Jack Elliot is an aging American baseball player unsuspectingly put on the trading block during Spring Training in 1992 by the New York Yankees in favor of "rookie phenom" first baseman Ricky Davis (played by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas), and there's only one taker: the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.
Upon arrival in Japan, the arrogant Elliot clashes with the Japanese culture and the team's manager, and before long he alienates his new teammates. He believes the rules and management style of his new skipper, Uchiyama (Ken Takakura), are ludicrous, and continues to do things his way, which leads his already dwindling performance to suffer even more. His only ally on the team is another American ballplayer, Max "Hammer" Dubois (Dennis Haysbert), with whom he commiserates about his frustrations, but even Max becomes fed up with Jack's attitude and lack of respect for the game and his team. At the same time, Elliot develops a relationship with the beautiful Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), who is, he later learns, Uchiyama's daughter.
After one too many outbursts, including knocking out his interpreter during a brawl, Elliot is suspended from play. After meeting Hiroko's family, including Uchiyama, Uchiyama admits to Jack that he hired him over the objections of management and now his own career, not just Jack's, is in jeopardy. After hearing this, Elliot swallows his pride and admits his deficiencies. Uchiyama becomes his mentor. In a rare show of humility, he apologizes to the team in Japanese (erroneously saying he wants to build a "chopstick" rather than a "bridge" of friendship) and the team rallies around him and teaches him the value of sportsmanship and respect for hard work. Uchiyama lifts his suspension and begins to work with Elliot on improving his play. The reinvigorated Elliot's enthusiasm for team play is contagious and the mediocre Dragons become contenders for the Central League pennant. In the process, he also utilizes a Japanese tradition of being able to tell off Uchiyama while intoxicated to convince him to encourage his players to be more aggressive and "have a little fun."
Eventually, Elliot gets the opportunity to break Uchiyama's record of seven consecutive games with a home run, but not before his positive response to a call from his American agent complicates his relationship with Hiroko. His newfound respect for team play becomes apparent in a crucial game against the Yomiuri Giants. With the bases loaded, two outs and his team down 6–5, the team brass expects Uchiyama to signal for a bunt to try to tie the game, even though it would deny Elliot the chance to break the home run record. Elliot goes to Uchiyama and asks if he read the sign correctly. Uchiyama nods and tells him to swing away, knowing that a home run would break his record. Elliot takes a called strike one with a questionable call on the first pitch. Elliot fouls the second pitch back. Faced with a no-ball, two-strike count, Elliot sees the Giants' infield is playing deep and bunts. The Giants are caught off-guard and the bunt is successful in allowing the tying run to cross home plate. As the Giants struggle to field the ball, Elliot runs through the bag and knocks over the Giants' first baseman (a fellow American expat), which allows the winning run to score from second base.
With the Dragons winning the pennant, Uchiyama can keep his job and Max ends his five-year career in NPB by signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Elliot, who marries Hiroko, becomes a coach and mentor with the Detroit Tigers. The movie ends with one of the players calling him Chief, which is the same as he called Uchiyama in Japan.Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot
Ken Takakura as Uchiyama
Aya Takanashi as Hiroko Uchiyama
Dennis Haysbert as Max "Hammer" Dubois
Toshi Shioya as Yoji Nishimura
Nicholas Cascone as "Doc"
Kosuke Toyohara as Toshi Yamashita
Toshizo Fujiwara as Ryo Mukai
Charles Fick as Billy Stevens
Leon Lee as Lyle Massey
Bradley "Animal" Lesley as Alan Niven
Frank Thomas as Ricky Davis
According to director Fred Schepisi, the original premise for Mr. Baseball — a baseball comedy that explored cultural differences between Japan and the United States—was conceived after the commercial success of the 1989 film Major League. The first story treatment was drafted by Theo Pelletier, a writer with no previous film credits to his name, and developed into a screenplay by Monte Merrick and Gary Ross. When Schepisi came onto the project, Tom Selleck had already been cast as the lead, and because of an unusual clause in his contract, had final say over the approval of the script. This resulted in the involvement of another screenwriter, Kevin Wade. Complicating matters further was the takeover of Universal Studios by Japanese conglomerate Matsushita (parent company of Panasonic). Universal was concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity in the depiction of Japanese characters, so they recruited John Junkerman, an experienced writer and director of films about Japan, to rework the story. Schepisi and a fourth screenwriter, Ed Solomon, traveled to Japan to do research. After returning from Japan, Schepisi and Solomon rewrote the entire script, highlighting cultural clashes between the characters for comic effect, but this version in turn was rewritten by Kevin Wade to accommodate Tom Selleck. Since Wade's contract expired mid-way through production, however, he only worked on it for about three weeks, leaving many loose ends that eventually had to be sorted out by Schepisi. In the end, the participation of many people in the process resulted in a screenplay that was much more conventional than Schepisi originally intended. In a later interview, he said he felt as though the film was not as good as it could have been:
Filming of Mr. Baseball took place primarily in Nagoya, with limited filming in Tokyo, Florida, and New York. Doug Claybourne, one of the producers, began preparation for location filming in Japan in 1991. Most scenes were filmed in the city of Nagoya, including a number that were eventually cut from the film. Most prominent are the scenes filmed at Nagoya Stadium (Nagoya kyujo ナゴヤ球場) former home of the Chunichi Dragons in Otobashi, Nagoya. Thousands of local extras volunteered to sit in the stands during the filming of game situations, even braving a typhoon to cheer on the fictionalized Dragons during their climactic showdown with the Yomiuri Giants.
