With baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates in last place, their combative, foul-mouthed manager Guffy McGovern has plenty to complain about. All this changes when, while wandering through Forbes Field in search of his good luck charm one night, Guffy is accosted by the voice of an angel (voice of James Whitmore), who hints at having been a ballplayer during his earthly life.
As the spokes-angel for the Heavenly Choir Nine, a celestial team of deceased ballplayers, he begins bestowing "miracles" upon the Pirates—but only on the condition that McGovern put a moratorium on swearing and fighting.
With the help of the invisible ghosts of past baseball greats, the Pirates make it into the pennant race. During a game, 8-year-old orphan Bridget White insists that she can see the angels helping out the "live" ballplayers—understandably so, since it was Bridget's prayers to the Archangel Gabriel that prompted the angel to visit McGovern in the first place.
Local newspaper reporter and former "household hints" writer Jennifer Paige inadvertently transforms Bridget's angelic visions into a nationwide news story, causing McGovern no end of trouble. After Guffy is beaned during a game and himself confirms Bridget's claims, he falls into the hands of vengeful sportscaster Fred Bayles, who has been scheming to have McGovern thrown out of baseball and persuades the Commissioner of Baseball to investigate McGovern's fitness as a manager.
Complication piles upon complication until the pennant-deciding game, wherein Guffy is forced to rely exclusively upon the talents of his ballplayers—notably "over the hill" pitcher Saul Hellman (who, the angel has told Guffy, will be "signed up" by the Heavenly Choir team shortly). Guffy also wins over Jennifer, and they plan to adopt young Bridget.
The angels themselves are never actually seen by the viewing audience, just the effects of their presence—a feather dropping, or someone being jostled from time to time. The angel who talks to Guffy never reveals who he was in life. It being a time when profanity was never used in films, the "swearing" uttered by Guffy is audio gibberish, scrambled recordings of his own voice.Paul Douglas as Aloysius X. 'Guffy' McGovern
Janet Leigh as Jennifer Paige
Keenan Wynn as Fred Bayles
Donna Corcoran as Bridget White
Lewis Stone as Commissioner of Baseball Arnold P. Hapgood
Spring Byington as Sister Edwitha
Bruce Bennett as Saul Hellman
Marvin Kaplan as Timothy Durney
Ellen Corby as Sister Veronica
Jeff Richards as Dave Rothberg
John Gallaudet as Reynolds
King Donovan as McGee
Don Haggerty as Rube Ronson
Paul Salata as Tony Minelli
Fred Graham as Chunk
John McKee as Bill Baxter
Patrick J. Molyneaux as Patrick J. Finley
Corcoran and Salata are the last surviving cast members.Bing Crosby has a short cameo in the film, playing golf, sinking a long putt. At that time, Crosby was a part owner (approximately 15%) of the Pirates.
Baseball greats Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio, along with Hollywood songwriter Harry Ruby, are "interviewed" regarding the angels.
Barbara Billingsley has an uncredited role as a hat check girl at John's Steakhouse.
The film contains extensive baseball action shots, most of which were filmed at Forbes Field, the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers, demolished in 1971, the year after the Pirates and Steelers moved to Three Rivers Stadium. The opening credits acknowledge "the kind cooperation of the Pittsburgh 'Pirates' for the use of the team and its ballpark," while reminding the viewer that the story is fictional and "could be any baseball team, in any league, in any town in America."
Historians may note several distinguishing features of Forbes Field at the time. One is the "Kiner's Korner" inner fence in left field, with the 365-feet left field foul line marker observable on the outer wall, and the 335-feet sign on the inner fence. The other distance markers (376-457-436-375-300) are visible in some scenes. Other objects on the field of play at Forbes are visible from time to time, including the flagpole and batting cage near the 457 foot marker in deep left center field, and the Barney Dreyfuss monument in straightaway center field. The University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning is prominent in many shots filmed in Forbes Field.
A few scenes were shot on location at Wrigley Field, conveniently sited in South Los Angeles. Well-used by film-makers of the era, the ballpark—home to the minor league Angels from 1925 to 1957—was named for team owner William Wrigley, Jr. when the landmark Chicago stadium was still known as Cubs Park. While Wrigley's ivy-covered outfield wall stands in nicely for that of Forbes Field, "Kiner's Korner" is conspicuous in its absence, and visible distance markers (412 feet in centre field; 345 feet in left) are inconsistent with Forbes Field's grander dimensions.
Some stock footage alleged to be the Polo Grounds in New York City was actually Comiskey Park in Chicago, as evidenced by a quick glimpse of an auxiliary scoreboard reading "Visitors" and "White Sox".
Star Paul Douglas two years earlier had played a catcher in another baseball comedy film, It Happens Every Spring.
Although he had no background in baseball, Bruce Bennett, who portrays a veteran Pittsburgh pitcher, in real life had played football in the 1926 Rose Bowl and won a silver medal in the shot put at the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Rothberg, one of the Pirate players, is played by Jeff Richards, who had been a minor-league baseball player before becoming an actor. Fred Graham, who appears as "Chunk," had been a semi-pro ballplayer, while another member of the cast, Paul Salata, who has the role of Tony Minelli, played professional football from 1949-53.
According to MGM records the film made $1,466,000 in the US and Canada and $200,000 elsewhere. Once studio overhead was added, the film recorded a net loss of $171,000.