The New York Yankees have long been the most recognizable and hated sports team in North America. Loved by locals and hated by almost everyone else, nobody can argue with their ability to develop some of baseball’s biggest icons, nor their tradition for winning the World Series. That being said, Safe at Home! should be regarded and one of the bigger public relations failures, even if it did paint a pair of the franchise’s biggest names in a positive light.
In the 1960s, you’d be hard pressed to find many players more popular than teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The pair were the toast of baseball, hitting baseballs over the fence at a rate unlike anyone else. Their reward: speaking parts in Walter Doniger’s film that seems to have inspired episodes of both The Brady Bunch and Silver Spoons.
Hutch Lawton (Bryan Russell) is a young boy with a big mouth on him. Forget the wolf, this wannabe Peter goes straight for the white-lie jugular and claims his dad is friends with not only one but two Yankee greats. Sounds an awful lot like the time Marcia Brady claimed to know Davy Jones in an episode of The Brady Bunch and Alfonso knew Michael Jackson in Silver Spoons. In order to save face, Hutch goes on a mission that gets him into the Yankees clubhouse and a once-in-a-lifetime stint with the legendary club.
There’s a reason Maris and Mantle played baseball. They were great at it. Acting – not so much. Safe at Home! is filled with awkward moments at every turn, something I find a little strange when notable figures play themselves on screen. It’s not like it’s hard to be yourself. But I guess it is when you’re spoon-fed lines that make you look more like a character in a movie than yourself.
I would’ve loved the story if it were an episode of Leave it to Beaver just like I did with the similarly plotted Brady Bunch episode (all I remember of Silver Spoons is the glove-wearing moonwalk Alfonso did). The story and the message are more suited for the shortened format than a full feature, even one that runs well under 90 minutes like Safe at Home! does. This leads to overdrawn plot points, inconsequential characters and the cinematic equivalent of standing in an elevator and going down when you want to go up.
One aspect of the film that caught my attention from a historical perspective was how the athletes were treated by their fans. Today there’s something of a distance between players and fans. This is demonstrated by some plundering athletes for autographs only to turn around and sell them. This has led to an increasing number of players rejecting such requests and shunning the folks that ultimately pay their salaries. But guess what? Not a lot has changed. While the players did seem to be more in touch with fans in the 1960s, the cheering was still quite ruthless when it came to the mobs outside the locker room. Apparently, this is a timeless struggle that predates eBay.
But this is just an observation I found interesting about the context in which the film is made. Nothing else in Safe at Home! even remotely captured my attention. Instead it feels more like a publicity stunt meant to up the stock of Mantle, Maris and the polarizing New York Yankees.