Replay Review: Mr. 3000

LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 8: Actor Bernie Mac (L) and former MLB Hall of Famer Willie Mays at the premiere of Touchstone Pictures' "Mr. 3000" at the El Capitan Theatre on September 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 8: Actor Bernie Mac (L) and former MLB Hall of Famer Willie Mays at the premiere of Touchstone Pictures' "Mr. 3000" at the El Capitan Theatre on September 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

In the hands of a less capable, charismatic, funny star, Mr. 3000 would be just another in a long line of forgettable sports comedies.

The plot is overly familiar, concerning itself with a self-centered superstar—played by Bernie Mac with charisma and aplomb to spare—who’s long lost his love of the game. At the beginning of Mr. 3000, which shot locally and made use of Miller Park, Stan Ross is on the verge of making baseball history, finding himself just one base knock away from racking up hit number 3000. In a prologue of sorts, Stan soon shows his true colors as he collects that milestone and promptly retires from the game, leaving his pennant-chasing Milwaukee Brewers team in the lurch. With hit 3000, Stan doesn’t care; all he cares about is that he now has his ticket to Cooperstown in his possession.

Nine years later, Stan still finds himself on the outside looking in as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. Sportswriters have consistently voted against his enshrinement, despite his credentials. Long divorced from baseball, Stan finds himself enjoying his retirement owning and operating a bar under the moniker Mr. 3000. Stan still seems to be haunted by his lack of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and what he perceives as a lack of respect from former teammates and fans despite his superior skill and many accomplishments. His only friend is an ex-teammate, Boca, who tends bar for Stan and joins in on Stan’s get-rich-quick schemes.

The former superstar is further humbled when Major League officials discover an anomaly amongst Stan’s stats: three of his 3000 hits no longer count because of a clerical error. Now three hits shy of that magical number, the universally disliked Stan will almost certainly never get into the Hall of Fame.

Determined to cling to his identity (and profitable marketing gimmick) as Mr. 3000, and his once-lofty status, Stan decides to launch a baseball comeback. With the Brewers floundering in fifth place, an opportunistic Brewers executive (played by Chris Noth of Sex and the City fame), believing the publicity will help boost ticket sales, agrees to let Stan get into playing shape and rejoin the team for September call-ups.

Stan’s comeback plan isn’t without its bumps, as he struggles with the newer methods of training and soon runs into an ex-flame who is now covering his story for ESPN (played by film star Angela Bassett). Having parted on bad terms, things are now icy between Stan and his ex, Mo, for whom he still has feelings. The two attempt to rekindle a relationship that quickly goes sour, as the attention gets to Stan’s head and he reverts to previous bad behavior.

The true catalyst for Stan’s growth isn’t a romantic relationship, however important it is to his character. What really spurs Stan to grow as a person over the course of the film is a young player on the team. T-Rex Pennebaker is another Stan Ross, a preternaturally gifted baseball superstar who is floundering on a do-nothing, go-nowhere team. Worse yet, Pennebaker’s already given up and is playing only for himself, going so far as to give a fiery post-game interview in which he starts to insult and trash his teammates before Stan jumps in and interrupts him to steal the spotlight.

Afterward, Stan follows Pennebaker to the team parking lot and, frustrated and angered, Pennebaker, lashes out. For the first time in the film, Stan truly seems humbled, offering his life story to Pennebaker as an example of a cautionary tale. If the young superstar carries on as he is, Stan tells him, he will end up just like Stan did. With a guy named “Big Horse” speaking on his behalf in front of an indifferent crowd. When Pennebaker responds, “Who?” Stan tells him, “Exactly.”

Stan’s intervention having had the desired effect, Pennebaker assumes a leadership role with his teammates, and the Brewers soon find themselves contending for third place in the division and heading into a lengthy road trip. Stan finds himself watching from the sidelines, yanked out of the lineup so that he’ll get his 3000th hit at home in front of the Brewers fans. The team soon returns to Milwaukee, where Stan has a chance to reclaim history and hopefully ensure himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.

However, when the penultimate moment comes, Stan chooses not to swing away but to sacrifice. Stan unselfishly gives up his last chance for his 3000th hit to ensure a Brewers walk-off victory and a third-place finish. While his victorious teammates celebrate behind him, at home plate, Stan walks away from the mob and takes in the sight of the cheering fans—finally cheering for him after years of mutual contempt—and feels, perhaps for the first time, that they really do appreciate him. Stan, who had spent his entire lengthy career desperate to force those around him into respecting him by being the best in the game, finally wins their respect and love by failing. It seems that he finally understands what his journey meant, now, just as we’ve come to.

As stated before, in less capable hands this movie would probably be either a completely chaotic mess or irredeemable predictable slop. Stan Ross is clearly meant to be an “antihero” in the Barry Bonds mold. There are so many ways this film could have gone completely off the rails with a different actor in the role. With Bernie Mac at the helm, it’s still somewhat predictable but ultimately a likable sports comedy, with just enough heart to set it apart from some other similar films of the era.

I am 100% convinced that Mac is the only person who could play the bombastic baseball star Stan Ross; the comedic star knows when to lay on the charm, when to layer in the comedy, and when to take the foot off the throttle. At the film’s climax, in its penultimate moment, Mac peels back the layers of “Mr. 3000,” leaving us with the true Stan Ross: a man who has come to love the game again. Yes, Bernie Mac’s comedic skills are sharp as ever—several moments in the film are genuinely thigh-slappingly laugh-out-loud funny—but it’s this brief, poignant moment near the end of the film where Mac really shines as Stan and we truly come to understand the man as well as the baseball player.

It’s also moments like this that remind us of what we lost when the film’s star passed away unexpectedly, over a decade ago. One can only begin to dream of the kind of roles Bernie Mac could have added to what was an already fantastic, successful career. Perhaps, in the end, it’s impossible to separate the man from the myth; they’re as entangled as Stan Ross and his famous moniker are.