Television guru Michael Schur visits Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

Using popular baseball vernacular, Michael Schur is a five-tool star talent in the television industry.

Whether as a writer, producer, creator, director or even an actor, the two-time primetime Emmy Award winner and 19-time nominee has gained wide acclaim for his varied comedic output over the past two decades.

A writer/producer at Saturday Night Live for six seasons after graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1997, where he was also president of the famed humor publication The Harvard Lampoon, Schur would next take his talents to The Office. It was while working at The Office that he also portrayed Mose Schrute, the odd cousin of Dwight Schrute, in a few episodes.

Soon, though, Schur was creating his “towering legacy,” as one reporter called it, with such critically acclaimed fare as Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, among others.

Up next for Schur is a TV series based on the 1989 film Field of Dreams, which was adapted from W. P. Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe. The series will take a more dramatic tone than his other shows while allowing the lifelong fan the opportunity to finally work on a baseball-related TV project.

Schur, along with his 13-year-old son William, visited Cooperstown over the recent Columbus Day Weekend. The purpose of the trip was to record, along with co-host Joe Posnanski, their popular PosCast in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Grandstand Theater on Oct. 9. But it also gave Schur the opportunity to introduce his baseball-loving progeny to the spiritual home of the game.

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“I have only been to the Hall of Fame once before when I was about 13 years old, so it's been 32 years since I've been back” said Schur, who was raised in Connecticut. “You would have thought, given how much I love the game and how close I was that I would have been here more often. I just never got back and I don't know why.

“But I remember that first trip to Cooperstown very well. My uncle Steve was also a huge baseball fan and the two of us came, while my mom and my little sister got dragged along. They played Old Maid in the lobby because my little sister didn't care. And my uncle and I, we read every plaque, we saw every exhibit, and he bought me a ton of stuff from the gift shop that I still have. He bought me my first Baseball Encyclopedia that day.”

In trying to articulate his deep love for the game, Schur first called it “inexplicable,” then recalled getting his first pack of baseball cards for his fifth birthday.

“I still remember opening them and still remember organizing them and still remember staring at them,” said Schur, who will turn 46 on Oct. 29. “It was a 1981 Topps rack pack and I want to say I got a Mike Torrez card, a Don Sutton card and a Jim Kaat card. I'm sure most of them were garbage, but I didn't care. I just remember I wanted more, more.”

Schur would later expose his son to baseball cards as a way to occupy the six-year-old on a flight from Los Angeles to New York.

“I bought him a bunch of sheets and I bought him an entire box of cards. He started opening them and I saw that fire start to burn in his brain, too,” Schur recalled. “When he got to the end of opening the packs he was so sad. But then he spent the rest of the plane trip organizing them team-by-team or league-by-league or division-by-division. So, yes, there is something that appeals to a certain kind of child's brain about that.”

Another of Schur’s formative baseball experiences was attending his first big league game.

“I still remember the first time I went to Fenway Park. I remember walking out of the concourse and seeing the Green Monster and seeing the field and hearing the crowd. That just imprints on you in a way that other sports don't,” he said. “I like football and I like basketball, but baseball stirred my soul in a way that the other sports didn't. And I think that's very often true of people who like the game as much as I do.”

According to Schur, his son is the same way.

“We live in Los Angeles, and when he fell in love with baseball he really wanted to go to a game,” Schur said. “So my wife was like, ‘Take him to a game,’ and I said, ‘No, he has to go to Fenway first because that's the thing that imprints on his brain.’ And he was miserable because he couldn't see a game. And my wife was like, ‘We live five miles from a stadium and you want to fly him 3,000 miles to a different one. Just take him to a game.’

“So I brought him to Dodger Stadium and I watched what happened to me happen to him. His brain just lit up. And I was like, ‘I've lost him. I've lost him to the Dodgers.’ But slowly, over the last eight or 10 years, I've drawn him back to the Red Sox. It was really wild to live out my experience of falling in love with baseball through him. I'm hardly the first dad to say these words, but it was like I was seeing myself but from a different angle.”

Sometimes, though, a love of baseball doesn’t translate to a viable ability to play the sport. Luckily, for Schur, another path awaited.

“I'll say this for people who know me: I was surprisingly good at baseball,” Schur joked. “I was the captain of my Little League All-Star team when I was 12, I played Babe Ruth League and I played high school ball through when I was 16. I was a shortstop and a pitcher. And I was a very, very good contact hitter. I have very good hand-eye coordination.

