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Mac goes for record with 'Mr. 3000'
by Alan Schwarz
NEW YORK—If you think that today’s ballplayers are narcissistic, stats-obsessed blowhards, wait’ll you get a hold of Stan Ross.
Played by comedian-actor Bernie Mac in the new movie “Mr. 3000,” Ross got his 3,000th hit nine years ago to assure his place in baseball history—a place he is all too willing to crow about in smiling, self-centered monologues that make your fingernails curl. (Think Leon from the Budweiser ads.) Problem is, when the stat folks discover that three of his hits were double-counted, leaving him with 2,997, Ross swashes back into baseball to reclaim his place in history—only to reconsider what numbers are worth.
As much as Crash Davis was a baseball throwback, Mac’s Stan Ross is perhaps a look at the future. I spoke with Bernie Mac about the character, his baseball-crazed youth in Chicago, and his movie’s ultimate message.
Pull Up A Chair
Did you every think you’d make a movie with the line, “You heard the sausage—you’re 2-for-58?”
(Laughs) That’s funny, man. The sausage knew all my stats. He knew all about me. It just goes to show—you never know who’s watching you.
Which player in the majors is most like Stan Ross?
You know, it’s hard for baseball because you don’t get that locker room arrogance—you don’t have that over-the-top, big-mouth arrogance. Barry Bonds is arrogant, but he’s more reserved with it. He doesn’t have the charisma—he doesn’t have the gift of gab that Stan Ross has, or the flamboyance. You know where I got Stan Ross from? My brother. As far as the swing, I used Roberto Clemente and Rod Carew.
I noticed the No. 21 on your back.
That’s because I’m a Roberto Clemente man. I tried to play like Roberto. I tried to run like him. I tried to throw like him. His approach. When he passed, it hurt me so bad. In 1973, I was 14 years old.
You’re from the South Side of Chicago—why Roberto Clemente?
I dug the Pirates. I dug Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, all them guys. Chuck Tanner. Roberto Clemente, when he came to Wrigley Field, oh my God. The way he used to run. The way he used to play. And in the All-Star Game—he was a reserve! He wasn’t even a starter! That was bull! When they brought him in, the ball against the wall, he turned and played it off the wall and gunned it to second and held him to a single. I said, “My God!” That was baseball. When he slid into second base and dusted himself off, it was like a bird. I loved his style. I just fell in love with him. That was my man.
The movie’s depiction of modern ballplayers is pretty stark—both you and the other major player, T-Rex Pennybaker, are show-off, shimmying jerks. Is this a fair depiction of baseball culture?
I think it’s a fair depiction of young athlete culture, period. I think that’s the world that we’re in right now. With the dollars and cents that go along with it, all the commercials and sponsorships, that’s what you get. If it’s a stereotype, it’s being created by them.
Is it fun playing a jerk? Or is it kind of a drag?
I thought it was fun. It gave me the opportunity to go somewhere else, especially in my first leading role. If you’re going to go out on your first leading role, why not go out being an ass——?
I wanted to make Stan an ass——. I didn’t want him to win. I didn’t want the Hollywood ending. I wanted to teach this arrogant, self-centered, egotistical sunovabitch a lesson.
Stan Ross says in the movie that he played as a kid on the South Side of Chicago until dark. Wasn’t that you too?
I was the same way. I played strikeout. I played Park District. I played grammar school to high school. You played all the sports—not just baseball—until dark. If the parks in the playgrounds were filled, I kept chalk in my pocket, and I used to get in trouble because I’d draw a strike zone on people’s buildings.
Dontrelle Willis did the same thing.
I used to save my money for those rubber balls. They were 32 cents. We played till our arms were blue. I once slid and got a nail in my hand. My brother took the nail out and wrapped a sock around it. I didn’t go in the house, because if I went in the house, I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to come back out.
You ever jump the turnstiles at Comiskey?
You darned right I jumped the turnstile! No kid in Chicago don’t jump the turnstile. Those humble beginnings, man.
Stan Ross is obsessed with reaching 3,000 hits—why do statistics mean so much to him?
He needed it. He needed it more than anything until he found that, at the end, that it wasn’t as important as he anticipated. The stats, those built-in personal stats, man, ain’t nothin’ but a doggone tattoo.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.