America's pastime has been so thoroughly documented by Ken Burns that filmmakers are left with little option but to get hyper-specific.
Like the similarly named Knuckleball!, Jonathan Hock's Fastball zeroes in on just one pitch — this one needing no introduction. With the sabermetrics era having made players, coaches, analysts, and fans ever more stats-obsessed, there's no shortage of data for the filmmakers to sift through. Noted superfan Kevin Costner serves as narrator, with a panel of experts delving into the pitch's history and theory from the early twentieth century onward.
You don't have to be a baseball fanatic or for that matter a historian or a physicist to appreciate "Fastball," a fittingly zippy tribute to the art of the pitch, narrated by Kevin Costner, setting out to finally determine whose throw was truly the fastest.
“Fastball,” a fascinating and downright lovable documentary feature by Jonathan Hock, starts with an eternal question. No, not whether Batman or Superman would win in a fight—this week’s failed blockbuster should put that one to rest—but who in the history of major league baseball has thrown the fastest fastball. To provide an answer (and yes, a definitive answer is provided) the film starts with a group of charmingly garrulous hall-of-famers, including Johnny Bench, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn and Joe Morgan; adds individual interviews with fellow luminaries like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter, and with such legendary pitchers as Goose Gossage (“I loved being a power pitcher—if I could change one thing in my whole career I wouldn’t change a single thing”) and the singular, inexplicable, near-indestructible Nolan Ryan.
Back in 2012, baseball fans were treated to “Knuckleball!,” a documentary about that fickle pitch and the athletes who throw it. Now comes the polar opposite, from a batter’s point of view: “Fastball,” an enjoyable examination of baseball’s most basic pitch.
Jonathan Hock's doc features an all-star lineup of hall-of-famers waxing nostalgic and poetic about their time on the diamond.
A baseball documentary for old-timers and young analytics acolytes alike, “Fastball” sets out, as its nominal goal, to deduce who threw history’s all-time fastest pitch. That intention, however, is merely the pretext for an alternately mythologizing and scientific inquiry into the art of pitching — a seemingly simple act that, over the course of baseball’s century-plus lifespan, has taken on legendary status. That’s especially true of those blessed with velocity at which to marvel — not always easy an easy task, at least for those ensconced in the batter’s box. With an all-star lineup of hall-of-famers waxing nostalgic and poetic about their time on the diamond, writer-director Jonathan Hock’s documentary has a thrilling pop that should help it strike a competitive chord with anyone even remotely enchanted by our national pastime.
Baseball documentary written and directed by Jonathan Hock. Narrated by Kevin Costner. Opens March 25 at the Carlton. STC
Batters can’t always see a fastball, but they sure can hear it: “It sounds like trouble,” says ex-Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
He’s one of many baseball stars who weigh in on Fastball, a doc by ESPN director Jonathan Hock that really clocks the most storied pitch of the game. With Kevin Costner narrating, Hock illuminates and entertains as he sketches portraits of the greats, from original fireballer Walter Johnson to the indomitable Nolan Ryan.
Combining rare archival footage with contemporary interviews, Hock chases both the legend and science of the fastball, something that couldn’t even be precisely measured until the radar gun arrived in the 1970s.
We learn why there’s a world of difference between a 92 mph ball and a 100 mph one, and why physicists dispute batters’ claim of a “rise” over the plate.
Don’t listen to them, record hitter Hank Aaron says: “I don’t believe they ever played baseball.”
For decades, baseball has been one of the most popular games in American history. Filled with unpredictability, the sport has been one of the ringleaders among the world of athletics that’s provided a whirlwind of magical moments, as well as magical athletes. Timing, precision, and the art of psychology are all intertwined among a game that’s also driven by God-given talent. And when I say talent, most (if not all) would think batters or runners before thinking in and/or out fielders. However, although respected to the core of its necessity, sometimes the souls who stand on that mound and hold down the fort by chucking balls until they run out of steam seem to be a wee bit underappreciated. Not to a full degree, but you don’t really hear and/or see much regarding the mind-boggling pressure behind making sure the person at the plate does not (by any means) hit that ball – and making that possible boils down to a little science and a lot of heart.