Filming of other scenes did not range very far from the stadium. Two scenes of Jack Elliot and his interpreter Yoji (Toshi Shioya), were filmed on the Meitsu line shuttling between Nagoya Station and Kanayama Station. The scenes at Jack Elliot's suite apartment were filmed at the Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion complex in Kakuozan, a thirty-minute subway and local train ride from the stadium. The scene in which Jack is interviewed by Kuno Makoto 久野誠, MC of the CBC TV sports program "Sunday Dragons" サンデードラゴンズ, was filmed on the actual set of the program--although, as Kuno has noted, the shot was very brief and he had no opportunity to speak with Mr. Selleck on set. Scenes of Jack and Hiroko's visit to local shrines were filmed at the Osu Kannon marketplace, near the heart of the city's commercial district. Sequentially, the scenes at Osu begin with Jack praying and clanging the bell at Fuji Sengen Shrine (富士浅間神社), before moving to Banshoji Temple (万松寺) to offer incense. The building that housed Hiroko's "Concepts Graphic Designs" still stands in the Minami-yama/Hibari-ga-oka neighborhood of Nagoya, although the Minami-yama Pharmacy located next door has since changed locations to Irinaka. A scene in which Jack meets a group of other expatriate American ballplayers at a foreigners' bar was filmed in Sakae, on the site of the current Shooter's.
Three scenes that were eventually cut from the film were also filmed in Nagoya. These include:
- an exchange between Jack and Hiroko in Osu, in the arcade leading down to Banshoji Temple
- an exchange between Jack and Hiroko in front of Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion
- a dialogue between Jack and Uchiyama (Ken Takakura) in Heiwa Park cemetery.
Only two scenes set in Japan were filmed outside of Nagoya:
- Jack's "Big Hit, Happy Body" commercial, filmed in a tea field overlooking Mikawa Bay
- Jack's visits to the home of his manager, Uchiyama, which appear to have been filmed in the Komaki or Inuyama area.
Commenting on his working relationship with lead actor Tom Selleck, Schepisi commented "He was extremely helpful getting the baseball thing right. Getting the American pride thing right."
Universal released a theatrical trailer for Mr Baseball in the summer of 1992. The trailer, which runs two minutes and fourteen seconds, features dialogue and scenes that are absent from the final version of the film. For example, at the scene of Jack's first press conference, Yoji asks, "have you ever slept with Madonna?" During his first meeting with Uchiyama, Jack responds to the demand to shave his moustache by saying, "he probably can't even grow one." In the locker room scene where Jack is confused about how to use the Japanese-style toilet, he quips to Max, "I need somebody to tell me how to go to the can" (later changed in the final version of the film to "I need somebody to tell me how to take a crap"). The music in the trailer is mostly sampled from Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack, but also includes samples from "Turning Japanese" by The Vapors. The song also appears in the MCA Universal Home Video promotional tape distributed to video rental shops in 1993. "Turning Japanese" did not appear in the final version of the soundtrack.
The Japanese version of Mr. Baseball includes three scenes that were missing from the version screened in the North American market. All three scenes cast light on Jack's relationships with Uchiyama and Hiroko.
