HOF president talks about 'Angels' film

Greg Klein | The Daily Star

Hall of Fame President Tim Mead, left, watches as moderator Bill Francis asks him a question before a Film Society of Cooperstown’s Wednesday, Jan. 29, screening of ‘Angels in the Outfield.’ Mead was the assistant general manager of the California Angels when the movie was released in 1994.

 COOPERSTOWN — National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Tim Mead discussed the filming of the movie, “Angels in the Outfield,” as part of The Film Society of Cooperstown’s screening of the 1994 remake Wednesday, Jan. 29, in the Cooperstown Village Ballroom at 22 Main St.

Mead, who worked for the Angels for 40 years before joining the Hall, and was the team’s assistant general manager when the movie was released, chose the film, according to Film Society co-programmer Bill Francis, who is also a researcher and writer at the Hall.

Mead said the movie, a Disney remake of a 1951 film about the Pittsburgh Pirates, came out of the love then Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his sons had for sports, and also spawned the successful “Mighty Ducks” hockey franchise.

“It was almost a personal thing with his son and sports,” Mead said. “Unbeknownst to me, when we were making the movie, I would end up working for him for seven years, for baseball and hockey, at the same time, if you can imagine that.”

Mead said he loved watching the Disney machine take on a baseball story.

“They tried to make it as realistic as possible, with Disney overtones,” he said.

The film stars Danny Glover as the embittered coach of the Angels and Tony Danza as his broken-down pitching star. The ensemble features three men who have won Academy Awards: Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey are among the baseball players, and Ben Johnson plays a Gene Autry-like team owner.

Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays an orphan, Roger, whose father, played by Dermot Mulroney, abandons him. Before leaving, he tells Roger they will be a family again when the pathetic Angels win the pennant. Soon after, Roger — always accompanied by his sidekick, J.P., played by Milton Davis Jr. — starts seeing angels, including head angel Christopher Lloyd.

The angels start helping the Angels, and Roger is the only one who can see it. He works out a system with Glover to signal him when the angels are going to help, flapping his arms like wings.

Although the action takes place at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California, Mead said the stadium was unavailable during the shoot, so most of the stadium shots were filmed in Oakland instead. However, he said the climatic scene where the entire crowd does a wave while flapping their angel wings with Roger was filmed at a real Angels game. The idea caused concern in the team’s front office where baseball was considered sacred, Mead said. When producers asked if they could film during a seventh-inning stretch, the team balked; a sixth inning filming was picked as a compromise, but the team still worried about it, he said. “We wrote a strong P.A. announcement, and for five innings, we told the fans it was coming,” Mead said. “When it came time, the people started doing it like a wave. They really got into it.

“They played that scene over and over, and it still gets used today on social media,” Mead said.

Mead said the movie was a source of pride for the team, both in getting the team logo and branding publicity, and in the individual things that turned up in the film.

“They wanted team artifacts,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t understand the value of artifacts like I do today. ... I think a lot of folks said, ‘that was my hat,’ or, ‘they used my office.’”

Mead said working for Disney was a lot like working for the hall of fame, where attention to detail and working with talented professionals is important. The hall’s president since July, Mead said he is still adjusting to the job and the climate, after spending his entire life living in Southern California and working for the Angels. He said he is dismayed people keep telling him this winter has been mild. However, he said he loves the work and the responsibility, citing his time with 2020 inductees Derek Jeter and Larry Walker last week as part of the joy of his job.

“I think Derek was able to relax once he got the news,” he said. “You know, you can say everybody knows, but when the call comes, it is still a special moment. I think seeing Larry’s reaction also made him appreciate it more. They are going to be a great team, like Frick and Frack a little bit.”

The film series will return to the ballroom at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, with a screening of the 2013 Robert Redford movie, “All is Lost.” Van Ramsey, the costume designer on the film, will speak before the screening. Visit The Film Society of Cooperstown on Facebook for more information.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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