FASTBALL is a documentary that takes us behind the ball with archival footage of baseball’s greatest moments pertaining to the art of pitching. Sprinkled with some scientific footage and graphics that unlock the secrets within a ball traveling over 100 mph, players, historians, and scientists chat it up while questioning both the impossible and possible among an act only a few have mastered.
Narrated by Kevin Costner and featuring some of the greats like Derek Jeter, Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage, and Hank Aaron (to name a few) it’s geared as a tool to lure in everyone. And as someone (like myself) who’s not really a fan of baseball, I found FASTBALL to be a neutral, educational, and entertaining piece that provides more than physics to conclude a verdict that’ll be debated for years and years. It’s also a glamorous piece of history that unveils the evolution of the sport in terms of style, rules, and its impactful aura that’s tapped beyond American soil. Comparing pitchers of different eras, the battle between bat and ball boils down to a zone only those within the realm of the sport can understand.
Produced by Hollywood heavyweight Thomas Tull, in association with the MLB and Legendary Pictures, FASTBALL is most definitely a documentary that’ll be loved and appreciated by hardcore fans of baseball, but also one that’ll garner respect and recommendation from those who learn to appreciate a sport taken for granted while channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon. Opening on Friday, March 25th in theaters across America (check local listings) and On-Demand thereafter, FASTBALL will leave a cinematic welt upon its contact among movie lovers from all walks of life.
Grade: A / Genre: Documentary / Rated: Unrated / Run Time: 1:27
Narrated by: Kevin Costner
Featuring: Justin Verlander, Andrew Mccutcheon, David Price, Derek Jeter, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, the late Tony Gwynn, and more!
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Baseball, we are told, is as elemental as a guy with a rock throwing it as hard as he can at a guy with a stick, who then endeavors to hit it as hard as he can. Thus, the contest begins when the ball is pitched, and as Jonathan Hock’s entertaining documentary Fastball makes abundantly clear: Speed matters.
Hock has made films for ESPN’s 30 for 30, and Fastball fits into that series’ mostly breezy documentary mold: a round-up of contemporary interviews with baseball old-timers, archival footage and a micro-focus that proves surprisingly interesting even to non-fans. Some pitching legends are revisited, like Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax, but also little-known Steve Dalkowski, who missed the major leagues despite a super-fast pitch.
Hank Aaron, Goose Gossage, Nolan Ryan and others relate plenty of anecdotes about being on either side of a fastball. Bob Gibson attributes some of his heat to the anger he suppressed constantly confronting racism, while other players recall the trepidation at the plate when batting against a hard thrower: “I could get hit in the head and die.” The players make some stabs at the science: Ballplayers are superstitious, so it’s no surprise that their theories defy known properties of physics. Pitched balls, in fact, do not “rise up” near the batter, or “disappear.”
Hock brings in some real science guys from Carnegie Mellon, and they break down the “magic” of the fastball — from how the ball behaves in the air to the significant difference between balls traveling at 92 mph and 100 mph. They also get inside the batter’s brain, and explain how it is virtually impossible to hit a fastball.
Also fascinating, in a sport obsessed with statistics and records, is the history of trying to measure fastballs. Measuring fastballs began as early as 1912, with pitcher Walter Johnson, and over the years involved instruments ranging from a speeding motorcycle to today’s standard infrared beam. No spoilers, but the scientists break out the math books and, across history, re-crunch the numbers to make a claim for the fastest recorded pitch. Whooosh.
Just in time for MLB's opening-day festivities (April 4 for the Tribe), a documentary about baseball's most mythologized pitch — Fastball — opens Friday for a limited engagement at the Cedar Lee.
It's a movie which celebrates some of the sport's biggest arms —Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage, Bob Gibson, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel — all while trying to answer the popular question: Who threw the fastest pitch ever? Fastball is a must-see for baseball lovers and sports physiology nerds alike.
