Plot: Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a strong desire to become a star baseball player, but his skills simply don’t measure up. He does his best and tries to compete, but he ends up striking out whenever the chance to shine arrives. This isn’t just on the diamond either, as when one of his schoolmates throws him a pop-up, he slips, falls, breaks his arm, and to top it all off, he drops the ball in front of the girl he has a crush on. So if his dreams were crushed before, this broken bone seems to have cinched it, since he has to miss so much practice and game time. As time passes however, he keeps his chin up and when the time comes to remove his cast, a new world of chances is presented to him. You see, his tendons healed a little too tight and as a result, his arm can throw a baseball faster than the eyes could trace it. He discovers this new talent at a Cubs game and once the coaches saw the throw, Henry was quickly offered a contract to become the newest member of the team. But even though he has the physical talents to succeed, can he train his mind to follow or will his dream once again be trounced?
Entertainment Value: The 90s blessed us with a wealth of family friendly, sports oriented comedies and while most hinged on the usual ragtag underdogs coming together as a real team, Rookie of the Year took the genre in a little different direction and that is much appreciated. The concept is fun, as a kid finds himself in the big leagues thanks to a freak accident after a freak accident, with all the usual family comedy threads woven into the mix. This includes the cool mom, the evil step-parent, the tales of splendor around a deceased parent, bullies, and of course, some nice, neat moral lessons at the end. Who wants to make millions as a professional athlete when school is such a cool place, right? The tone is light and comedic, with some drama sprinkled in about Henry and his friends, as well as Henry’s lackluster step-father, who wants to exploit his newfound talents. As with most family friendly comedies, the humor is broad and the material is tame, but we do have the infamous “funky buttlovin'” incident, so at least the movie shines a little brighter than some. I think the silliness works and the forced sentiment is minor enough to not dampen the experience, so Rookie of the Year is a fun watch that has all you could want from a 90s family comedy.
If for no other reason, it is worth seeking out Rookie of the Year just to see Gary Busey as a weathered baseball veteran. He has a smaller, supporting role here, but he is fun to watch and has some of the more memorable moments. His awkward flirtations with Henry’s mother are a highlight, as well as his general crankiness until he reveals that precious heart of gold. Daniel Stern directed Rookie of the Year and gave himself a small, comic relief style role that is pure slapstick. He is over the top to say the least, veering between humorous and painfully unfunny, leaning on pratfalls, physical gags, and silly facial expressions. Thomas Ian Nicholas has the lead of course and he does well, despite an ear shredding voice at times. His performance enthusiastic and wide eyed, just as Henry should be and he handles the comedic elements with skill, even keeping pace with his more experienced costars in most scenes. I think Nicholas was one of the more capable, reliable child stars of the 90s, as he brought good energy to even less than ideal roles. The cast here also includes Amy Morton, Albert Hall, Dan Hedaya, Bruce Altman, and Eddie Bracken.