Turner Network Television tackles class issues, family values and baseball mythology in The Winning Season, based on Dan Gutman’s book Honus & Me. The focal point of this tale of hardball, time travel and true love: the prized 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner tobacco card.
But the film is formulaic, with an obvious plot twist before neatly wrapping a happy ending.
When 12-year-old Joe Soshack (Mark Rendell) strikes out with the winning run on for his Little League team, his opponents dub him “King of Chokers.” Things aren’t much happier at home in Pittsburgh, where his contractor can’t find much work and his parents bicker over their financial situation.
Joe finds the Wagner card while cleaning out the attic of an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Young (Jackie Burroughs). When a dealer tells him the card is worth several hundred thousand dollars, Joe realizes it could solve his family’s money woes.
Joe’s parents want him to return the card, but Joe is sure it’s their ticket to happiness and runs away. The card transports him to Forbes Field during Game 5 of the 1909 World Series, pitting the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Detroit Tigers. More mysterious: Joe has aged about five or six years.
At the game, Joe (now played by Shawn Hatosy, Soldier’s Girl) meets Wagner’s rich girlfriend Mandy Henton (Kristin Davis, Sex and the City) who introduces Joe to Wagner (Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket). Henton’s family disapproves of their relationship because Wagner is not wealthy.
Hatosy does a notable job portraying Soshack as a young boy in an older body, giving the character the wide-eyed awe a 12-year-old would have around baseball stars. Modine is solid as the experienced ballplayer with down-to-earth wisdom.
The Winning Season tweaks history to fit its formula, as the story moves on the myth that Wagner turned down the company as an anti-smoking move. In the movie, Wagner is offered $100 dollars to appear on the card, a sum Mandy’s family approves of. Reality holds that Wagner most likely ordered the card pulled in a dispute over compensation, but it was circulated before being recalled, and 50 exist today. The card is not the rarest: There are only six T-206 Ty Cobbs.
Cobb (William Lee Scott) also plays a villain, stealing the card and threatening to destroy it if Joe doesn’t keep Wagner out of Game 7.
Despite some fine performances, The Winning Season gets mired in clichéd devices.
The Winning Season debuts Sunday, April 4, at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.