You might think that as the son of the former Major League Baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti and as a star of the new national-pastime-theme drama The Phenom (which hit theaters and on video on demand Friday), Paul Giamatti would be a baseball aficionado. But Giamatti, who plays a sports psychologist trying to help a tormented pitching prospect (Johnny Simmons) work through a mental block, said that was not the case.
"I'm not a big sports fan, but I like sports movies," he said.
Still, he took a swing at some baseball questions during a recent interview in New York. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: What interested you about The Phenom?
A: I was fascinated by the story of Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankees second baseman, when he had trouble throwing the ball to first base. As a kid, I loved Mark Fidrych. He was an amazing pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, but he blew himself out after only one season. He had a very tragic life and death after that. I've always been interested in this disconnect between the mind and body.
What are your favorite baseball movies?
The first one I remember seeing was Bang the Drum Slowly. It's about so much more than just baseball. That was a big movie for me when I was a kid. It was so sad, and Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty are so great in it. I also really liked Eight Men Out, and Bull Durham and Field of Dreams are good movies.
But you don't consider yourself a big baseball fan, despite your dad's tenure as the game's commissioner?
No, my brother, Marcus, is a bigger baseball fan than I am. My dad did a lot of different things. He also loved movies, so I'd go see them with him.
Growing up in New Haven, Conn., did you root for the Red Sox?
I had to, but I was also a Tigers fan. They had a player named Ron LeFlore, who was my hero. I was obsessed with that guy. He had been in prison. I remember I got his autograph when my father took my brother and me to spring training. He was a good player, but part of the appeal was that I thought his story was so cool.
What do you recall about the 1986 World Series, when the Mets beat the Red Sox?
I was in college at Yale, and I was watching the game when the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs in a room full of Mets fans. Bob Stanley was pitching to Mookie Wilson, and I remember when they brought him in, thinking, "The Red Sox are going to lose." He was a good relief pitcher, but he screwed up a lot. I never blamed Bill Buckner. I always blamed Bob Stanley. So as much as I'm not a sports fan, certain things like that still rankle.
When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, was that a big moment?
Oh sure, but in a funny way, it was kind of a letdown. They weren't supposed to win. Now what?