What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon. Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For June of 2020, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to Paul of Silver Screen Classics. The topic is “New York Films of the 70’s.”
On a hot August afternoon in the “dog days” of summer, three first-time stick-up men attempt to knock over a Brooklyn bank. Sonny (played by Al Pacino), Sal (played by John Cazale), and Stevie (played by Gary Springer) enter the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. But the plan quickly hurtles off the rails when Stevie flees before the three even enter the bank. Things get even worse when after they are past the point of no return (they’ve already produced their weapons and declared this to be a robbery), Sonny discovers they have arrived after the daily cash pickup. In other words, they are risking at least 25 years in prison and/or getting into a shoot-out with the police for slightly more than $1,000.
Trying to salvage their now-obviously poorly-planned operation, Sonny grabs the bank’s traveler’s checks (Who remembers those?) and burns the register, but the smoke from the burning garbage arouses suspicion outside which results in the bank being surrounded by the police. Sonny and Sal panic and take the bank employees as hostages.
Now that the stand-off is set, Detective Sergeant Eugene Moretti (played by Charles Durning) calls the bank, at which point Sonny tells him he is willing to kill the hostages. Sal assures Sonny that he is ready to kill if necessary, not knowing the Sonny really doesn’t want to kill anybody. The proof of that is when a security guard suffers an asthma attack and Sonny releases him as a bargaining chip. Eventually, Moretti convinces Sonny to step outside, which he does.
While using the head teller as a shield, Sonny begins a dialogue with Moretti. But a large crowd has gathered around the bank, and this stand-off is being broadcast on live television. In what may be the signature scene of the movie, Sonny launches into a chant of “Attica! Attica!”; a reference to the infamous 1971 riot in the state prison in Attica, New York. The crowd cheers for Sonny.
Now it’s time to get out of the bank. Sonny demands a vehicle so he can drive to the airport with Sal to board a jet out of the country. Other demands include pizza delivery for the hostages, and that his estranged wife Angie (played by Susan Peretz) be brought to the bank. But in the plot twist to end all plot twists, Sonny’s new partner shows up at the bank. Since I already have to use a “spoiler” at the end, I’m not going to divulge a) the identity of Sonny’s partner and b) the motive for the robbery which is revealed. Doing so would destroy the first-time viewer’s discovery of why this is not just another “heist” film.
As darkness falls, command of the police response is now in the hands of FBI Agent Sheldon (played by James Broderick). He cuts the power to the bank and refuses to give in to any more of Sonny’s demands. Sheldon does allow a doctor to enter the bank after the manager Mulvaney (played by Solly Boyar) goes into diabetic shock. The fact Sonny requested the doctor is yet more proof that Sonny doesn’t want to harm the hostages.
Knowing the Sonny is reluctant to harm anybody, Sheldon convinces Sonny’s partner to talk to him on the phone in an attempt to get Sonny to surrender. This fails, but it is revealed that Sonny’s partner has been at Bellevue Hospital undergoing psychiatric evaluation after a suicide attempt brought on by being abused by Sonny. In an act of atonement, Sonny offers to include his partner in the escape plan, but the offer is rejected. This necessitates Sonny telling the police that his partner had nothing to do with the robbery.
Meanwhile, Sonny allows let the seriously ill Mulvaney leave, but he will not abandon his employees. In a last ditch attempt to talk sonny out, the FBI enlist the aid of his mother. Again, this fails, and now Sonny realizes the end is coming. As such, he writes out a will leaving money from his life insurance to Angie and his partner.
The previously requested limousine arrives; the plan is now to use the limousine to take Sonny, Sal, and the hostages to Kennedy Airport, but the catch is the car has to be driven by an FBI agent. Sonny selects Agent Murphy (played by Lance Henriksen) to drive as Sonny inspects the car for hidden weapons or booby traps. Murphy gets behind the wheel, and Sonny sits next to him in the front seat. Sheldon and Sal are in the back. Sal has a gun held on Murphy, who repeatedly asks Sal to point his gun at the roof so he won’t accidentally shoot him.
