The Hall's Future

At The Athletic

I did a ranking of the Modern Era ballot players before it came out. I didn’t get much right.

The Browns were thoroughly outplayed by the wretched Cincinnati Bengals, but they won anyway.

I am working nonstop on the Baseball 100, which will start on Dec. 17. One hundred players in 100 days! I am trying, desperately trying, to get ahead but this is going to make the two-homer march look like nothing — I’m truly nuts for trying to pull this one off. But I’m going to do it!

My Stuff

Milwaukee! Is now the right time to be going to Milwaukee?

It doesn’t look like it, no. But I say: It’s ALWAYS the right time to go to Milwaukee, and I’ll be at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee on Thursday talking some Houdini and whatever else comes to mind. I’ll sign some books. Come on out!

On Friday and Saturday, I’ll be in Atlanta for the 30th annual Mercer Author’s Luncheon. This should be amazing; there are going to be incredible authors there like Thomas Mallon and Lynne Olson and so on. I can’t wait. Oh, here’s another link if you want to know everyone who will be there.

Did this super-fun interview with Slate’s Mike Pesca about Houdini.

Also had a great time on Great Day Washington talking Houdini.

The Holiday PosCast approacheth! It will be our biggest ever.


In 1994, Bill James did an incredible thing in his book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame:” He predicted the next 25 years of the Hall of Fame voting. Well, to be more exact, he predicted two players who would be elected each year from 1995 to 2019. It was a bold thing to try — after all, he was making predictions more than two years into the future. As you will see, though, he was pretty darned accurate

I was reminded of this list by Brilliant Reader Michael — I have been meaning to review Bill’s choices and to try something similar for the next 25 years.

So here goes nothing.

Bill’s choices first (non-Hall of Famers are in italics):

1995 — Mike Schmidt, Jim Rice
Bill got Schmidt exactly right, though that wasn’t too hard to do: Schmidt was a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer. It took much longer for Rice than Bill expected; Rice wasn’t elected until 2009.

1996 — Don Sutton, Pete Rose
Sutton was elected in 1998. I’m fascinated by the Rose prediction. By the time he made this prediction, Bill knew that Rose was not on the Hall of Fame ballot. More than that, in the previous chapter, he wrote that Rose should definitely NOT be voted into the Hall of Fame while banned from baseball. I guess Bill thought the ban would end very quickly. As you know, it has not, and there’s no sign that it will ever be lifted.

1997: Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro
Bill got Niekro exactly right, including year. Garvey, as we know, spent 15 years on the ballot, and various veterans’ committee members have tried to get him in multiple times (including this year). But he’s still on the outside. The big problem for Garvey now is time: His greatest case for the Hall of Fame is that he was extremely famous as a player and was widely viewed as a leader and all-time great player and a good person’ many people thought he’d be president. My friend, the legendary Claire Smith, talks about how much Garvey helped her as a pioneering female baseball writer. But as the years pass, fewer and fewer people will remember Garvey that way, and all that will be left will be the numbers, which do not inspire Hall of Fame thoughts (particularly his .329 lifetime on-base percentage).

1998: Gary Carter, Al Oliver
It took much longer for Gary Carter to get into the Hall than it should have; he wasn’t elected until 2003. Al Oliver was an interesting but odd prediction by Bill. Oliver was a terrific hitter with a lifetime .303 batting average. But he also had fallen off the ballot before the prediction was made. I’m not sure how Bill thought he would get in.

1999: Nolan Ryan, George Brett
Bullseye. I’m sure he would have predicted Robin Yount going in this year too, but he kept it to two players per year.

2000: Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk
Bullseye. Yount was elected in 1999, Fisk in 2000. Bill did not predict Tony Perez would be elected, but Doggie was elected in 2000 also.

2001: Andre Dawson, Dave Winfield
Winfield was elected in 2001. Dawson did not appear on the ballot until 2002, and he was elected nine years after that. Kirby Puckett was also elected this year; Bill obviously did not expect his career to be cut short like it was; he predicted Puckett would be elected in 2008.

