Tom Sutcliffe: Baseball: a view from the boundary

Related Topics

It might sound a bit perverse to describe Sugar as a Test match film, but bear with me and I'll try and explain. The perversity arises from the fact that Sugar is actually about a rookie baseball player, travelling from the Dominican Republic in the hope that he can make it big in the American leagues. And nothing about the system he enters in heartland Iowa could be described as cricket, even metaphorically. If he does well he'll be kept on, at a salary that is impressive relative to per diem earnings back home but measly compared to Big League prospects. If he falters, however, he will be cut loose without a second thought. So, why a Test match film then? Only this – that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's film is stately in its pacing and entirely unflustered about getting a conclusive final result. If Sugar was a Baseball film – rather than a Test match film about baseball – there would really have been only one destination ... the triumphant home run, a couple of tense strike outs (a performance slump, say, and a romantic disappointment) being followed by a crisp click as he finally connects and hits the ball out of the park.

At the risk of confusing things even further the Test match analogy came to mind while watching a cricket match that seemed to aspire to the condition of baseball – England's bruising encounter with the Dutch team in the World 20-20. What I know about cricket could be written on the pointy end of a cricket stump, but I did know that the Dutch played cricket, thanks to Joseph O'Neill's novel Netherland. And watching the Dutch players lay into the ball I was reminded of his description of what happens to cricket when it's transported on to foreign ground ... or more specifically a foreign ground with an overgrown outfield. "In breach of the first rule of batting", O'Neill writes, "the batsman is forced to smash the ball into the air ... and betting is turned into a gamble." That looked to me as if it would do quite nicely for 20-20 cricket. Another of O'Neill's disquisitions on the two games seemed pertinent too. Cricket (by which he means Test cricket really) "calls almost for a naturalist's attentiveness: the ability to locate, in a mostly static herd of white-clothed men, the significant action. It's a question of looking". Baseball, he concedes, also requires a viewer to move between a panoramic view and a narrowly-focused one – but the fact there's only one batter and no changing of ends makes it easier.

And that seemed to lead back to Sugar and the way it combined a baseball plot line – one single man at the centre of our attention – with Test match demands on the viewer. Because Sugar is a pitcher rather than a batsman this is a film (bizarrely, given the normal run of things in more conventional sports films) where we hold our breath and hope nothing will happen, since Sugar's success is ultimately measured by the failure of the batsman to connect. More than that though it's a film which expects us to sit patiently through the interludes, and understand that there might be significance even when a sporting "nothing" gives way to an off-pitch "nothing". At one point Sugar walks through the public rooms of his hotel, going from nowhere to nowhere, and you understand his loneliness from the clattering electronic noise all around him. In terms of cricket I can see the point of the baseball, Jerry Bruckheimer approach – lots of percussion and explosive action, a deadline as inexorable as a bomb timer. In terms of films there's a lot to be said for Test match subtleties – where you come away not entirely sure whether anybody could be said to have won, but still thinking about the style with which the strokes were played.

Bank on these pictures

The estimable Public Catalogue Foundation, which aims to record all paintings in public ownership, has just published its volume covering the City of London. As usual it's a pleasure to browse through the matchbox-sized reproductions of paintings that currently sit in storage or hang neglected in bureaucratic corridors. The City of London Corporation, for instance, has a fine James Tissot called Too Early, pictured, in which a few awkward-looking couples mill around a society ballroom, perfectly capturing the embarrassment of a party that has not yet achieved critical mass. There are other tantalising thumbnails as well, such as Charles Pears's striking painting of the Pool of London during an air raid, a kind of representational Vorticism, with searchlights and bridge against an orange sky. Naturally, there are plenty of dull aldermen and men in suits too, but even here there are treats, such as Walter Thomas Monnington's attempt to squeeze a bit of historical drama out of a group portrait for the Bank of England. A Director Announcing the Bank Rate shows a huddle of officials waiting for a morning-suited figure to reveal the new percentage. It is, I guess, a kind of action painting – but is there a staider, less eventful one in the national catalogue?

The Design Museum's current exhibition SuperContemporary unquestionably makes the case for the importance of visual design, and how frustrating life can be without it, but perhaps not in the way it intended. The show aims to celebrate the design vitality of the capital city and it consists of 15 special commissions and an extensive illustrated timeline around the outer walls of the exhibition space, which takes you from 1970 to the present day. The latter combines information overload and confusing layout in a way that offers an object lesson in how not to engage an audience. You begin by diligently attempting to decipher its apparently arbitrary connections but give up about half-way round, exhausted by a clutter of panels packed with dense print. It's a book, you suddenly realise, which you have to read while standing up. I would have left in a very bad mood indeed had it not been for Paul Smith's contribution – a proposal for a new kind of municipal litter bin, in the shape of a giant polypropylene rabbit holding out a bin-bag in an encouraging way. Sadly, I'm not sure that this object would survive coming into contact with the more energetically cretinous sections of the general public, but it provided a much-needed smile.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Immigration enforcement officers lead a Romanian national who has been arrested on immigration offences from a house in Southall in London  

Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?