The film is foremost a history, a catalog of baseball's most dominant starters and relievers: the stories of their scoutings, the particulars of their mechanics and personas on the mound, the garish agglomerations of records. With narration from Kevin Costner and interviews with current and former MLB greats (George Brett, Derek Jeter and Justin Verlander, to name a few), the film summarizes and adds to the legend of the fastball.
A magnificent and rarified legend indeed: Unlike in track, we're told, where high schoolers now routinely eclipse record speeds set by Jesse Owens and sprinters from bygone eras, in baseball the speed of the fastball has remained roughly constant from generation to generation. The human body has not yet disclosed a superior method for hurling a baseball at a point 60 feet and 6 inches away.
For some, it's been a tough pitch to master. Perhaps the film's most interesting character is Steve Dalkowski, considered by many to be the hardest throwing pitcher who ever lived. On- and off-field control problems and a devastating injury meant Dalkowski never got a chance to make it to the Big Show, but his potential was extraordinary. He is interviewed in Fastball as an older man, and he's a tragic figure — ravaged by both alcohol and crushed dreams.
More than anything, the movie builds excitement about baseball, increasingly the forgotten runt in the litter of America's major big-money sports. Fastball is not unlike a well-executed ESPN 30 for 30 doc in that way, crisply made and (sure to be) emotionally received. It's got ample slo-mo, bounteous clips from historic pitching outings, including newly remastered footage from Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965, and constant references to the transcendent, almost primal, nature of the sport.
"It's a man with a stick versus a man with a rock," Costner intones early on. The content of the interviews themselves and the skillful editing builds incredible drama around the pitcher/batter relationship.
Scientists have their say too. Both physicists and neurologists from Carnegie-Mellon offer their two-cents about the limits of physical and neurological performance, vis-a-vis the at-bat. The average synaptic connection takes two milliseconds, for instance, so the extra 396 milliseconds that a batter has to react to a 92-mph fastball (vs. a 100-mph fastball) is crucial. Another recurring talking head helpfully compares the various methods that have been used to measure pitch speed through the years.
It is, finally, a small-scale, laser-focused piece of sports cinema. And it will no doubt appeal to a small-scale, laser-focused audience segment (baseball fans or children of baseball fans) that ought to be interested in the movie on the eve of another MLB season in an era of spectacular pitching. Indians' ace Corey Kluber, sadly, makes no appearance.
They say baseball is a game of inches, but it’s also measured in milliseconds — the 450 it takes for a 90-mile-an-hour fastball to cover the distance from pitcher to plate, vs. the 396 for a hundred-miler. For the batter, that’s the difference between barely hittable and didn’t-even-see-it.
Just in time for baseball season — the Jays’ first game is April 3 in Tampa — Jonathan Hock’s gripping documentary drills deep into the lore, legend and science behind the fastball. Perhaps the most startling statistic: in a century that has seen athletes break records in speed, endurance and distance, the fastest pitch hasn’t changed much.
Archival footage mixed with modern interviews, and narrated by (who else?) Kevin Costner, takes viewers from Walter Johnson’s 122 feet-per-second pitches — the first to be scientifically measured, in 1912 — through Bob Feller (in the 1940s he threw pitches opposite a speeding police motorcycle) to Nolan Ryan, whose 27 seasons broke all kinds of records, including speed. The very last professional fastball he threw, at the age of 46, was clocked at 98 mph.
Along the way are interviews with such phenoms as Bob “Hoot” Gibson, whose earned-run-average in 1968 was a record-setting 1.12; Cuba’s Aroldis Chapman, who once registered 105 on the radar gun; and Steve Dalkowski, whose bullet pitches were hampered by a lack of accuracy.
The film also examines the physics and neurology behind the great match-ups. PhD Gregg Franklin tackles the belief among ballplayers that a fastball will actually rise on its way to the plate. Not true, he says; it’s an optical illusion created because the ball’s great speed, plus some lift from backspin, causes it to drop less than our brains expect.
Whether you believe that or not – many players swear by what they perceive, physics be damned – Fastball will change the way you watch the game, without ever diminishing the sport’s mystery and grandeur. 3.5 stars
Fastball opens March 25 at the Carlton in Toronto, and on demand.