2002: Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith
Bullseye on Ozzie. Murray was elected in 2003.

2003: Dave Parker, Jim Kaat
Neither one was elected, neither one came especially close to being elected. But they are both popular veteran’s committee candidates, I think there’s still a good chance that both of them will be elected over the next few years.

2004: Dennis Eckersley, Ted Simmons
Getting the bullseye on Dennis Eckersley is impressive. Simmons was just elected by the veteran’s committee this year. Paul Molitor was also elected this year, Bill has him getting in a couple of years later.

2005: Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken
Remember, at this point Bill is not only predicting WHO will go into the Hall of Fame but WHEN. He got Boggs exactly right. Ripken played a couple of years longer than Bill expected.

2006: Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor
Both Hall of Famers; the timing is just a little bit off. Henderson played on and on and was not eligible until 2009.

2007: Tony Gwynn, Roger Clemens
Bullseye on Gwynn. This Clemens prediction is instructive; Bill expected Clemens to retire in 2001, when he was 38. But, as we all know, Clemens pitched on for another SEVEN YEARS, making three All-Star teams and winning a seventh Cy Young Award. If Clemens HAD retired after the 2001 season (when he won his sixth Cy Young), I think more people would be supporting his Hall of Fame candidacy now.

2008: Kirby Puckett, Dale Murphy
Puckett was a rare emotional choice for the voters; the writers’ absolutely loved him. It’s just strange that the same emotions did not carry over to Murphy, who was essentially just as valuable and beloved over the length of their careers. Puckett’s career was shortened because he lost vision in his right eye. Murphy’s career was shortened by daily wear and tear. It’s hard to see how one is all that different from the other, but the voters certainly treated it differently. Puckett’s reputation as a role model was shattered just after he was elected when multiple domestic violence allegations and numerous other troubling facts emerged. The voters, in my view, put their votes behind the wrong person.

2009: Jack Morris, Lee Smith
Neither one was elected by the BBWAA but both are now in the Hall of Fame.

2010: Ryne Sandberg, Tim Raines
Sandberg was elected in 2005, Raines had a harder time than Bill expected and was not elected until 2017.

2011: Barry Bonds, Joe Carter
When Bill made this prediction, Bonds was just 29 years old — no one could have guessed what was coming. Carter seems like a reach pick now, but when Bill wrote the book Carter was 34 and had driven in 100 runs eight of the previous nine seasons. At that point, it was a reasonable guess that Carter might finish his career Top 20 or even top 10 in RBIs (he ended up 44th), plus he had just hit the game-winning home run in the World Series. It was a reasonable bet. In the end, Carter ended up getting just 3.8% of the vote in 2004 and he fell off the ballot.

2012: Brett Butler, David Cone
Bill loved himself some Butler and Cone. When he wrote this, Butler had just hit .314 for the Dodgers so he seemed to have life left in him. And Butler was a pretty darned good player — he twice led the league in runs scored, he had a career .377 on-base percentage, he stole 558 bases in his career, etc. He was one of the great bunters ever, for what that’s worth. … If Cone had won 200 games, I think he would have gotten more Hall of Fame consideration. That’s dumb — he won 194 — but our minds just work around round numbers. Cone’s career was broken up (he played for five different teams) and that hurt him too. I hope he gets another bit at the apple with the veteran’s committee.

2013: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker
This was the one pairing Bill separated not with a comma but with an “and.” It should have happened, both of them going in together. As it turns out, Trammell is in, Whitaker is not, and I’m not sure when that will change.

