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Movie Review: War on the Diamond (9/10)

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War on the Diamond (9/10)

90 minutes.



As a lifelong rabid baseball fan, I of course knew who Ray Chapman was. He was a 29 year old shortstop for the Cleveland Indians who was killed when hit in the head by a pitch by Carl Mays of the Yankees in 1920 at the Polo Grounds in New York. But that was all I knew about him.

This fascinating documentary tells the story of Chapman combined with a history of the rivalry between the Indians and the New York Yankees over the years. But the rivalry takes second place to the story of Chapman, who was a lovable, extremely popular player who had a storybook marriage with a beautiful woman from a wealthy family. At the time he was hit he was batting .303 and in the middle of his best year, a pennant-winning and World Series-winning (over the Dodgers) one for the Indians.

Directed by Andy Billman and based on the book “The Pitch that Killed” by Mike Sowell, this contains archival footage and interviews with a plethora of people, including Lesley Visser, Senator Sherrod Brown, and players like Jim Abbott and Sandy Alomar. It also includes archival sound bites from Carl Mays himself and George Steinbrenner, the volatile Yankees’ owner from 1973-2010, Chapman’s sister, Terry Francona, Bob Feller, and others.


It also shows the various parks which the Indians have called home, League Park, which was apparently small and beloved, Cleveland Stadium, which was big and cold and wasn’t, and Jacobs Field aka Progressive Field.

There are a few glitches. One is where someone describes the aura of the Yankees of the ‘30s and mentions Joe DiMaggio as “married to a movie star.” DiMag didn’t marry Marilyn Monroe until 1952, a year after he retired. Another describes one of DiMag’s nicknames as “Splendid Splinter.” Sorry, but that was what people called Ted Williams. Maybe someone sometime referred to Joe that way but anytime anyone who knows anything about baseball hears “Splendid Splinter,” it’s Ted Williams who comes to mind. It’s a little unsettling when a good documentary is despoiled by basic errors of fact, calling into question its credibility.

Regardless, I think they got most of it right and it certainly, finally, brought Ray Chapman’s character into the foreground and why his funeral in Cleveland was overflowing standing room only. Whether you are a baseball fan or not, this is a compelling story.

Tony Medley is a columnist, and MPAA-accredited film critic His reviews are published in The Larchmont Chronicle, Telicom Magazine, The Tolucan Times,,, on, the Movie Review Query Engine, and at Tony Medley holds the rank of Silver life Master, is an American Contract Bridge League Club Director, and has won regional and sectional titles. An attorney, he received his B.S. from UCLA, where he was sports editor of UCLA’s Daily Bruin, and his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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