Museum’s Film Fest a hit with fans, filmmakers

Written by: Bill Francis

Arnold Hano was a storyteller as a youth, watching Babe Ruth pitch and heckling Hack Wilson mercilessly before asking for his autograph. Today, this lifelong fan of the game relishes the exploits of Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, a pair of stars from his beloved team.

Hano, whose life is the subject of the documentary Hano! A Century in the Bleachers, was in Cooperstown from his California home for the 11th Annual Baseball Film Festival held at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Bullpen Theater from Sept. 23-25.

The three-day event featured 13 films covering such varied topics as the life of Bill Lee after the majors (Spaceman), Ron Taylor’s transition from pitcher to medicine (Dr. Baseball), the legacy of Hot Springs, Arkansas as a Spring Training site (The First Boys of Spring) and the Negro League Harrisburg Giants baseball team (There Were Giants).

The 94-year-old Hano, who has written for publication since 1930, has authored 27 books, including the critically acclaimed “A Day in the Bleachers,” penned more than 500 magazine articles, and was a featured writer at Sport magazine from 1955 to 1981. The film on his life, directed by Jon Leonoudakis, delves into the Hano’s varied life and prolific career.

“I’m thrilled to be here, but I’m thrilled to be anywhere, of course, at this age,” Hano joked in an interview before the showing his film on Sept. 24, “I’m looking forward to seeing the film, even though I’ve seen it maybe a dozen times by now. I’m not sure how to feel when you get to be 90-plus years old and you find your life reduced to 52 minutes, but it think Jon did a great job. People like it and therefore I like it.”

Raised in New York City at various times near Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, Hano estimates he has attended approximately 1,000 baseball games since 1926 that have included Ruth’s final big league pitching appearance in 1932, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays’ iconic catch off the bat of Cleveland’s Vic Wertz in the 1954 Fall Classic.

Mays’ eighth-inning Game 1 over-the-shoulder catch in the deepest regions of the Polo Grounds and subsequent throw to hold the runners on first and second base is a major part of the contest Hano wrote about in “A Day in the Bleachers,” a book about a fan in a ballpark watching a ballgame. Hano witnessed “The Catch” from about 75 feet away.

“Somebody said it’s a classic and I said, ‘Yes, it’s a classic which means now nobody will read it.’ That’s the definition of a classic,” Hano said with a laugh. “But the fact is that it has been around since the summer of 1955 and it’s still hanging in there. I get royalty checks twice a year for the book. And with the film the sale of the book has picked up. That I did not expect. The film has gotten people introduced to me as a writer and so they buy the book. I like the book but I’m not crazy about the book. I don’t think it’s the greatest book or anything like that as some people seem to think. My book is a nice little book.”

Asked for his favorite players of his lifetime, Hano’s reply was instant.

“Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and the two most influential ballplayers in the history of the game,” Hano said. “Jackie Robinson was an incredible athlete but I hated him because I was a Giants fan. He’d get on base and he’d drive the Giants crazy. Giants pitchers would come apart and fielders would die. It was just amazing what he could do to a ball club – just his presence on the base paths.”

Though he has also tackled environmental causes and social injustice in his work, and considers himself a writer and not just a sportswriter, Hano does embrace baseball as a favorite subject over all the others sports to cover.

Arnold Hano grew up a Giants fan, but he still calls Jackie Robinson "one of the most influential athletes in the game." This image, taken from a Jackie Robinson Scrapbook, is currently available in the Hall of Fame Digital Archive. The Archive recently released the Scrapbooks, the papers of Wendell Smith and digitized photos of the Negro Leagues. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“Baseball is clearly number one and there are no number twos. It’s like who finished second to Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes – 30 lengths behind is football, basketball, and the others,” Hano said. “It’s just wonderful.”

Still writing, Hano is currently working on a play, and though he’s legally blind, keeps up with his beloved Giants sitting close to a television.

Hano! A Century in the Bleachers is the third film Leonoudakis has had selected to appear in the Baseball Film Festival over the years, joining Not Exactly Cooperstown and The Day the World Series Stopped.

“I think it’s really special for a filmmaker to have their film accepted to be shown here at a very special place for all of us who love baseball. And really, the heart and soul of baseball is narrative, stories, and storytelling,” Leonoudakis said. “One of the things I really like is I’m part of a fraternity of filmmakers and get to come here and meet them and make friends with them and network and share stories about what it took to give birth to our children.”

The film Managing to Win: The Story of Strat-O-Matic Baseball was also shown at the Film Festival, and in attendance were Hal Richman, the inventor of the beloved dice game, and Richman’s son, Adam, one of the film’s producers.

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“We’re thrilled to have the movie here. We’re especially thrilled because the Hall was so instrumental in helping us put it together,” Adam Richman said. “The movie is about a lot of things – overcoming adversity, entrepreneurship, and mostly about the love of baseball. There’s a lot to come away with, so it just depends on what you’re looking for.”

Managing to Win takes a warts-and-all look at Hal Richman’s life and the struggles he had with his father along the way in developing “the original fantasy sports game” that began being produced in 1961.

The film portrays Hal Richman as a frustrated athlete with some mathematical skills and that combined with his love of baseball he developed a baseball game.

“In basketball I wasn’t good enough to make a high school team that failed to win a game and was voted the worst team on Long Island. In baseball, I could go get a fly ball, but I had a bad arm and I really couldn’t hit. Other than that I was terrific,” Hal Richman said with a smile. “So it was impossible for me to get into the Hall of Fame as a player, obviously, but to do it the way I did it I’m very happy.”

Sharing similar sentiments was David Carter, the writer and director of Ashland’s Field of Dreams about a cherished youth baseball league in Ashland, Ky.

“It’s a thrill to sit and watch the creation that took two years to make and to watch and audience at the Hall of Fame respond to it,” Carter said. “As a kid who dreamed of someday coming to Cooperstown as a shortstop for the Yankees, a dream that died with the first slider I ever saw, but to come to Cooperstown and have them show my film is the next best thing.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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