2014: Goose Gossage, Don Mattingly
Gossage was elected in 2008. So far, it’s a no-go on Mattingly — he, like Murphy, was such a 1980s icon (in addition to being a fantastic player). I think there’s a strong feeling among people who grew up loving baseball in the 1980s that the whole decade has been disrespected. Most of the MVPs, Cy Young winners and biggest stars of the decade — Murphy, Mattingly, Gibson, Dewey, Saberhagen, Hershiser, Clemens, Gooden, Strawberry, Canseco, Quisenberry, Valenzuela, Clark, Whitaker, McGwire — are not in the Hall of Fame. I’m not saying that any of that’s wrong, I’m just saying that it makes those of us who loved the ‘80s feel left out.

2015: Jack McDowell, Greg Maddux
Solid early prediction on Maddux; he was elected in 2014. Jack McDowell was a miss but you can see why Bill made that call: McDowell was coming off back to back seasons where he finished second and first in the Cy Young voting and he was still in his mid-20s. Black Jack declined rapidly and retired at 33.

2016: Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden
McGriff, surely, will be elected by the veteran’s committee the first year he’s on the ballot. Gooden’s career was already deteriorating by the time Bill made the prediction. He’s still one of the greatest pitchers I ever saw in 1984-85.

2017: Frank Thomas, Ruben Sierra
A near bullseye with Thomas who was elected in 2014. Sierra: Not so much. Sierra started so young (he played 113 games when he was 20) that when Bill made the prediction, Sierra already had compiled impressive numbers and seemed a candidate for 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, etc. It didn’t turn out quite that way though he did end up with 2,152 hits and more than 300 homers.

2018: Ken Griffey Jr., Roberto Alomar
Two great picks — Alomar was elected in 2011, Junior in 2016.

2019: Jeff Bagwell, Juan González
Bagwell was a great pick; he was elected in 2017. Juan Gone got very little support despite winning a couple of MVP awards.

Most of the Hall of Famers Bill missed were either not in the big leagues or had just started at prediction time. I’m a bit surprised he didn’t pick Tom Glavine (who had won a Cy Young award and finished Top 3 two other times). I’m quite surprised he didn’t put Craig Biggio on the list because Bill was, at the time, a huge Biggio fan. It would have been impressive but not impossible to select Mike Mussina or Ivan Rodriguez; both showed signs of being all-time greats.

I think his biggest miss, though, was Barry Larkin. By the time Bill made the prediction, Larkin was one of the game’s best players, a perennial All-Star and a great all-around shortstop. Bill ranked him as one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history just a few years later, so that was the one true oversight, I think.

Still, all in all, the list is rather incredible.

And so now … I’ll try for the next 25 years. Two players per year. Only BBWAA choices (I’m not predicting veterans’ committee choices since I have NO idea what their criteria is). I offer no other commentary other than to say this is just for fun. I’m sure I missed players, so if you see your favorite player missing, it was almost certainly unintentional.

Here we go:

2020: Derek Jeter, Larry Walker
2021: Curt Schilling, Omar Vizquel
2022: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens
2023: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz
2024: Adrian Beltre, Ichiro Suzuki
2025: Carlos Beltran, Manny Ramirez
2026: Scott Rolen, Joe Mauer
2027: Albert Pujols, Chase Utley
2028: C.C. Sabathia, Yadier Molina
2029: Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano
2030: Joey Votto, Buster Posey
2031: Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke
2032: Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer
2033: Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez
2034: Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt
2035: Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman
2036: Stephen Strasburg, Jose Altuve
2037: Christian Yelich, Jacob deGrom
2038: Mike Trout
2039: Mookie Betts, Manny Machado
2040: Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper
2041: Chris Sale, Nolan Arenado
2042: Francisco Lindor, Javy Baez
2043: Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger
2044: Juan Soto., Walker Buehler
2045: Fernando Tatis Jr., Madison Bumgarner

The HOF Review

On Sunday, the Modern Era Baseball Committee voted union leader Marvin Miller and eight-time All-Star catcher Ted Simmons into the Hall of Fame. Before I dive into all the thoughts, let’s take a quick look at the voting.

