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ESPN 30 For 30: “Four Days in October” – Been There, Won That

Red Sox 2004 ALCS celebration (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

“Four Days in October” is Gary Waksman’s contribution to ESPN’s “30 For 30″ short-documentary film series. The movie isolates Games 3 through 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Using a combination of player interviews, archival MLB footage, home video by players and a conversation between ESPN columnist Bill Simmons and Boston comedian Lenny Clarke, the movie retells how the Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to come back from an 0-3 deficit and win a seven-game series.

The problem with “Four Days in October” is that it’s been told before. We all saw David Ortiz’s game-winning hits, Mark Bellhorn’s three-run home run, Alex Rodriguez’s slap, and Johnny Damon’s grand slam. Bill Simmons said in the movie that “at some point it became like a life experience.” This is absolutely true. The problem the movie suffers from is that when you have a “life experience,” you never forget it. Every Red Sox fan knows this story. Each person knows where he or she was, who he or she was with, and how he or she reacted. And while it’s nice to have a little reminder that this event happened, it’s not like anyone’s close to forgetting it. Fifty years from now, after a few generations come and go, maybe someone will make a nice little nostalgia-piece about the four games that may have permanently changed the Red Sox organization and its fans. But this film aired not even six years after the 2004 ALCS. Who’s watching this film that doesn’t already know all about this?

Additionally, there is very little new footage or information to be gained by this film. Most of the game highlights are the same ones used in either the MLB Films 2004 World Series or NESN 2004 Season DVDs. And while some of the interviews are new (Pedro Martinez and Bronson Arroyo), most of them rehash the same information given in those aforementioned DVDs as well. We already know that Dave Roberts was able to time his steal because Mariano Rivera threw over to first enough times for Roberts to discern a pickoff from a pitch. Learning that Martinez never expected to pitch in Game 7 was interesting, but it doesn’t do anything to change how we feel about him.

The only new element in this dip into well-charted waters is the inclusion of some never-before-seen home video footage. Some of it makes Kevin Millar seem like someone who truly believed that the Red Sox could still win the series, despite being down 0-3. Before Game 4, his mantra was the same for everyone from players to fans to Dan Shaughnessy: “Don’t let us win today.” It’s charming, and it recasts Millar not as a goofball (or a drunk, depending on what you believe) but as a true believer. But the rest of the footage is just of the team celebrating victories. It’s nice that they look so joyous, but c’mon: they just won a baseball game. Did you expect them to look sad?

It would seem that Waksman is willing to trade creativity and analysis for nostalgia. This is most evident in the conversations between Simmons and Clarke. Each conversation can be thus summarized: “Hey, remember when that thing happened?” “Yeah! That was great!” “Yeah!” Both the DVDs about these games include commentary from the many strong baseball writers in the Boston media scene. These interviews help contextualize the victories. Simmons and Clarke don’t do this at all. Waksman’s choice to use these two as “analysts” speaks to his desire to avoid making any kind of point about this series. It happened. It was fun. That’s all that needs to be said.

There is one moment of juxtaposition that stood out in the film. Before the final game of the series, both Spike Lee (huge New York sports fan, mostly the Knicks, but also the Yankees) and Stephen King (huge Red Sox fan) are interviewed. In two separate interviews, both of them say “I’m nervous.” As a Red Sox fan, King had every right to be. History, after all, was not on his side. But Lee nervous? Since when do Yankees fans get nervous? What’s infuriated Red Sox fans about Yankees fans for so long has been their unshakable confidence (or arrogance), their knowledge that they will always win. The image of Lee shrinking into himself and admitting his unease as King admits his excitement suggests the shifts that might be quickly occurring in these two fan bases. After 2004, Red Sox fans began to show that extreme confidence so common in Yankee Stadium. Yankees fans, meanwhile, still boast, but it’s always been more measured, tempered by their team’s epic 2004 failure.

If you’re going to make a documentary, make a point about your subject matter. Don’t just rehash a story that has not only already been told, but has been told better. There may be new stories to tease out of the 2004 ALCS. Every Red Sox fan has a story about where he or she watched these games. Why not make a film about that? I watched both of Ortiz’s game-winning hits in my parents’ darkened living room. Both times that Ortiz worked his magic I jumped to my feet, then immediately clamped down to make sure my shouting didn’t wake my parents. It didn’t work. But that’s an interesting story. There might be many more such stories out there.

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Discussion

One comment for “ESPN 30 For 30: “Four Days in October” – Been There, Won That”

  1. i understand what you’re getting at, but i can’t agree. first of all, i don’t think you can have a series of sports documentaries like 30-for-30 without making one based on this series. that being said, i don’t know how else waksman could have made this. as you said, we’ve all heard this story a hundred times. if it’s been done before, there really isn’t much else to talk about considering this story.

    personally, i think waksman’s work on this was perfect, because he set out to make a nostalgic piece about the biggest comeback in sports history. he never claimed to have an analysis, or new development on it, rather a profile. and as for creativity, i think the millar angle and the home video stuff captures it, as well as framing simmons and lenny clarke perfectly – as 2 fans reminiscing about the game the same way we still do.

    but i hear what you’re saying and i understand if you’re not satisfied with it

    Posted by Colin Neagle | October 6, 2010, 9:25 am

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