As they wait for the escape aircraft to taxi into position, Murphy again asks Sal to aim his gun away. Sal does, but the minute that happens, Sheldon grabs Sonny’s weapon and Murphy produces a pistol hidden in an armrest and shoots Sal point-blank in the head, killing him instantly. Sonny is immediately taken into custody, the hostages are freed, and the film ends with the fates of Sonny, his partner, and Angie revealed in subtitles as Sonny watches Sal’s body being taken from the car on a stretcher.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
If you’ve seen “Godfather II,” you knew what was going to happen to Fredo Corleone well before he did. His fate was sealed the minuted Michael Corleone said to one of his henchmen “nothing happens to him as long as my mother is alive.” Once you saw Mama Corleone in her casket, you knew Fredo wasn’t far behind. If you were like me, you were yelling to Fredo through the screen “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T GET IN THE BOAT!”
I felt the same way about “Sal” in “Dog Day Afternoon.” You just knew he was going to be the guy to pay the price after doing a lot of somebody’a “dirty work.” Sal did the “heavy lifting” for Sonny, even after it became somewhat obvious he didn’t know what the real motive for the robbery was, and what was his reward? He got his brains blown out.
The sports world has plenty of “Sal”-type guys; guys who show up every day, do the “dirty work,” and get nothing for it. The first time I noticed that phenomenon was when the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1987. That was a huge part of my own best personal year in sports. But was also the year I discovered the sports version of “Sal.”
To understand this, you have to know the Minnesota Twins spent the majority of the 1970’s and 80’s as one the worst teams in baseball. As a kid in Southern California, I came to be a fan of the Twins as they were essentially a “farm team” for my hometown California Angels.
Calvin Griffith was the owner of the Twins at the time, and he could pinch a penny so hard he could make Abe Lincoln fart. That meant he was usually willing to sell/trade players at bargain basement prices so he didn’t have to pay them. One of his frequent trading partners was the Angels’ owner…none other than Gene “The Singing Cowboy” Autry.
That’s how Autry’s Angels won the American League West division three times between 1979-1986; with players from the “Griffith Express” such as Lyman Bostock, “Disco” Dan Ford, Rob Wilfong, Geoff Zahn, Dave Goltz, and Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Meanwhile, the Twins were growing their own prospects down on the farm.
Trading established players for prospects is a time-honored tradition in baseball. Prospects are the “seed corn” for nay major-league club trying to flesh out it’s roster, and the Minnesota Twins were doing just that with all the prospects they received in their plethora of deals with Autry and his Angels. By the early 1980’s, the Twins were beginning to reap what they had sown in the minor-leagues. In 1982, while the Twins were on their way to a 100-loss season, one of their rookies made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Kent Hrbek was literally the “hometown hero” having been born and raised in the Twin Cities area.
Hrbek finished second to baseball legend Cal Ripken, Jr. for the 1981 American League Rookie of the Year voting, but finished ahead of future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. Hrbek became a fixture at first base for 14 seasons.
By 1984, the Minnesota Twins found themselves a s surprising contender for the division title, but just like a young racehorse that hasn’t yet learned how to run, they ran out of gas at the end, finishing tied for second-place three games behind the Kansas City Royals. But the really important thing that happened for the Twins that year came on May 8th. This marked the major league debut of Kirby Puckett. That night against the California Angels, Puckett notched four hits in five at-bats and scored a run. I remember not believing what I was seeing in this guy; I thought there was no way he could stay in the big leagues.
So many times, new players get a “honeymoon;” the time between they arrive in the “bigs” and when major-league pitchers them him out. In other words, new guys can rip through the league in their first go-round, but the second time around proves a bit tougher once pitchers get “the book” on them.
Simply put, Kirby Puckett just didn’t look the part of a major-league center fielder. Most guys who cover the largest expanse of a baseball outfield are long, lean guys who run like a gazelle. Puckett was a short, stocky guy who ran like a penguin with a pulled hamstring. On top of that, he had the worst plate discipline I’d ever seen. He swung at the worst pitches…he took his cuts at balls in the dirt, balls nearly over his head; in short he looked terrible. I was convinced that his early success would end with a bus ticket back to the minor-leagues. But the more major-league pitchers tried to confound him, the more Puckett hit.