Jack and Hiroko, outside Jack's apartment building in the Tsukimi-ga-oka Mansion Complex in Kakuozan (1:04)
After dinner and drinks in Sakae, Hiroko drives Jack back to his apartment in her black Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. This scene appears to have originally followed the night club scene where Jack storms off in a huff, indignant at Hiroko's insinuation that he is "property of the team." Jack is still irate when Hiroko asks if him it's really true that many women in America fall for him. He explains that American women respect a man with character, even if he "screws up" fighting for what he believes in. As if to insinuate that she is not as stereotypically Japanese as Jack thinks, Hiroko tells Jack that she finds him attractive, and then coolly drives off. Left standing at the entrance of his apartment building, a befuddled Jack mutters, "I hate this place."
Jack and Hiroko, outside Sengen Shrine, walking towards Osu Kannon Arcade (1:07)
Seeking divine assistance for the hole in his swing, Jack visits shrines and temples in the Osu Kannon arcade complex. After praying at Sengen Shrine, Jack tells Hiroko about his experiences participating in es when he lived in Los Angeles, and therapy when in New York. As they turn the corner and head in the direction of Banshoji Temple (site of the later scene in which Hiroko shows Jack how to draw incense), talk turns to Hiroko's father, Uchiyama. She tells Jack that Uchiyama had a difficult time transitioning from player to coach, and claims that this is why he is so angry all the time. Uchiyama cannot tolerate independence from those around him—which explains the difficulty Jack has in getting along with him, and why Hiroko has such a strained relationship with him.
Jack and Uchiyama, at a grave in Heiwa Koen Cemetery (1:29)
Leading Jack on a walk through Heiwa Koen Cemetery, Uchiyama opens up about his own past struggles as a player. Before setting the team record for consecutive games with a homerun, Uchiyama was plagued by diminished bat speed, or what he calls "a will to make the ball slow down." Uchiyama advises Jack that he must forget who he is as a player--that is, to adjust his expectations to his current skills--if he is going to succeed again.
Upon its release, Mr. Baseball received mixed reviews from critics, ranging from overwhelmingly positive to negative. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Mr. Baseball ... racks up a real home run for Tom Selleck.," comparing the actor to Clark Gable. Bill Diehl of ABC called Mr. Baseball "uproariously funny," while Steve Wille of Sports Illustrated glowed, "Tom Selleck deserves a baseball Oscar." Siskel and Ebert, in their review of the film, commented on its formulaic plot and lackluster writing, but also praised the film for its realistic crowd shots, direction, and Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack. Janet Maslin of The New York Times singled out Selleck's performance for praise, writing, "The character of Jack, whose being sent to Japan is the impetus for Mr. Baseball, provides Mr. Selleck with something unusual: a movie role that actually suits his talents. Mr. Selleck's easygoing, self-deprecating manner works particularly well when he lets himself look silly, as he often does here." Mr. Baseball currently holds a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews — most of them written years after the film's release.
Mr. Baseball opened in 1,855 theaters on Friday, October 2, 1992. During its first weekend, it grossed over $5 million at the box office, coming in third behind The Last of the Mohicans and The Mighty Ducks. During its six-week run in theatres, it went on to gross $20.8 million domestically. Despite the limited marketability of baseball movies overseas, Universal positioned it for a wide distribution beyond the North American market. However, a disappointing showing in Japan and Europe prevented the studio from recouping on its enormous expenses. Mr. Baseball (ミスター・ベースボール) opened in theaters in Japan on February 6, 1993, and proceeded to gross a disappointing ¥1.5 billion ($1.25 million). By the end of its run in Japan, during the summer of 1993, it appeared as the "B film" in Universal double features—such as with the Robert Redford and River Phoenix film Sneakers (1992). Screenings in European theatres followed, but with little fanfare. It premiered in Germany on June 16, 1993.
MCA Universal Home Video released Mr. Baseball on VHS in March, 1993. It was later reissued in 1997. The summary on the back of both sleeves reads:
Tom Selleck stars in this hilarious comedy about an arrogant and aging major league baseball player who attempts to revive his career by signing to play in Japan. In the twilight of his glory days, Jack Elliot (Selleck) is no longer hitting like he used to. His fun-loving attitude is put to the test when he finds himself replaced by a rookie. Soon he learns the only team that wants him is the Chunichi Dragons... in Nagoya, Japan. After arriving in Japan, Jack manages to alienate everyone without improving his batting average, and treats the team's hard-headed manager (Ken Takakura) with disrespect. But with the love of elegant Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), along with a newfound respect for his manager and Japanese culture, Jack finds a way to win in this warmhearted, fast-moving comedy from director Fred Schepisi.
Since 2011, an American fan dressed as Jack Elliot has garnered media attention for his enthusiastic support of the Chunichi Dragons, especially their minor-league affiliate, which plays in the old Nagoya Stadium — the setting of the film.