As the world battles through an especially chaotic period, many of us tend to seek refuge in TV, movies, and sports. I find the world of sports especially comforting. Unless a president refuses to throw a first pitch, politics will not affect our love for the game. With a new baseball season underway, I thought it would be fun to revisit a classic film about America’s oldest pastime. But for some reason, I didn’t feel inclined to indulge in the magic of Field of Dreams or the comedy in A League of Their Own. Instead I chose to watch the 1992 crime film, Bad Lieutenant, which mixes drugs, religion, and baseball in one bubbling pot.
I’ve been wanting to get around to this title for while now, and I’m glad I did. The setup for the film is clever, and it can be argued that the premise for Bad Lieutenant influenced future TV and movie concepts. Harvey Keitel’s performance as a corrupt, drugged out NY detective is brilliant, and filled with realistic shock value. The risks director Abel Ferrera took in making this film are evident in the nature of the content alone. Originally rated NC-17 upon its theatrical release, Bad Lieutenant thrives on the use of raw, unpredictable impact, which culminates in its many improvisational scenes.
Bad Lieutenant does have a unique tie to baseball as well. As the dangerously strung out lieutenant loses his way, he falls victim to an extreme gambling predicament. With no form of logic or control, he stacks multiple bets on the Dodgers/Mets NLCS series. With slugger Daryl Strawberry on deck, everything is on the line for the lieutenant. The sports broadcast heard in the film may not have been an actual baseball event, but the lesson in the story’s subtext is absolute:
Never bet on the Dodgers (or the Mets.)
The common thread here is Daryl Strawberry. As many baseball fans may remember, the New York Mets were quick to lose faith in Daryl Strawberry due to their dissatisfaction with his attitude, and somewhat wasted potential as a top prospect. Although he was one of the game’s most memorable power hitters, his battle with substance abuse overshadowed his stats. Strawberry was suspended multiple times in his baseball career, which is why the taunting chants of ‘Daryl…Daryl’ from the outfield bleachers are engrained in baseball history.
Daryl’s troubles were one of the undeniable low points in 80s Mets history. The Mets finally celebrated a blissful period of good riddance once the Dodgers inherited Daryl Strawberry in the early 90s. So with all this historical backdrop, it’s especially ironic to see Keitel’s character in Bad Lieutenant down spiral with a Dodgers/Mets backdrop. This turning point sequence below is like watching the bubbling elements of a science experiment finally combust. And for once, Daryl Strawberry isn’t the trigger.