There were 16 members for on the Modern Era Baseball Committee:

Former Players
George Brett
Rod Carew
Dennis Eckersley
Eddie Murray
Ozzie Smith
Robin Yount

Executives and owners
Sandy Alderson
Dave Dombrowski
David Glass
Walt Jocketty
Doug Melvin
Terry Ryan

Media/historians
Bill Center
Steve Hirdt
Jack O’Connell
Tracy Ringolsby

And the voting went as follows:

Elected
Ted Simmons, 13 votes
Marvin Miller, 12 votes

Solid support
Dwight Evans, 8 votes
Dave Parker, 7 votes
Steve Garvey, 6 votes
Lou Whitaker, 6 votes

Received 3 or fewer votes
Tommy John
Don Mattingly
Thurman Munson
Dale Murphy


The Miller Conundrum

Before the election, I wrote at some length about the vexing question: What do you do about Marvin Miller? He obviously should be in the Hall of Fame; he should have been elected decades ago. He’s one of the most influential people in the history of baseball.

But he was not elected while he was alive and in his final years he made it unmistakably clear that he did not want to be elected after he died. He left specific instructions for his family and friends to take no part if he was, in fact, elected against his wishes. He did not want any of his friends to speak on his behalf. He did not want his family to attend the ceremony or lend it any credence at all. He could not possibly have been misunderstood.

And now he has been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Word is that his family, indeed, will not attend, which could make for an awkward ceremony. His son Peter says that his father told him his wishes “many, many times.” His daughter Susan told the Associated Press, “it would have been a great honor 20 years ago.” It is unclear who, if anyone, will speak on Miller’s behalf. Perhaps the Hall of Fame will just play back some old interviews Marvin Miller gave, which might be the best that they can do.

On the one hand, Miller’s impact on the game should be honored and remembered forever. His induction to the Hall of Fame is right. Future generations should see his name in the plaque room with the other people who made baseball what it is.

On the other hand, it should not have happened like this — it feels like half-an-honor considering that Miller lived to be 95 years old. There was plenty of time for him to be celebrated while he was still living. It feels now as if baseball people are happy to put him in the Hall but did not want to give him the big pulpit to speak. And that is definitely bittersweet.


Speaking of bittersweet: It was great to see the Hall of Fame committee vote in Ted Simmons, but there is also something a little bit off about it. I’ve been thinking about what it is, and it’s hard to describe. Let me see if I can do it.

First, let’s state that Simmons has a very good Hall of Fame argument. At his retirement, he led all catchers in hits and doubles (since passed by Ivan Rodriguez) and was second in RBIs (to Yogi Berra). As baseball guru Bill Deane asked: Could you even imagine the modern hit leader at ANY OTHER POSITION not being elected to the Hall of Fame (assuming he is eligible)?

1B: Eddie Murray
2B: Eddie Collins
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Adrian Beltre
LF: Carl Yastrzemski
CF: Ty Cobb
RF: Henry Aaron

So, yes, through that lens, it’s flat out bizarre that Simmons simply fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year. The thinking apparently was that Simmons was a poor defensive catcher (which probably wasn’t true), that he never had a season where he was one of the five best players in the league (you could make that argument either way) and that he was never even one of the three best catchers of his own time (true but unfair because it was a historical fluke to have Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Ted Simmons all come along around the same time).

In any case, Simmons deserved better than that. He deserved 15 (now 10) years on the ballot to let his case be sorted out. He didn’t get that, and so he was mostly forgotten as a Hall of Fame candidate. He was brought back on a veteran’s committee ballot in 2011 and didn’t receive enough votes to register (the Hall of Fame only announces the vote totals for those above a certain threshold). He appeared again in 2014 and again didn’t received enough votes to register.

But in 2018, he made a huge jump forward and finished just one vote shy of election. Seven of the 16 members of that committee were on this year’s committee, including David Glass who was a diehard Cardinals fan when Simmons played for St. Louis and Simmons’ former teammate in Milwaukee, Robin Yount. I don’t know what role they played in promoting Simmons behind closed doors. but it’s good to have supporters in that room.

