Rookie of the Year Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Thomas Ian Nicholas as Henry Rowengartner in Rookie of the Year. Courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

Rookie of the Year–one of two baseball comedies to be released in 1993–marks the 30th anniversary of its theatrical release.

After missing it earlier this month, there’s no better time to do an anniversary viewing than Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. Disney’s D23 celebrated the 30th anniversary at Wrigley Field and Gallagher Way earlier this month with star Thomas Nicholas in attendance. Nature may have had other things in mind with the weather but they got it in just in the nick of time because the SAG-AFTRA strike started days later. Without the cast or crew, the film, like other films, would not be possible.

A Little Leaguer getting an opportunity might sound like the perfect Bill Veeck gimmick to attract fans. Funny enough, the Baseball Hall of Fame executive grew up in the Chicago area and worked for the Cubs before making his mark as an owner of various Major League Baseball clubs. What kid wouldn’t want to have that kind of opportunity?!? Of course, I would go into retirement after my second season of T-ball in 1991. But despite that, I never fell out of love with the game of baseball or my St. Louis Cardinals, of which I developed an allegiance to because of the Louisville Redbirds. The early 1990s were a great time for baseball movies featuring kids. On the baseball front, you also had The Sandlot in April 1993 and Little Big League followed in June 1994.

Following an injury and four-month recovery, Mary Rowengartner gives Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) tickets to a Chicago Cubs game to celebrate cast-off day with his friends, George (Patrick LaBrecque) and Clark (Robert Gorman). They’re sitting in the Wrigley Field bleachers, where it is a requirement to throw the ball back whenever the opposing team hits a home run. Lo and behold, a home run lands nearby and Henry throws it straight to home plate. It is unbelievable! Everyone wants to know who the kid is, especially Cubs General Manager Larry “Fish” Fisher (Dan Hedaya). After Mary’s boyfriend, Jack Bradfield (Bruce Altman), sees him pitch, he arranges for a tryout. Cubs manager Sal Martinella (Albert Hall) stops by their house, sees him pitch from the mound, and the rest is history.

Martinella will hardly ever get Henry’s last name correct for much of the film except for one time:

  • Rulingfurter
  • Gardenhoser
  • Raviboozer
  • Rosinbagger
  • Runnamucker
  • Rowengartner
  • Rulengruder
  • Rosenburger

In playing for the Cubs, it allows Henry to develop a relationship with Chet Steadman (Gary Busey). Reluctantly, Steadman more or less becomes his mentor, even signing a baseball for him. If not for Mary, Chet, or his friends, Henry would be doing Jack’s bidding. Jack is the last person that anyone would want to be their manager. He makes decisions without Henry or Mary’s approval. This includes selling Henry’s contract to the New York Yankees. If you’re looking for a quick way out of your relationship, trading your girlfriend’s kid to the Yankees will do just that. When owner Bob Carson hears of this, he demotes his nephew to hot dog vendor. This comes as Henry decides he just wants to be a kid and retire at the end of the miracle season. I say miracle because of the active curse at the time.

Heading into the final inning of the regular season, a fluke accident turns into Henry’s undoing. It happens similarly to how he ended up in the situation. Anyway, Henry plays all sorts of tricks to give the Cubs a win. One of them is the hidden ball trick. If we wish to get technical, the play should not result in out because it was, in theory, still a time-out at the time. Of course, Henry’s teasing of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher will never not be funny even though it might result in a rejection today. It goes without saying that the Cubs winning the World Series remains one of the most painful parts of the film. I say this as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, of course.

By the time Rookie of the Year was released, I was familiar with Daniel Stern through his work in Home Alone and City Slickers. Interestingly, Stern draws on his own experiences from what he witnessed on the Home Alone set. The film marks his directorial debut and he provides comic relief as Phil Brickma. Brickma is quite the character for a pitching coach, who manages to get stuck in between hotel doors. To date, this is the only feature film in his filmography as a director. There are a few TV episodes but no other feature films. Another film, Everything’s Peachy, seems to be in development hell.

That the studio wanted Joe Pesci to play Chet Steadman because of the Home Alone films is not a surprise. However, I’m not sure we would get the same film with Pesci rather than Busey. Busey’s performance is perfect in that we buy into his struggling during his final season of play. There’s no way we get the same performance from Pesci. Regardless, both actors were already older than Nolan Ryan was at the end of his 27-year career in 1993.

Oscar-winning composer Bill Conti handles scoring duties and it’s very much a baseball score. Conti’s music makes us feel like we’re actually at the Friendly Confines as soon as the brass music starts playing.  Of course, he’s no stranger to sports movies, having composed the score for Rocky and The Karate Kid. If you’re going to make an inspirational sports comedy in 1993, Conti is your guy. Anyway, his Main Title March–the main theme–not only gets our interest in the film but he uses it later for Henry Rowengartner’s walk-on music and elsewhere throughout. There is probably a lengthy list of memorable main themes but this one is up there somewhere.

Rookie of the Year may feature a preposterous premise but it still remains an entertaining baseball comedy three decades later.

DIRECTOR: Daniel Stern
CAST: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Albert Hall, Amy Morton, Dan Hedaya, Bruce Altman, Eddie Bracken, Robert Gorman, Patrick LaBrecque, and Daniel Stern

20th Century Fox released Rookie of the Year in theaters on July 7, 1993. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.