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While children have figured in many baseball movies over the years, The Kid from Left Field (1953) was the first (according to authors Marshall G. Most and Robert Rudd) to place a child "on the field and at the center of the narrative." In this case, it's a 9-year-old boy who gets promoted from batboy to manager after his tips to the players turn around a last-place team. In fact, the boy (Billy Chapin) is being fed the strategy tips from his father (Dan Dailey), a former major leaguer who has fallen so low that he works as a ballpark peanut vendor. He simply wants to remain around the game he loves, and he swears his son to secrecy about their arrangement. When the tips work well and the team starts winning, the owner (Ray Collins) senses a marketing opportunity and promotes the kid to manager, much to the consternation of the tyrannical previous manager (Richard Egan). Also on hand are Lloyd Bridges as the third baseman and sexy Anne Bancroft, in only her fourth film, as Bridges' love interest.
The picture was marketed as a comedy -- and is often described as one even today -- but surprisingly the label doesn't truly apply. As author Hal Erickson has written, "The picture has the brooding quality of a film noir, with the baseball stadium itself (L.A.'s Wrigley Field) looming over the action like some sort of shadowy, all-encompassing prison. The normally ebullient Dan Dailey's portrayal...is a study in chronic self-loathing, while Richard Egan's characterization of the arrogant and vindictive Billy Lorant makes one worry that little Christy Cooper (Chapin) will be strangled in his sleep before the fade-out." Critics at the time were all over the place in their descriptions of the film, with Variety correctly saying the "yarn is played straight and not for laughs" and The New York Times deeming it a "spoof."
A few real baseball personalities appear in the film. Umpire John "Beans" Reardon plays an umpire who settles a dispute with the diminutive manager in memorable comic fashion. Former Cleveland Indian infielder John Berardino plays Hank Dreiser, and three actual radio announcers of the era play themselves: Mark Scott, Bob Kelly and Larry Thor.
Richard Egan won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer for both this film and The Glory Brigade (1953), which by a fluke opened together as a double feature, at least in some cities. (Hugh O'Brian and Steve Forrest also shared the same Golden Globe award that year.)
Dan Dailey had previously played major league pitcher Dizzy Dean in The Pride of St. Louis (1952), which like The Kid from Left Field was directed by Harmon Jones. And young Billy Chapin later played one of the two kids hunted by Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955).
A 1979 television movie remake starred Gary Coleman as the kid, this time managing the San Diego Padres.
By Jeremy Arnold