Beautiful, Baby

Institute History

  • 2001 January Screenwriters Lab


"Beautiful, Baby" is about talent: what it means, how we value it and the consequences of walking away from it. When Dick Carnovsky puts his mind to it, he has a talent for throwing perfect, powerful pitches. But baseball is rarely the first thing on his mind. Ogden Nash, also a promising pitcher and Dick's friend, believes this ability, like any other, is a gift from god and that it's a sin not to make the most of it. Dick scoffs at this idea. Nor does Dick have time for baseball's traditions or for the rigid moral code that's paradoxically inseparable from the game itself. Dick believes in one thing: "life." For Dick this means an unrepentant state of pure fun, a world of girls and good times in which baseball is only a small part of the action.
Loosely based on the real-life story of Bo Belinsky, pitcher, starlet magnet and intriguing underachiever on the then Los Angeles Angels in the 1960's, Dick works on the margins of organized baseball—sandlots, minor leagues, winter ball in Latin America—until he's drafted by the Angels in 1961. He enters the big leagues as a 25-year-old rookie in 1962 and wins his first four games after holding out for a bigger contract, missing the beginning of spring training and being generally regarded as a knucklehead or a public relations stunt by baseball's old guard. Then he throws a no-hitter. Dick may be something less than a complete baseball player, but he becomes something more than a celebrity. His charisma, knack for a comical aside and sense of fun prefigure the promise of personal freedom and the unraveling of society's rules symptomatic of the times. Bigger than baseball, Dick's the zeitgeist.

That being said, the late nights take their toll and Dick's pitching becomes erratic, and then, grimly predictable: losses pile up one after another. The turning point in his relationship with the team is a messy incident in a hotel room where Dick, after being provoked, knocks a drunken, bitter sportswriter out cold. Ogden, in the same room with Dick and two women at the time, can only watch as Dick's career self-destructs. The Angels, certain that Dick's presence on the team keeps Ogden from being a premier pitcher, make a quick decision and exile Dick to their minor league franchise in Hawaii. Between Dick's astonishing talent but unreliable work ethic and
Ogden's solid talent but steady work habits, it's an easy choice.

The second half of the story is Dick's journey from celebrity to anonymity. Hawaii is a kind of mirage of happiness, a sweet interlude before a long, painful crash. Dick plays baseball in the sun, surfs and falls in love with Jesse St. Jean, a Playboy playmate. After tossing another no-hitter, Dick is plucked from this paradise and lands in Philadelphia. His last stint in baseball is a period of rootless wandering from team to team, from one inhospitable city to the next. Dick, disinterested, his talent flickering, is forgotten in the bullpen. In an effort to hold on to something of the happiness they found in Hawaii, Dick and Jesse marry. They have a daughter and give her a Hawaiian name: Lahua.

His baseball career ends and with it the freedom to live his life anyway he chooses. Outside of baseball Dick is lost and the marriage quickly dissolves. Left with nothing but fading memories, Dick lets himself be picked up in a bar by a wealthy kid, a weird baseball-obsessed coke addict, and moves into his house. He escapes, but it's not until he hits bottom that he's ready to accept a dull, day-to-day existence. Dick gets a job as a car salesman in Las Vegas, meets a young woman who has no idea who he is and falls in love.

Dick's pursuit of happiness is futile and foolish. He would be the first to admit it. His dream of life is alternately romantic, selfish, comical and irresponsible. But if the fun is impossible to sustain, it's not impossible to experience. As a talented but flawed baseball player, his attitude is a reproach to traditionalists; as a kind of Ratpack Don Quixote, Dick is something more than comical, something less than heroic. Instead of being consumed by regret, by what he knowingly fails to accomplish, Dick finds peace in what he's glimpsed and takes pleasure in the life he led.


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