And this time he was voted in.

That’s a good thing. This is not a Harold Baines election — Baines, while a good player, was simply not a reasonable Hall of Fame choice. Simmons has a strong case.

No, what feels off is: Why Simmons? Why was HE the guy chosen on this loaded ballot?

Was he the best player on the ballot? Certainly not. Would anyone have traded an in-his-prime Dale Murphy or Dave Parker for Simmons? Did he have the best overall career? Certainly not. By WAR, Lou Whitaker (75/68 WAR), Tommy John (62/79 WAR) and Dwight Evans (67/65 WAR) all trump Simmons (50/54 by a substantial amount).

It’s not entirely clear that Simmons was even the best catcher on the ballot. Thurman Munson was about as good a hitter, a superior defender, he made seven All-Star Games himself despite his premature death at 32, he won an MVP award and he was widely viewed as the fierce leader of the World Series champion Yankees of the late 1970s. It’s pretty close between those two.

So the whole process feels just a bit … confusing? Is that the right word? I’m not sure exactly what happened or why it happened. This whole thing feels a bit random. Over the last three years, committees like this have elected Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Harold Baines and Ted Simmons. What connects them? What standards are the voters using?

I mean, look: Trammell was a terrific and under-appreciated Gold Glove-winning middle-infielder with an impressive career WAR. And that’s EXACTLY Lou Whitaker’s story. I don’t see how you separate them — for 20 years, nobody ever did.*

*You COULD make the argument that Trammell has a better Hall of Fame case because he had a couple bigger seasons (he should have won the MVP in 1987 and could have won it in 1984). But you could make just as compelling argument that Whitaker has the better Hall of Fame case because he had a higher career on-base percentage, higher career slugging percentage, he hit more doubles, triples, homers, scored more runs, drove in more runs, etc. But this is the point — it doesn't make sense to argue which was better because they were, more than any two players in baseball history, a team. It’s like arguing whether Abbott or Costello, Cheech or Chong, Tina Fey or Amy Poehler is funnier — it doesn’t matter. It’s mind-bending trying to figure out why Trammell was elected but not Whitaker.

But beyond Whitaker-Trammell, how could a committee vote in Harold Baines and not Dave Parker, who was the player managers hoped Baines could be? Why Ted Simmons over two-time MVP and 1980s icon Dale Murphy? How is Jack Morris a Hall of Famer while Tommy John is not?

I’m not saying there are not answers to these questions — I’m sure we can all come up with answer. I’m saying that these Hall of Fame committees seem haphazard and erratic. People complain all the time about the BBWAA, and there are reasons to complain, but there’s a transparency there. This is just, yeah, confusing. I’m happy Ted Simmons was elected, I really am. But I don’t know why he was elected over the others.


You know who was a winner in this vote? Dwight Evans. It seemed like he had been all but forgotten after he fell off the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in 1999. That was a rough ballot for Hall of Fame candidates, by the way. Three legends — George Brett, Robin Yount and Nolan Ryan — all came on the ballot along with Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy. They took up so much oxygen that everybody else took a step down.

Jim Rice dropped from 43% to 29%.

Gary Carter dropped from 42% to 34%

Tony Perez dropped from 68% to 60%

Steve Garvey dropped from 41% to 30%

Bruce Sutter dropped from 31% to 24%

Dave Parker dropped from 25% to 16%

Some regained momentum. Others did not. And Dwight Evans fell off the ballot. It was just one of those timing things. Dewey also dropped out of Hall of Fame conversations for the most part. He was not on any of the Veterans' Committee ballots before this year.

But this year, he not only made it on the ballot but he got eight votes, the most of any player not elected, and that puts him in amazing shape to get elected the next time Modern Era Committee meets. That’s great news: Evans was a wonderful player. He got on base. He hit with power. He played great defense in one of the toughest outfield spots in baseball — right field at Fenway Park. And he had one of the greatest arms in the game’s history.

