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When Major Leaguers Play Themselves: “Rawhide”

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By Matt Singer

In honor of the start of the 2008 baseball season, will be paying tribute to the national pastime’s long relationship with the movies every day this week by giving you everything you’d ever want to know about the odd little quasi-autobiographical ditties in which baseball players have played themselves. Peanuts and crackerjacks not included.

04022008_rawhide.jpgRawhide (1938)
Directed by Ray Taylor
As Himself: Lou Gehrig

Game Story: Celebrated ballplayer Lou Gehrig announces he’s through with the game and is moving out west to live on his sister’s farm and become a cowboy. “I’m gonna wallow in peace and quiet for the rest of my life!” Gehrig vows to the incredulous reporters who come to Grand Central Station to see him off. But when he arrives at the family homestead, he discovers some hoodlums have turned the local ranchers’ association into a protection racket. Gehrig teams with a local singing lawyer/cowboy/pugilist (Smith Ballew) to clean up the town. Yes, that’s right — the Lou Gehrig Western is a musical, too.

On-Field Achievements: Until he was diagnosed with the crippling disease that now bears his name, Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that stood for more than half a century until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995. But the Iron Horse was more than some guy who just played every day — he still holds the records for the most runs scored and driven in by a first baseman, as well as the record for the most career grand slams by any position player — 23.

On-Screen Achievements: As you’d expect, Gehrig smashes the evil syndicate and does it in style. In one major fight scene set in a saloon, Gehrig, who performs a healthy portion of his own stunts, takes out the bad guys by hurling pool balls at their heads. Later, when a bunch of goons keep him from seeing his sister, who’s about to be coerced into signing a contract to join the syndicate, he gets her attention by finding a bunch of local kids, commandeering their bat and ball and busting the villain’s window with a well-placed liner.

Errors Committed: If only this movie were true, and if Gehrig, who passed away in 1941 at the age of 37, had been able to live out his retirement sitting on his sister’s porch in a rocking chair. In reality, his decline was brutally swift; When “Rawhide” was filmed in the winter before the 1938 season, he had no physical symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Within months of opening day, Gehrig’s illness had already begun to significantly affect his performance. For a player who prided himself on consistency, it was a devastating blow. Gehrig retired a little over a year later.

Discoveries: The final title card reads “The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are purely fictional. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” So, apparently, Lou Gehrig was an invention of screenwriters Daniel Jarrett and Jack Natteford working in concert with a cabal of journalists and members of the New York Yankees organization.

Substitutions: Gehrig spent most of his career in the shadow of Babe Ruth, but in the cinematic arena, he’s got the Babe beat. Ruth has had more features devoted to retelling his life story, but the one about Gehrig, 1942’s “The Pride of the Yankees” with Gary Cooper in the lead, remains more popular than all of them put together and routinely appears on lists of the greatest sports movies of all time. ( recently ranked it #13 in just such an article.)

Final Score: Gehrig may well be the greatest acting baseball player to play himself in history. The film takes him well out of his element — allegedly, Gehrig never rode a horse before commencing filming on “Rawhide,” yet onscreen, old Biscuit Pants is a charismatic and charming presence and even a gifted physical comedian. In one scene, he draws laughs with the exaggeratedly confused way he rides his horse (“Awfully… rough… road!” he groans to his traveling partner). Throughout history, baseball players have routinely been treated like movie stars and they’ve often looked like movie stars. But when actually got in front of the camera, they rarely acted like movie stars. Gehrig comes the closest.

[Photo: “Rawhide” poster, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1938]

Part 1: Babe Ruth in “Headin’ Home”
Part 2: Joe DiMaggio in “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round”
Part 4: Jackie Robinson in “The Jackie Robinson Story”
Part 5: Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in “Safe at Home!”; Keith Hernandez on “Seinfeld”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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