let’s watch/listen in.

And the crowd well knows that with one swing of his bat, this fella’s capable of making it a brand new game again. Just an absolutely gorgeous day here at Ebbets Field. The Phillies have managed to tie it up at 4-4. But the Dodgers have three men on.

(Rogers, after scanning the room and feeling out with his arms, sits up on the bed.)

Pearson beaned Reiser in Philadelphia last month. Wouldn’t the youngster like a hit here to return the favor. Pete leans in, here’s the pitch. Swung on,

(Rogers jerks his head toward the radio in a flash of recognition)

a liner to right, and it gets past Rizzo. Three runs will score. Reiser heads to third. Durocher’s gonna wave him in. Here comes the relay but they won’t get it. Pete Reiser with an inside-the-park grand slam. Oh my goodness. The crowd is going absolutely wild here at … The Dodgers take the lead here, eight to four. Ohhhhh, Doctor! Everyone is on their feet. What a game we have here today, folks. What a game, indeed.”

A woman comes into the room right after the broadcaster, meant to be Red Barber but not actually Red Barber, says “won’t get it.” In between Rogers jerking his head toward the radio and the woman walking in, we are treated to quick cuts between Rogers and the radio, hammering home that we’re supposed to be paying attention to the broadcast, if we weren’t already.

He asks her where he is, and she tells him he is in a recovery room in New York City. He’s not buying it. He cuts to the chase — “The game, it’s from May, 1941. I know ’cause I was there.” Rogers eventually flees the room and escapes into present-day Times Square before being informed that he’s been asleep for seven decades.

The fun part about this broadcast is that the game is not made up. Today is actually the 76th anniversary of that game, as it took place on May 25, 1941. In the bottom of the sixth inning that day, Pete Reiser did in fact hit an inside-the-park grand slam off of Ike Pearson that turned a 4-4 tie into an 8-4 Dodgers lead. This was the pivotal moment in a game that sent the Dodgers on a big win streak — it raised the team’s win probability by 34 percent, making it easily the biggest play of the game. While the Dodgers had beaten the Phillies the day prior, Brooklyn had lost six straight going into that three-game  series with Philadelpha. During that losing streak, their two-game league lead over the Cardinals had vanished, and when they woke up on the 25th, they were two games behind them.

Following the win on the 25th, the Dodgers would rattle off seven more consecutive wins, running the streak to nine. The streak included three road wins over the Giants and one over the Cardinals. The Cardinals would win the middle game of a three-game series, and the teams left tied following the Dodgers’ win over them on June 3.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

The two teams would battle it out all summer and all fall. The Dodgers would fall as many as three games back in June, and would get a lead of as many as four games in July. The Dodgers wouldn’t take the division lead for good until Sept. 6, and even then, for 16 of the final 22 games of the season, they’d have no more than a two-game lead. It was a tight season.

So, a grand slam like that helped fuel a big winning streak and push the Dodgers back closer to their rival would be a memorable event, especially if one had seen it live. The grand slame was one of just two the Dodgers would hit all season, with the other having coming off the bat of Dixie Walker a couple of weeks prior. The grand slam was one of only two that Reiser would hit in his 10-year career, and the only one he would hit as a Dodger. In fact, Reiser, like the fictional Rogers, served during World War II. His three years would have been his age 24-26 seasons. He led the NL in stolen bases in the seasons prior to and following his service, so it’s safe to say those would have been meaningful seasons for him.

It’s fun when pop culture connects to the game’s history like this, and while I am always watching for scenes like this, there are few that tied in so distinctly to an actual game. Usually, a lot more detective work needs to be done to identify the game in question. Of course, the movie didn’t get everything right. For one, the person tabbed as the broadcaster pronounces Reiser’s name wrong, according to the Amazon X-Ray notes:

In addition, the broadcaster says that Pearson had hit Reiser the previous month in Philadelphia. He had hit him with a pitch in April of 1941, but the game was played in Brooklyn. Finally, he says “the Phillies have managed to tie it up at 4-4,” and that’s not what had happened. The Phillies had actually been up 4-3 when the bottom of the sixth started.

Still, these are minor quibbles. To me, it’s pretty cool that the writers chose to re-introduce Rogers to the world with a baseball game. Because baseball, obviously, is the best part of America. Unfortunately for the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., they picked a memorable game to try to trick him with.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.
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6 years ago

Rogers doesn’t remember, but he wasn’t frozen for all of those 70 years. They must have thawed him out long enough to win 158 games in Canada.

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6 years ago

Sure, it’s pretty cool that the writers chose to re-introduce Rogers to the world with a baseball game

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6 years ago

captain America is one f the most favourite series of Marvel studios. loved it again hope it will keep entertaining us.
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