“And I stopped playing, essentially, because I hit the moment in youth baseball where in order to continue to improve, you have to start working out. And I was like, ‘No thank you. I'm not gonna commit to this,’” he added with a laugh. “So I dropped out of baseball, in part, because in the spring in my school you had to choose – either I could play baseball or I could do the spring play. And it was becoming more and more evident to me that my future was more in the arts than in athletics, so I stopped. It was the right the right choice for me.”

Due to his known love of baseball, Schur said that people have consistently pitched television ideas to him surrounding the National Pastime. But Field of Dreams proved to be a game-changer for him.

“It's not an easy thing to write about baseball for TV. I think it's easier for movies because it's obviously very cinematic, but TV series are ongoing concerns. It's hard to imagine something about baseball being viable over many seasons, many episodes,” Schur said. “But Universal, which is my headquarters, came to me with the idea of rebooting Field of Dreams as a series. And I said, ‘I think that's a limited series. I don't think there's seven seasons to be told about Field of Dreams.’ And they said, ‘Fine.’ This was years before the White Sox-Yankee game this past season.

“It was the last year of the show The Good Place that I worked on, when they came to me, so I asked them to let me finish this and then let me think about it. So I spent 18 months just trying to figure out how I would do it. Finally I came up with what I thought was the right move, pitched it to them and they said yes. So now it's going to be a limited series on Peacock and it won't be out until 2023.”

Peacock says its Field of Dreams series will reimagine the movie’s mixture of family, baseball, Iowa and magic that made the feature so enduring and beloved.

Universal TV president Erin Underhill, in a statement earlier this year at the time of the announcement, said, “Field of Dreams is an iconic Universal film title from venerable producers Lawrence and Charles Gordon, that we could only have entrusted to Mike Schur. His talent, his love for baseball and his reverence for its themes make him the perfect choice to revisit this beloved film that evokes nostalgia and visceral emotion in so many of its fans.”

Schur is currently in the midst of writing the scripts for the upcoming Field of Dreams TV series. Schur was hesitant to share too much detail on his approach to the show.

“One of the most important lessons I was ever taught about being a TV writer is don't tell anybody anything until you have to,” he said. “But my approach to it is if you're going to remake something like Field of Dreams, if you do something that's completely brand new that has nothing to do with the feel and the tone and the vibe of the thing you're working from, what's the point of doing it?

“So what I'm trying to do and what I will try to execute is that for anyone who loves the movie if they watch this, the feeling they get from this will be the same as the feeling they get from the movie. At the same time, I'm taking a two-hour movie and expanding it into more hours than that, by at least a factor of three. But the source material is the same, the book, and to some extent, to the actual movie. But after that you'll have to wait until 2023.”

Asked for his favorite baseball movie, excluding Field of Dreams, Schur said The Natural is a close second.

“But I think it's possible that the actual best baseball movie is A League of Their Own. In terms of the combination of what baseball means to America, the subject matter, and the performances, that movie is great,” Schur said. “And nobody ever brings up Bull Durham as the greatest ever, but it deserves to be there. And I think Major League is very entertaining with a lot of great actors in it and a lot of funny performances.”

Schur and Posnanski describe their podcast, the PosCast, as, “A sort of sports show but not really. Filled with meaninglessness.”

The recording in the Grandstand Theater marked the podcast’s second in front of a live audience – the pair had previously recorded an episode at Wrigley Field.

The episode included such regular features as “fruit talk” and “Cleveland Browns Check In,” a draft of their favorite things they saw at the Hall of Fame, and a conversation on the 2021 MLB Postseason.

“We started doing the PosCast about 10 years ago and at the time we didn't even have microphones. We would just shout into the terrible mics on our computers,” Schur recalled. “It was nominally about baseball and sports, but it was more about what kinds of fruit we liked and the Cleveland Browns and whatever dumb stuff occurred to us.

“Over the years it expanded and we finally got microphones, which was a huge technological breakthrough. So now it actually feels like a thing that's has a modicum of professionalism, but that's where we want to leave it. We don't want any more than a modicum. Modicum, that's enough.”

Having toured the Museum for the first time in three decades, Schur took a moment to reflect on the experience.

“It's Mecca to me,” he said. “It's the game that the country has cared about cumulatively the most for 150 years. So to just wander through and look at the plaques and just see the history of the game, it's like my son and I never want to leave.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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