61*

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Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: HBO Studios
Release Date: 2004-02-03
Running Time: 128 minutes


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Starring: Richard Masur, Bruce McGill, Chris Bauer, Christopher McDonald

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In the summer of 1961, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle took on Babe Ruth's record - the 1927 single-season 60 home run slam. It would be a summer that no one would forget. Mickey Mantle is a Yankee favorite. The natural heir to his predecessors Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth. Also at bat is a young Midwesterner, Roger Maris. Maris is Mantle's opposite in almost every way. Quiet and soft-spoken, he doesn't add up to everything a sports legend should be. As the summer of 1961 unfolds, both Maris and Mantle find themselves approaching Babe Ruth's benchmark of 60 home runs. Facing mounting pressure from the media and the stands, they both know there's only room for one winner. The people make their choice known. But the people's favorite isn't the favorite to win.

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61* is an endearing ode to the baseball days of yore when the press was the enemy, salaries were in check, and breaking records with bat and glove took on Ruthian proportions. In 1961 baseball expanded its season from 154 games to 162, allowing weaker pitching into the major leagues and two New York Yankees teammates--the colorless Roger Maris and golden boy Mickey Mantle--to make an assault on the sport's ultimate record: Babe Ruth's 60 home runs. To add to the stew, baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced any record set in the last eight games of the season wouldn't count toward the official record; records had to be achieved in 154 games.

Director Billy Crystal guarantees success for his movie in the perfect casting of the leads. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan's religious sniper) is deft as Maris, and Thomas Jane is a perfect Mantle, a superman in a Yankee uniform. Despite the differences between family man Maris and hard-living Mantle, they form a rewarding friendship amid the media and fan frenzy. The shy Maris took the brunt of the storm, even facing boo-birds in his home stadium. Crystal and first-time writer Hank Steinberg keep the pace moving quickly between the field, the locker room, the press box, and the home front. The film never tries to dazzle with more than the facts (and it softens Mantle up a bit), yet it belongs on the short list of grand baseball movies. --Doug Thomas

 

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