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30 year later, ‘Eight Men Out’ still playing out ’80s legacy

The baseball story might have seemed out of place in the '80s, except for its cast.
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Published Aug. 27, 2018
Updated Aug. 27, 2018

For all the talk here of how the '80s were an amazing collection of years on their own, it's safe to say that many memorable movies that decade were based in much earlier eras: A Christmas Story, Stand By Me and, today's featured flick, Eight Men Out.

Released Sept. 2, 1988 and so celebrating 30 years, Eight Men Out told the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and their World Series scandal. Does that sound like a topic most '80s fans would embrace? Not likely, so writer/director John Sayles did one really smart thing: He filled his cast with the biggest names of the day. Charlie Sheen. David Strathairn. John Mahoney. Christopher Lloyd, D.B. Sweeney. And, of course, John Cusack at perhaps the height of his '80s popularity. (Sayles, who also cast himself as a reporter, claims he hired his cast not because of their popularity at the box office but because of their talent on the baseball diamond.)

The development of the movie was a nightmare, according to reports, taking 11 years from start to finish. The delays were so long that the actor originally set to play Shoeless Joe Jackson (David Strathairn) eventually had to settle for a part of an aging pitcher instead of a hitter in his prime.

The movie opened to generally positive reviews – it holds an 86 percent "fresh rating" on Rotten Tomatoes – but hometown film critic Roger Ebert wasn't impressed. In his review, he called Eight Men Out "an oddly unfocused movie made of earth tones, sidelong glances and eliptic conversations."

"… If you are not already familiar with that story you're unlikely to understand it after seeing this film," he offered.

The movie, which you can watch today streaming on Amazon Prime, is indeed a look back at nostalgia for baseball's lost era – perhaps one too alien for modern-day fans to appreciate. This movie's placement in the '80s may feel forced, but the talent holding the gloves is still worth watching.

Here are five more things you probably didn't know about Eight Men Out on its 30th anniversary.

1. The ballpark used to make the film is obviously not the original Comiskey Park. Instead, Bush Stadium in Indianapolis subbed in for the ballpark in this film.

2. The nickname Black Sox was not given to the team because of throwing the World Series but instead was given years earlier because team owner Charles Comiskey refused to wash the team's uniforms, resulting in players sometimes wearing filthy, dark outfits.

3. Gene Hackman and Martin Sheen were both attached to the movie but had to drop out as development dragged on.

4. Buck Weaver (played by Cusack) applied six times for reinstatement to Major League Baseball before dying of a heart attack in 1956. Relatives and newspaper columnists have continued the fight to clear his name, to no avail.

5. The famous quote "Say it ain't so, Joe!" – spoken in the movie by one of the child actors – did happen in real life. Sort of. According to reports, the actual quote was more like "Say it didn't really happen, Joe." A reporter on the scene took some creative license and a catchphrase was coined.