Justin Verlander. Sandy Koufax. Bob Gibson. Bob Feller. Walter Johnson. Goose Gossage. David Price. Nolan Ryan. Just a few of the pitching greats whom we hear from and hear about in Jonathan Hock’s exhilarating documentary covering some 100+years of baseball – “Fastball”. And just who’s doing the talking about some of these legends? Derek Jeter. Hank Aaron. Wade Boggs. George Brett. Johnny Bench. Tony Gwynn. Davey Johnson. Mike Schmidt. And that’s just the tip of the starting line-up. Then, clear the mechanism as one of the most well-known baseball fans, actors and MLB supporters in history steps up to the plate as narrator, setting the tone of “Fastball”. Kevin Costner. But, just what is the ultimate question being asked here (besides it just being “for love of the game”)? Easy. Who pitched the fastest fastball ever? And that’s just what we discover with “Fastball”.
Hock is no stranger to sports documentaries. Each has always been fascinating, taking us into the mindset of players, the history of various sports and brought together with an understanding appreciated by both sports lovers and those not so inclined. With “Fastball”, Hock takes a look inside baseball and specifically, pitching.
A sport that boils down to a battle between a man with a stick and a man with a rock with someone throwing the ball as hard as they can while someone else tries to hit it (as opposed to being hit by it), age old questions have loomed for the past 100+ years since the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club developed a set of rules that formed the basis for the game we now call baseball and played their first game in 1846. What’s it like pitching a ball at 100mph? Better yet, what’s it like trying to hit a ball whizzing towards you so fast it sounds like a train whistle? How did you measure the speed of a fastball before radar guns were employed in 1974? How has pitching, and the fastball, changed over the decades?
With a keenly blended tale of Hall of Famers reminiscing about the “glory days” of the game to analyzing different styles and different eras, interspersed with some very cool physics lessons about pitching and visual cognition, plus archival footage and photographs, the result is fascinating. No seventh inning stretch needed for this documentary as you’re in it for a full nine innings. We see the first “official” test for determining the speed of a fastball back in the 1930’s with Bob Feller, “The Heater from Van Meter”, pitching against a racing motorcycle. (Spoiler alert: Feller was faster.) Then, there’s the Remington Rifle Range testing with Walter Johnson aka “The Big Train”. And of course, there’s Nolan Ryan, in a class all to himself.
Historical gems emerge which die-hard fans will appreciate, like three innings of previously unseen private footage shot of that infamous Los Angeles summer night in 1965 with Sandy Koufax throwing a perfect game. As the cameraman ran out of film after only three innings, Hock brings in an ace reliever and finishes the game out with the audio of the legendary Vin Scully calling the ninth inning on the radio that night. It’s just as exciting now as it was in 1965. And Hank Aaron delights with his stories (just listen to him and watch his face as he talks about Goose Gossage, describing him as the “nastiest” and “meanest”, a pitcher who “threw hard”) while Bob Gibson provides an insight into the racial divide during his days with the Cardinals and how that affected his pitching.
Broken into an “inning” format with headers like “92 vs 100″, “Perfect”, “Timeless”, “The Closer” and “The Eternal Question”, “Fastball” knocks it out of the park. It’s a perfectly pitched grand slam.
Director: Jonathan Hock
“Fastball” is in theatres starting March 25th. The 2016 Major League Baseball Season starts April 3rd.