They could’ve made a movie about this story …..

October 07, 2010 |

Later today, I will be devoting a substantial portion of the AFTERNOON DRIVE to discussing the upcoming matchup between the Ravens and Broncos. Pitting the NFL’s top-rated passing offense against its top-rated passing defense should produce an exciting game on Sunday.

However, we’ll take a slight detour during the 3 o’clock hour, as I chat with Hollywood producer, Mark Ciardi. Our conversation coincides with Mark’s latest release Secretariat, which debuts in theatres tomorrow. The movie, starring Diane Lane and John Malcovich, centers on the life story of Penny Chenery, an inexperienced stables heiress who would eventually rise to prominence as owner of horse racing’s greatest competitor.
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While I will certainly enjoy talking about the movie’s debut, I’m really looking forward to learning more about Mark Ciardi, himself. In full disclosure, I must take this opportunity to thank Glenn Clark for booking the segment. While the story and movie are a compelling topic, Glenn had no idea that Mark and I share a unique tie.

One of my very best friends is also a friend of Mark Ciardi. My friend and Mark played baseball, together, at the University of Maryland. Both gentleman went on to play professionally, as well. However, they’ve fallen out of touch over recent years. Today, I’ll have a special opportunity to reminisce, with Mark, about his baseball career, modeling and his eventual transition into producing.

His college teammates called him “Chief.” He probably hasn’t heard that nickname in years …..

In addition, we’ll examine the prospect of producing a true-life sports story into a Hollywood blockbuster. Mark has produced numerous successful box office hits, like Invincible, The Rookie and Miracle. A producer is tasked with finding the right story or screen play, financing it and hiring the director, along with a portion of the cast.

Is Mark working on another Vince Papali-type project? Was Dennis Quaid his first choice to portray Jim Morris? Did making Miracle bring about the same emotional reaction we felt when witnessing the actual event? We’ll find out today.

In fact, I’m devoting a portion of my morning to brainstorming some real-life sports stories for Mark’s consideration. Hey, this is my shot. Maybe, I can become part of the production staff. Yep ….. I could easily live in SoCal – especially when considering the weather we’re likely to endure over the next six months.

As for my ideas, I’ve thought of a few storylines. I’m sharing them, below. Feel free to email your own suggestions. Here’s my ideas …..

Jay Gibbons

I can imagine the initial impression developed when you see Jay Gibbons heading my list. He’s not inspirational. He’s not a great talent. He hasn’t overcome odds of life’s making. Fair enough …..

However, Jay may very well be the most compelling figure from Major League Baseball’s steroid era. In the sense of a complete story, he’s pretty much it. He was a marginal big leaguer, who used steroids and became substantially more productive. He was awarded a multi-million dollar contract based on tainted achievements.
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Jay Gibbons was caught, he admitted his guilt and eventually his deflated play resulted in a departure from the game. While so many other ex-ballplayers have met a similar fate, Jay Gibbons didn’t let go. He continued to work at his craft and bounced around with some independent organizations. He also wrote letters to each Major League Baseball owner – asking for their forgiveness and another chance.

In those letters, Jay promised to donate his salary to charity if he ever returned to the big leagues. The Los Angeles Dodgers came calling last off-season. They gave him a shot and he performed quite well with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, in Albuquerque. Jay Gibbons was promoted to Los Angeles and joined the Dodgers, in August.

He played decently, hitting .280 with 5 homers over the final 37 games of the season. What does the future hold? We shall see. But, he has chosen not to donate his salary to charity. Could this be the factor that deters any movie consideration. It surely won’t look good.

Dale Earnhardt

I would imagine an authentic Earnhardt movie will never happen anytime soon. After a hastily packaged ESPN effort, starring Barry Pepper, and a few years of jamming the NASCAR legend’s likeness down our throats, I think it’s safe to say the American viewing audience has experienced enough Earnhardt remembrances for years to come.