If you look at WAR between 1969-1994 (which makes more sense to me as an era than the Modern Era’s 1970-1987), Evans ranks third among all outfielders.

  1. Rickey Henderson, 98.9

  2. Reggie Jackson, 69.3

  3. Dwight Evans, 67.1

That puts him ahead of contemporary Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Harold Baines.

One way I look at the Hall of Fame is to think: Who are the best positional candidates not in the Hall of Fame (who are eligible and not being kept out because of PEDs)? My Top 10 in alphabetical order might look something like this:

Dwight Evans

Bobby Grich

Keith Hernandez

Minnie Miñoso

Andruw Jones

Dale Murphy

Tony Oliva

Scott Rolen

Larry Walker

Lou Whitaker

That’s not in stone. I could be talked into any number of others — McGriff, Mattingly, Allen, Parker, Boyer, Helton, Nettles, etc. — but my point is that Evans is definitely on my list. And his Hall of Fame case is moving! Good stuff.


A few words about my friend Dale Murphy: I cannot for the life of me understand why he cannot get any momentum in these votes.

I’m not saying he should have been elected this time around — I didn’t expect that — but he got three or fewer votes. And I don’t get it. It’s true that there’s nobody on the committee who seems like an obvious connection for him — no Joe Torre, for example. But I mean, Brett, Ozzie, Eck, Yount, Murray, Carew, these guys all played in Murph’s time. All the executives saw him play at his best. The media people too. I don’t quite get it, unless they just didn’t see his greatness the way I and so many other fans did.

Murph’s career was too short. He declined too quickly. But he was at the top of the game for an extended period of time — he’s the only two-time MVP on this list — and he represented the game with grace and dignity. At his best, I would take him over the best of any other player on this ballot, with the possible exception of Dave Parker.

I’m just sad that the committee doesn’t see Dale Murphy the way I do.

Simmons and Miller

The Modern Era Votes are tallied! And your new Hall of Famers are:

  1. Ted Simmons

  2. Marvin Miller

That’s it. There were 16 voters, which means a nominee needed 12 votes for election to the Hall of Fame. The voting went as follows:

Ted Simmons, 13 votes (elected)

Marvin Miller, 12 votes (elected)

Dwight Evans, 8 votes

Dave Parker, 7 votes

Steve Garvey 6 votes

Lou Whitaker, 6 votes

Dale Murphy, Tommy John, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly all received three votes or fewer.

I’ll have lots of thoughts on all this in the weekly newsletter, but I’m opening up this thread for comments and questions.

Congratulations to Simmons and Miller!

View 104 comments →

The Irishman

Hi everybody. In this week’s newsletter, we’re talking the new Scorsese movie and a little Superman, but let’s start with some updates.

At The Athletic

It looks like we are going to start the Baseball 100 at The Athletic in two weeks, December 17. Why? It’s because my awesome editor Kaci figured out that if we start on that day and count down the 100 greatest baseball players ever in 100 days, the series will end right on Opening Day.

Wow, 100 stories in 100 days. This series is probably the most massive undertaking I’ve ever attempted — the whole thing will end up being 200,000 or more words, that’s more than twice as long as The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini. I’m writing furiously, I can tell you that.

Point being — again this week I was so busy with Baseball 100 writing that I only had time to write one piece for The Athletic. But it was a doozy: The Browns lost in Pittsburgh again. Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens thought it a good idea to wear a “Pittsburgh Started It” T-shirt out in public two days before the game, then made a bunch of excuses about it. Quarterback Baker Mayfield looked so panicked and out-of-his-depth in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, that I put up a Twitter poll about him. It offered discouraging views, only 4% of people view him as a future start while 30% see him as being below average and 15% more determined he just doesn’t have the stuff.

Sigh. The Browns.

Look this week for a preview of next week’s veteran’s committee Hall of Fame vote. I will find the time to write it, somehow.

