By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer
Published on Wednesday, Nov 04, 2009
As the latest World Series winds down, Major League Baseball is hoping you will want to revisit previous fall classics.
Sixty-five of them, in fact. As seen on 20 DVDs, with some 50 hours of highlights spanning seven decades. And I'm not even counting the picture book that comes with the videos.
The Official Major League Baseball World Series Collection, is due in stores on Nov. 10 but already available for preorder on MLB.com and other Web sites; the suggested retail price is $229.95, although some sellers have already reduced that by about $50.
The set offers films and videos covering each World Series from 1943 to 2008. (Yes, that's actually 66 years. The 1994 World Series was canceled after the players went on strike.)
The productions vary in length from under 25 minutes to about 90. The early years are in black-and-white, with color taking over in the 1958 series.
The package is like a heavy book in a slipcase, with photographs and descriptions of big series moments going back to 1903, as well as an introduction by sportscaster Bob Costas. Double-thick pages in the volume provide sleeves for the DVDs, and there are two deliberately empty sleeves for you to file accounts of series after 2008.
The earliest films were prepared to provide GIs fighting in World War II with a chance to see some of the games' action.
The first presentation in 1943 is dedicated to the military, followed by a note about professional baseball players who had gone into the service (among them pitcher Bob Feller) and a special message from Babe Ruth. That is followed by a rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame with the lyrics superimposed on the screen; you can imagine soldiers sitting in some cratered outpost, singing wistfully along.
But obviously, the highlight productions continued long after the war ended, and a former Indians player was in charge.
That was Lew Fonseca, who won an American League batting title with the Indians in 1929; he was a director, editor and sometimes narrator of the World Series films for about a quarter of a century.
In his notes in the boxed set, Costas mentions not only his fascination with the older films — which matter-of-factly recap games, often via a single camera and just the occasional replay — but also with Fonseca, ''whose vocal stylings were somewhat less than mellifluous, but still endlessly entertaining.''
A great deal entertains in this box, with its images of playing legends, ancient ballparks, a movie star or two, pitchers batting in both leagues and men wearing suits and ties to games.
By current standards, it can seem crude, the camera swiveling from batter to outfield to keep up with the action. The earliest color films are at times badly faded or turned into a sea of reddish tinges.
Dramatic license is also taken. In the account of the 1954 World Series between the Indians and the New York Giants, one grumpy spectator is shown leaning on a rail and dropping the last of his cigarette into a pile of butts at his feet. Then the same guy with the same cigarette is seen again — three times in all, in games from two different cities.
By the time the Indians returned to the World Series in 1995, not only baseball but also presentation had changed. The colors are brighter, the game stories more dramatically told, the personalities of the players a bigger part of the narrative. That makes for better storytelling than the sometimes dry recounting of hits and outs in the early years, when the films were the only way many people would get to see game highlights.
Still, I did not easily turn away from the moments of the distant past — when the films, like my earliest TV baseball memories — are in black and white.