At the end of 1984, Puckett had notched a batting average of .296 and ranked fourth in the American League in singles. In 1985, Puckett convinced me how wrong I was when he hit .288 and finished fourth in the league in hits, third in triples, second in plate appearances, and first in at-bats. In 1987, Puckett ascended to one of the highest days on the Dubsism Liturgical Calendar:
The Feast of Kirbius Maximus – August 29th – Reflection of “The Weekend in Milwaukee” In two games against the Brewers, Kirby Puckett went 10 for 11 with 6 RBI and robbed future Hall of Famer Robin Yount of a game-tying home run. The Twins never relinquished their lead in the AL West on their way to a World Series Championship. This marks the day I accepted Kirby Puckett as my lord and personal savior.
From 1984 to 1995, Puckett was consistently among the leaders in the American League in offensive categories like games played, at bats, singles, doubles, and total bases. With the glove, he was always among the tops in put-outs, assists, and fielding percentage for center fielders. In other words, Puckett was one of the greatest to ever play the game.
But the “star” power of Kent Hrbek and Kirby over-shadowed another key component of rising Minnesota Twins of the mid-1980s. Another product of the “Griffith Express,” right fielder Tom Brunansky was originally drafted by the California Angels in the 1st round of the 1978 draft. He made his major league debut with the Angels in 1981. Brunansky looked to be head back to the minors for the 1982 season as the Angels had just signed free-agent and future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. But in yet another swap Calvin Griffith and Gene Autry, Brunansky was sent to Minnesota in exchange for pitcher Doug Corbett and second baseman Rob Wilfong.
Brunansky made an immediate impact with the Twins batting .272 with 51 extra-base hits. He had his first 30 home run season for the Twins in 1984 and was named to the American League All-Star in 1985. But it was that championship season of 1987 when Brunansky came into his own as a force in the Twins line-up. On the way to the Minnesota Twins capturing the World Series title, Tom Brunansky contributed a .259 batting average along with 32 home runs. It was arguably his greatest season as Twin.
It was also his last.
April 22, 1988…the day the Minnesota Twins sent Tom Brunansky to go fishing. After becoming a pillar of the defending World Champions, Brunansky was rewarded by being shipped off to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The problem was simple. In 1987. the Minnesota Twins had three guys who hit 30+ home runs – Hrbek (34), Brunansky (32), and third basemen Gary Gaetti (31). They also had arguably the best player in the game at the time in Kirby Puckett. On other end, the pitching staff features an emerging star Frank “Sweet Music” Viola, a future Hall of Famer and soon-to-be free agent Berft Blyleven, and a big-time Jeff Reardon. The problem was money.
Even though the notorious penny-pincher Calvin Griffith has sold the Minnesota Twins in 1984, the new owner wasn’t any of a spend-thrift. Carl Pohlad was the owner of U.S. Bank when he bought the team, and like Griffith, he got rich by tossing nickels away like they were manhole covers. The term of the day was “small-market team;” the idea being that teams in smaller cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Kansas City (to name a few) couldn’t complete with those in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
How truthful that was is still open for debate; lots of “small-market” have won in the “Mega-money” era. Conversely, lots of team have spent huge coin to be terrible. What’s inarguable is that it was a “green-light” for some owners to be “Scrooge McDuck”-level cheap.
The bottom line is as the old proverb goes, money is not only the root of all evil, it’s at the core of every player personnel decision in all major-league sports. It all came down to this. Brunansky may have been part of the Twins’ family, and he may have done a lot of the “heavy lifting” for that team’s run to the 1987 world Series, but when it came time for somebody to take a bullet, he still got sent to go fishing.
The Moral of The Story:
Whether you’re a bank robber or right fielder, get your money when you can. And…FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T GET IN THE BOAT!
BONUS: This isn’t the only sports analogy hidden in a classic movie about the Minnesota Twins.
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