Monday, June 6, 2011

HBO's When It Was A Game on Blu-ray

When I was a boy I played about every sport known to man, from handball to football, and from hockey to basketball, I played them all if I had the chance. I loved organized sports because they provided some direction and purpose for me. There was one sport, that while I loved to play it, I never really played an organized version of it other than a brief moment in the 8th grade. As strange as it may seem that sport became one of my favorites as I aged, that sport is baseball. Up until the last players strike of Major League Baseball I could tell you the daily box scores, who did what, which team was where in the standings and more. I loved the game, from playing on the sandlots to the history. It could be said the history of baseball was the one thing that started giving me an appreciation for history. From Shoeless Joe Jackson and his days in the South Carolina Textile Leagues to the search for that Honus Wagner baseball card, I knew about the incredible history of this game that not only represented the sport but it represented the working man and woman and the love they had for a game which would be passed down to many children prior to the advent of video games. It was an era where one glove could service two boys and a bat and ball was all you needed to have a full day of summer fun.

HBO has just released their wonderful documentary When It Was A Game on Blu-ray DVD. The DVD visits the game from its early roots, primarily the depression era. We see the story of baseball told using video and images from fans and players. Using a documentary style it has former players and fans doing most of the monologue and we see a beautiful portrayal of a time many have forgotten. From Pee Wee Reece to Hank Aaron and old footage of Babe Ruth prior to his death along with others and many of the old ball parks we see a presentation that for many will bring back memories of a time that is in some ways, long lost, yet deeply loved.

HBO does an incredible job at editing the footage in telling the story. There are moments where the musical score is so good I had to stop and rewind the DVD. There is a beautiful telling and the passion of many of those providing the commentary, many of which include the original players and those who knew them.

When It Was A Game is a documentary that reminds many of the importance of taking the time to stop and smell the roses. There is a presentation of heroes, yet heroes who loved what they were doing enough to make sacrifices to do what they loved. Those heroes also recognized the importance of the fan. While some of those like Ruth and Cobb may not have the best history to emulate, they still have a history. There are others like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron that not only provided inspiration; they changed history. They chose to be among the first and the best despite the circumstances they had to face during a time where seemingly, race mattered.

The memories that When It Was A Game brought to me caused me to reflect, is the hustle and bustle, the obese epidemic in America being reinforced by the games we now play with our fingers worth it? I for one miss that community represented in the early days of the game of baseball, especially the game that represented the working man and woman who could afford to come together and either listen to the games on the radio, or in some cases, go to the games they could afford. The game was in many ways like a good church, folks celebrating a common purpose, a common theme, having heroes they could root for and in the process, enjoy the times together enough so that in the every day life of a child there were dreams of aspiration, players to emulate, games to be played, and no matter what, win or lose, a respect for those on the other team. What would happen if those of faith practiced those concepts? Even the time to sit back and reflect was available, now the rush to this, and rush to that philosophy that many seem to possess, has lost the importance of human contact and relationship. I have to wonder, was this era the end of an era where community was lost, and me was found? Then I have to reflect on my experiences of both eras, is the loss of community worth it?

I had not seen the documentary and have to tell you, I loved it. I will watch it again, and in fact have already seen most of it twice. The footage including the players, story of the game, its fans, ball parks and more contains footage and history that every fan of the game will appreciate. That all said, there is one question I have, and I don’t mean this as a criticism, but to be honest, I have no idea why anyone would purchase the Blu-ray version of the DVD. The old footage consisting of 8MM and 16MM film does not transfer with any improvement to the Blu-ray technology. While the sound track may have some improvements, they are not noticeable enough to justify the extra costs. There was another huge letdown in the DVD though, there are no special features. It seems that on a subject matter like this, it would have been easy to have ample special features, yet not a single one. For fans of the special features like me, this will be a huge letdown.

With all of that said about the Blu-ray deficiencies, please don’t misunderstand me. For the fan of the game, this is a must own if you can find the lower priced standard DVD, if you can’t find it, it is still a must own. The memories, the story as presented is outstanding. For those who remember these players, this era, or knows the history, they will be reminded, When It Was A Game is about more than a game, for when baseball was a game, it wasn’t just a game, it was a way of life that at least for this one fan, represented a much better time. As for me, give me a ball, bat and glove with a few friends any day of the week. I would rather play a game of Pepper, Baseball or even Indian Bat Ball any day of the week than I would have my fingers play some video game.

To see the video below, simply click on the video, if the video doesn't appear or appears in a non complete form, click the following link:

Here is part 1 of the documentary:

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