(1979 TV Movie)

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A typical afternoon in the Cheap Seats at a Baseball Game
David Edward Martin9 January 2001
(Bear in mind it has been twenty years since I have seen this gem....)

"Bleacher Bums" is a video production of a play famous in Chicago but little known elsewhere. It takes place in the bleachers, the cheap seats set at the very back of a baseball stadium, where tickets were about a buck but the view needed binoculars. The characters are a bunch of Chicago Cubs fans, sitting in the bleachers watching a Cubs game on a summer afternoon. Most of them have been gathering here for some time and know each other, even if they might not necessarily like or tolerate each other. Beer flows, hot dogs disappear, and friendly wagers take on increasing importance.... Dennis Franz really stands out, a working class guy who dreams of just having enough money to take his wife out to his ideal fancy restaurant, The House of Sweden. The production was done in Chicago, in a time when PBS stations had the money to actually produce full-scale productions. It is pretty much what you would have seen had you attended a production of "Bleacher Bums" back in the 70s, albeit with close-ups. I doubt a videotape was ever released for sale, so your best chance to see it is if a PBS station or one of the PBS-clone cable channels decides to show it.
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Not easy to find but worth searching out.
This is a teleplay. Teleplays were a common thing on television up until the 1980's. Typically, these teleplays were recorded live and often they featured the cast reprising the roles they played on stage. I imagine any director would prefer those actors since the characters are down pat. I don't know if the cast of this appeared on stage together doing the Bleacher Bums and I don't know if it was recorded live but this is a teleplay.

Bleacher Bums is set during a typical weekend day game at Wrigley Field in 1977. A little baseball history to explain things, the Cubs started 1977 strong. They weren't as strong as they were in 1969 but they had a good winning record. This play takes place during the period where the Cubs still had a winning record (they would end up with a meager record which was about even with wins and losses (around .500)

It captures a lot of the heart in Cub fans and how it conflicts with a lot of the money making sharks who used to make their way to these games. This was a serious problem, maybe it still is but I doubt it.

There's plenty of familiar faces in this cast as well. A clean shaven Dennis Franz doing a near Ralph Kramden impersonation as the old time, hard betting Cub fan Zig. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as Zig's wife who completes the feel of the honeymooners at the ball game. It's not as pronounced as the show was but it was a nice addition to the action.Joe Mantegna plays Decker, one of the heavy betters, Richard Fine as another heavy better, Keith Szarabajka as the extreme cheerleading fan, his character is STILL a regular in the bleachers. Ian Patrick Williams as Richie, the innocent dorky kid who wants to be like the heavy betters. Roberta Custer as the pretty blond who seems to just go to the games for the sun. Michael Saad plays Greg, the blind fan who gets more into the game than most who were watching it. This is Stuart Gordon's directorial debut. I think he plays the frosty malt seller in the stands.

If you happen to be a long time Cub fan, you understand why the game goes the way it does. It's invention but games like the one they depicted in this game was only too common during the years before Wrigley had lights. If it ended any other way, the play wouldn't make any sense. The fan reactions were typical in those days as well. A genuine Cubs movies. Well worth searching out.

There's a good story here and it captures the scene well.
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