That’s the way our society works, right? An iconic legend dies, unexpectedly, and the crush of anything and everything related to them simply swamps our collective culture. It happened with Elvis Presley. It happened with John Lennon. It happened with Princess Diana. It happened with Michael Jackson.

And, it happened with Dale Earnhardt.
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In the days following his death, Earnhardt’s image was plastered on the covers of Time, People and Sports Illustrated, along with every tabloid and newspaper across the nation. It was the top news story for several days and ESPN ranked it the #1 sports event of the last 25 years.

But, lost in all the hoopla of a violent crash and death stands the real story of Dale Earnhardt. He was beyond an aggressive and fearsome competitor. Earnhardt was an entrepreneur; living the American dream the HARD WAY. He was a 9th grade dropout, who revolutionized the marketing strategies of NASCAR. He sold himself on t-shirts, toy cars and caps. Throw in jackets, posters and coffee mugs, too.

Dale Earnhardt embraced the “Man In Black” image.

Yet, he was also a privately generous dude. Many accounts of his charitable vices have circulated since his death. Those stories would’nt dare be leaked during his life. Dale Earnhardt owned a racing organization valued at more than $100 million. His endorsements and merchandising efforts also raked in hundreds of millions.

But, he lived his life simply. Cowboy boots, a pickup truck, horses and cows on a farm. That was him. Yeah, he had his jets and fancy boats. Everyone has splurging pleasures, I suppose.

That ESPN movie was not a fair or vivid view of Dale Earnhardt. Unfortunately, it’s probably the only account the public will ever see.

Josh Gibson

We’ve seen The Natural and A League Of Their Own, why not make a movie based on the life of the “Black Babe Ruth”?

That’s how many baseball historians remember the life and career of Josh Gibson. Like many phenomenal black ballplayers, Josh Gibson was forbidden from playing in the big leagues, because of the color of his skin. His exclusion will be Major League Baseball’s loss, forever.
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While there are few documents certifying Gibson’s statistics, many witnesses watched him and several accounts were written, at the time. Major League Baseball has officially cited his lifetime homerun total at “near 800″, along with a .359 batting average. Undocumented references have him hitting the only fair ball out of Yankee Stadium.

What more could Hollywood want?

I would like to see a serious, credible movie based on the authentic history of the Negro Leagues. Of course, there would be a degree of sadness and dismay, especially at reenactments of racially provoked hatred and discrimination. But, it’s a history that should be told.

I hope to see the life of Josh Gibson and heritage of the Negro Leagues on the big screen someday.

Ric Flair

Yes, I know Mickey Rourke starred in a movie loosely based on a wrestling character, a couple years ago. But, I’m talking about a REAL LIFE story from cradle to wherever he ends up when the movie’s script is written.

Can you think of a more interesting life of choreographed hype than Ric Flair? For the record, the story would begin by following the childhood of Richard Morgan Fliehr, in a suburban Minnesota community.
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Ric Flair’s life really does envelope the career and character of the prototypical professional wrestler, albeit from a more successful side. Unlike many others, he didn’t die young or end up crippled before his 50th birthday. Flair is no longer wrestling, but he stays in character and has made quite a living marketing his “Nature Boy” image.

He counts several celebrities among his close friends, and he’s managed to engage millions of people while flip-flopping from HEEL to BABYFACE more times than a chameleon. With the extravagant, glittery robes, white-blond hair and his trademark “woooooo”, Flair is recognized wherever he goes.
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And, that’s what really separates him from other senior citizen-aged performers who usually just blend into the fabric of their resulted economy.

Forget the feuds with Hulk Hogan, Sting and Nick Bockwinkel. In fact, everything in the squared circle is well known, at this point.

I would be more interested in seeing the real life of Flair, beyond the ring. Failed marriages, absentee parenting, blown finances, regained finances, renewed relationships. I would imagine it’s a high-charged version of VH1′s “Behind The Music.”

No doubt, it would be interesting.

Well, that’s my ideas. I will be certain to run them past Mark Ciardi, this afternoon. Have a GREAT Thursday …..

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