Stuff

— I’ll be at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee on Thursday, Dec. 12 to talk about Houdini. Come on out! Admission gets you a Broken Wand Cocktail, which sounds delicious and magical, and I’ll sign books afterward. I’ll happily inscribe something nice about Jim Gantner, if you like.

— I’ll be in Atlanta on Saturday Dec. 14 for the Mercer Authors Luncheon. Really excited about it … there will be some amazing authors there I cannot wait to meet. I mean — Thomas Mallon? Lynne Olson? How did I get this invitation? Also, I’m currently reading Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen’s book about the Atlanta Olympic bombing, which is a source for the upcoming Clint Eastwood movie “Richard Jewell.” They will be at the luncheon too.

Seriously, how cool is this?

— I won’t say any more about it, but we have two holiday PosCasts coming up over the next couple of weeks that should set new standards for PosCast lunacy.

The Irishman

Someday, someone is going to make an absolutely amazing movie — not a documentary but an actual movie — about the making of Martin Scorsese’s new movie The Irishman, and I am going to be first in line to see it. I’m impossibly fascinated by the story of four old friends and legends — Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci — getting together to make one more gangster movie. I want to know everything.

And I don’t care at all about Jimmy Hoffa.

That’s what I kept thinking about while watching The Irishman itself: I wish I was there watching them make this movie. I wish I was there to see these four go on what might be their last journey together, to see them each reach deep into themselves and pull out just a little more brilliance. Look:

Martin Scorsese is 77.

Robert De Niro is 76.

Al Pacino is 79.

Joe Pesci is 76.

Think of all the great movies they have made, all the unforgettable performances, all of the exchanges. The story of them, their artistry, their shared history all of that is so much more interesting to me than the story of a hit man named Frank Sheehan and the rest.

Oh, understand, I deeply admired The Irishman. It’s gorgeously made. The performances — particularly Pesci’s splendidly understated portrayal of mobster Russell Bufalino — were astonishing. There were times I literally gasped, the acting was that good. And Scorsese plays in the movie … not as an actor but by turning the camera itself into one of the film’s main characters. Mesmerizing.

So, yes, The Irishman, even if it is, as you have undoubtedly heard, very, very long.*

*“Pack a lunch,” a friend advised me before I began, and indeed it took two separate sittings to take the whole movie in. I did have lunch between.

I admired the movie but didn’t love it, and there is a specific reason why. I’ve read some of the reviews and vaguely agree with many of the points about it being overlong and feeling a bit self-indulgent and derivative and aimless. Though I don’t think it’s fair to say that The Irishman was just a remake of Goodfellas or Casino (or The Sopranos or The Godfather or Hoffa), it didn’t feel new. The breathtaking power of Goodfellas, for me, was its sweeping ambition — Scorsese made a movie that, in an explosive and singular way, explores both the allure of the mob and the inevitable doom of the mob life. You want in. You want out. It’s inescapable.

The Irishman tries to be a big story, but it didn’t feel bit. It felt like the story of a hit-man who can barely find humanity in himself. It was lovingly portrayed, yes, But it seemed to me like well-covered ground.

But that isn’t the quibble that sticks with me. What is it, then? The great film critic Roger Ebert used to talk about how some movies are so bad that they would be more interesting if you just had the actors sitting at a table talking.

The Irishman wasn’t bad or anything close to bad, but it took Ebert’s theme to a different place. De Niro is much more interesting to me than the Frank Sheehan character he played. Pacino is much more interesting to me than Jimmy Hoffa. Scorsese is much more interesting to me than this story was. Even Pesci is more interesting to me than his character, Russell Bufalino, who was, by far, the most interesting character in the film.

I kept watching (and watching) and enjoying The Irishman because it gives us all one more chance to soak in Scorsese’s genius, the ability of De Niro, Pacino and Pesci to dive into characters, the irresistible way they work together to bring another time and place to life.

But I walked away unfulfilled because, in the end, I wanted more of that stuff and less of the movie itself. The Irishman felt like an empty vessel for their talents and skills. I’m waiting for the movie about the movie.

