In the opening scene of the underrated baseball movie Little Big League, 11-year-old Billy Heywood’s mom and grandpa are sitting in the stands at a little league field. Billy’s mom, Jenny, cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “C’mon, Billy! Knock it out of the park!”
Billy, who is standing in the on-deck circle, looks away and says, mostly to himself because he’s a little embarrassed, “Mom, I’m not even up yet!”
Here’s hoping Ashley Crow, who played Jenny in the movie, quoted herself on Monday night in Coors Field, where her real-life son made his MLB debut for the Cubs. News broke earlier that day that the Cubs were calling up Pete Crow-Armstrong, their top prospect, as they prepare to make a stretch-run push toward a playoff appearance.
The chances of Pete hitting a home run should have been better than Billy’s, even considering the heightened competition. Billy, you might remember, grounded out meekly to second base. Pete entered his first MLB game as a pinch-runner and was caught stealing third base. In his one plate appearance, he was asked to sacrifice bunt, which he did so successfully.
Crow-Armstrong has 20 homers in the minors this season — 14 in Double-A, then six more after his call-up to Triple-A — to go with 37 stolen bases and an .876 OPS, at 21 years old. Cubs fans have long anticipated his arrival in the big leagues, and they expect his impact on the big club to be anything but little.
But this isn’t a piece about PCA. It’s about his mom’s work, Little Big League, which was released in 1994. Pete wasn’t born until 2002. Ashley Crow’s movie son, played by Luke Edwards, inherited the Minnesota Twins from his grandfather (played by Jason Robards) and named himself manager. The club made it all the way to a one-game tiebreaker (Game 163) where they (spoiler alert) lost when Ken Griffey Jr. robbed Lou Collins (played by Timothy Busfield) of a walk-off home run. Oh, and Lou starts dating Billy’s mom — y’know, Pete Crow-Armstrong’s mom — and asks her to marry him during that final game.
It’s an excellent baseball movie, often overlooked and always an entertaining watch. With the news of Crow-Armstrong’s promotion, I watched it again and had thoughts.
Best Little Big League quotes
Setup: The Twins need the Mariners to lose to force Game 163, and Dave Magadan is at the plate for Seattle. The Twins are all watching on TV in the clubhouse.
Pitcher Jim Bowers: “Mags, I know you’re a decent human being, but die like a dog.”
6. No bunts
Setup: All you need to know about Billy is he doesn’t want his best players to bunt. I like him already.
Pitching coach Mac Macnally: “You’ve got lefty against lefty. Lou’s a good bunter. You only need one run, so you sacrifice the go-ahead run to second with only one out.”
Billy: “No. You sacrifice him to second and they walk our next guy and bring in Steve Farr to pitch to Spencer, so you’ve taken the bat out of our two best hitters, our 3 and 4 men, and you’ve got Spencer, a righty with no speed, against Farr and his palmball. Which means …”
Mac: “Double play. You can pinch-hit for Spencer.”
Billy: “Now you’ve taken the bat out of our 3-4-5 hitters. Not exactly a great trip through the heart of our order.”
5. Griffey’s blast
Setup: Griffey’s just homered in Game 163, a massive shot in the Metrodome.
Announcer Wally Holland: “Ladies and gentlemen, people take vacations shorter than that.”
4. With all due respect
Setup: The manager doesn’t want to sign Rickey Henderson, who for some reason was magically declared a free agent in the middle of the season. Billy, the owner, wants to sign him.
Billy: “Mr. O’Farrell, with all due respect, you’re acting like a first-grader.”
3. “He doesn’t”
Setup: The third baseman has just made a huge error. Billy, wanting to inspire him, tells the story of Freddie Lindstrom in the 12th inning of Game 7 of the 1924 World Series. Lindstrom missed the ball when it hit a pebble and took a bad hop, but then, Billy said, Lindstrom responded by ripping a double to win the game.
Macnally: “Son, I realize this ain’t exactly the right time, but Lindstrom never doubled. The ball off the pebble ended the game.
Billy: “I know that. But he doesn’t.”
2. The Beverly Hillbillies
Setup: Honestly, this one is best sans context.
Thomas Heywood: ”I piss on Jed Clampett.”
1. “It’s the American League”
Setup: Billy has just fired manager George O’Farrell, and he’s talking with his buddies about who should be the next manager. His friends say Billy should do it.
Billy: “You know how hard it is to manage?”
Chuck: “It’s the American League. They’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”
“Real” big-league baseball players in Little Big League
Playing other roles …
Leon Durham (Leon Alexander): “Somebody needs to find that boy a woman.”
Kevin Elster (Pat Corning): “I thought going 2-for-August in ’91 was the low point in my career. It’s gonna be a nightmare.” Elster actually hit .297 with a pair of homers in August 1991, for the Mets.
Brad Lesley (John “Blackout” Gatling)
Minor-leaguers who became “real” actors
Scott Patterson (Mike McGrevey). Yeah, the dude from Gilmore Girls. He pitched in the Braves and Yankees’ systems from 1980 to 1986. Had a good year in 1985 but never made it past Triple-A.
Michael Papajohn (Tucker Kain)
Playing themselves …
Mickey Tettleton: “Going out for milk and cookies after the game, sweetheart?”
Wally Joyner: “Man, do we ever get you out?”
Ken Griffey Jr.: “Just for that, I’m taking second, I’m taking third, and I might even take home.”
Sandy Alomar Jr.
Watched ‘Little Big League’ in honor of Pete Crow-Armstrong’s MLB call-up. PCA’s mom plays Billy Heywood’s mom in the movie, which is really cool.
Saw this in a Twins’ locker and … what?
Howitt’s claim to fame: Hit a grand slam off Nolan Ryan, last full batter of Ryan’s career pic.twitter.com/uhCxs9MGdK
— ryan fagan (@myjunkwax) September 12, 2023
Three obscure, super specific stats during game broadcasts
From the announcing team, with Wally Holland and his ace statistical assistant (didn’t catch a name during the movie). Love stuff like this.
— “Last year, though, he was sixth in the American League in hitting right-handers he was facing for the first time after the seventh inning, at home. So that’s something to keep in mind.”
— “An interesting side note, that’s the 14th one-run game for the Tigers already this year, tops for any team north of the Mason Dixon line whose home games are not played in a dome.”
— “Lou, by the way, has hit .416 lifetime vs. Hanley in the month of September in even years, so that certainly bodes well for this at-bat.”
Wait, where do I know that actor from?
Pitching coach Mac Macnally (John Ashton). Played Sgt. Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop
First baseman Lou Collins (Timothy Busfield), Played Mark, the stupid relative who tried to make Ray Kinsella sell his farm. Weird to see him not as evil in this one.
Pitcher Jim Bowers (Jonathan Silverman). Played one of the main dudes in Weekend At Bernie’s
Manager George O’Farrell (Dennis Farina). In so many movies and TV shows, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight
Grandpa Thomas Heywood (Jason Robards). Easily the “best” actor in the movie, Robards won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor
Pitcher Mike McGrevey (Scott Patterson). Y’know, Luke from Gilmore Girls
Little League manager (Jeff Garlin). The future Curb star was pretty, pretty, pretty good in the movie’s opening scene
Spencer Hamilton (Wolfgang Bodison). He’s Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson in A Few Good Men!
General Manager Arthur Goslin (Kevin Dunn): Yep, it’s Ben Cafferty on Veep.