I am (I am) I am Superman

There was a much discussed story in Variety this week about the trouble studios are having making Superman relevant to modern audiences. This led to various think pieces about Superman’s lack of relevance in today’s superhero-laden time. And that led to a backlash of people wondering how studios were having such a hard time finding a relevant story to tell about an immigrant who fled a planet that blew up because of global-warming deniers, then became a journalist and a hero who fought for the American way and against a rich oligarch with plans for world domination.

All of which I find very interested. Because, as I’ve written before, I’m a Superman guy.

I’ve always been a Superman guy … and there’s a specific (and, Mike Schur will tell you, extremely boring) reason for it: Superman is unfailingly good.

That’s my connection. That’s why I have a poster of him on my wall. He’s good. He’s not mostly good. He does not struggle to be good. He’s not inconsistently good. He’s just good.

They’ve tinkered with Superman’s goodness lately because goodness is not in vogue in the movies these days. It’s not enough to be a superhero in 2019. No, superheroes need to be dark, egotistical, conflicted, troubled. I get it: We’ve become much more interested in the reluctant heroes and antiheroes and all of their twisted motivations. The recent Superman movies try to go that route; they are filled with destruction and death and unintended consequences and Superman’s own doubts about the world and himself.

And maybe that’s just how it has to be — maybe there aren’t enough people left interested in a hero whose motivations are pure, someone who is only trying to help.

But none of that works for Superman. Because, again, he is good.

There’s an old line that good people make for bad biographies. I’ve never bought it, though. I find goodness to be pure magic whether in books, in movies, in sports, on television. Goodness is the one thing that consistently makes me cry. Whether it’s the town bringing money to save George Bailey, Ellie’s scrapbook in “Up,” Brian Piccolo helping Gale Sayers recover from his injury or a thousand other examples.

Superman does not HAVE to be good. That’s part of the wonder. He has a seemingly limitless number of powers — more get added all the time, I mean, does he really need the power to reverse time? — and his only real weakness is kryptonite, which is pretty rare (though usually poorly protected by the Metropolis Museum). He could do whatever he wants. There’s a great scene in the real “Superman” movie, the Christopher Reeve one, where the young Clark Kent complains that he could score a touchdown every single time he got the football.

And his father says, “I know now that as sure as we’re gonna see the moon tonight there’s a reason why you’re here. Don’t ask me what reason, don’t ask me whose reasons. But whoever and whatever, there’s one thing I know. … It ain’t to score touchdowns.”

Clark figures it out. He goes to the Fortress of Solitude. He becomes Superman. He chooses to save people and stop crime and improve the world. He chooses to get better every day.

But why? I think that gets at the heart of why Superman movies have gone off the rails and everybody keeps asking: Why? They probe at an internal struggle that I don't think exists. They have him wrestle with a dark side even though the whole point of Superman is that he doesn’t have a dark side. They mock the idea that he would save a cat from a tree even though, in my view, that reveals his character so much more than intergalactic special effect fights ever could.

He saves the cat from a tree because it makes a little girl happy. He always has time for that.

The Superman character I love is unapologetically and entirely good. He’s incorruptible. He’s corny. He’s tough but optimistic. He’s a flying Mister Rogers. Superman’s motivations are not hard for me to understand: He’s powered by the positive energy that comes from the world, and he’s bummed out that people can’t help but hurt each other. He’s molded by the failure of his destroyed home planet and the decency of his Kansas parents. He has these great powers and he believes unquestionably that he was meant to use his powers for good so he does not compromise, does not give in and constantly pushes his own boundaries to make the world better.

Maybe we’re too cynical for that that story. Maybe that kind of Superman can’t sell the 10 gajillion dollars worth of tickets worldwide necessary to make a movie in 2019. Maybe we really have lot our appetite for Superman.

I hope not. I love Superman still. I’d watch that movie.

From the Archives: Vin Scully

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