Who threw the fastest fastball in baseball history?
With the aid of contemporary science, the exceptionally entertaining documentary “Fastball” makes a pretty good case for a certain throw by a certain legendary Major League Baseball pitcher early in his career.
‘Fastball,’ a documentary narrated by Kevin Costner. Written and directed by Jonathan Hock. 87 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.
But it’s the cherry atop this treat of a film, which brings together a large army of great MLB players — young and old, pitchers and hitters — to talk about the impact of the fastball on the game, and to share stories about hurling or swinging at “rocks” that sometimes exceed 100 mph.
Narrated by Kevin Costner, “Fastball” includes engaging, sometimes illuminating interviews with retired or active pitchers, including Richard “Goose” Gossage, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Aroldis Chapman, all of whom talk about employing intimidation strategies that unsettle batters beyond the force and speed of their fastballs.
Batters including Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter tell us what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such treatment, to hear the hum of the ball as it whips by, within inches of one’s head.
Filmmaker Jonathan Hock goes beyond anecdotes to the larger role of the fastball in baseball, the way the game changed when the pursuit of velocities exceeding a batter’s reaction time became a Holy Grail.
Past masters of the form — including Walter Johnson, Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax — are rich subjects, and the limited technologies used in decades past to measure their pitching speeds (one Feller throw surpassed a speeding motorcycle cop) prove fascinating.
Hock handles that perennial sports question — what is the athletic limit of a human? — with interesting sidebars about the brain and physics. Such mysteries mingle with irresistible lore in this satisfying work.
On August 20, 1946 — almost 70 years ago — Bob Feller threw what was being called in the papers
Posted 25th Mar in News
The most respected and feared pitch in baseball is definitely the fastball. Every major league pitch
Posted 25th Mar in News
The new documentary Fastball explores the classic showdown between pitcher and batter. NPR's Robert
Posted 24th Mar in News
“FASTBALL” TO PREMIERE IN PITTSBURGH Film Stars CMU Scientists and Hall of Famers By Shilo Rea /
Posted 24th Mar in News
Bryce Harper smiled and waved his hand across his face dismissively.“I think scientists are crazy
Posted 23rd Mar in News
What’s it like facing some of the hardest heat in the game? Let Derek Jeter take you into an at-ba
Posted 23rd Mar in News
Although we all enjoy watching home runs soar behind 500 feet, there’s nothing like hearing the cl
Posted 22nd Feb in News
Watch this trailer for FASTBALL, a documentary narrated by the man who’s been in multiple baseball films, Kevin Costner. FASTBALL will be available nationwide with Tugg.com on March 24 and in select theaters and on demand March 25.
Posted 18th Feb in News
On Thursday, March 24, people in more than 50 Major and Minor League markets will be on deck for one-night-only fan screenings of “Fastball.” This timeless documentary will enthrall baseball fans young and old and is now available via Tugg Inc., the web-based platform that allows fans, teams and organizations to bring movies to their own local theater for screenings. Fans should head to the official Fastball TUGG website to request their own show and check back often as additional screenings are added.
Posted 18th Feb in News
On Thursday, March 24, people in more than 50 Major and Minor League markets will be on deck for one-night-only fan screenings of “Fastball.” This timeless documentary will enthrall baseball fans young and old and is now available via Tugg Inc., the web-based platform that allows fans, teams and organizations to bring movies to their own local theater for screenings. Fans should head to the official Fastball Tugg website to request their own show and check back often as additional screenings are added.
Posted 18th Feb in News
"A few pitchers in the majors have thrived without a real fastball – junk men like Eddie Lopat and Mike Cuellar, superior control artists like Bobby Shantz and Randy Jones, knuckleballers like Hoyt Wilhelm and Charlie Hough – but almost everyone else has had to hump up and throw at least an occasional no-nonsense hard one, which crosses the plate at eighty-fie miles per hour or better, and thus causes the batter to – well, to think a little." - Roger Angell, "On the Ball," The New Yorker, 1976
Posted 23rd Apr in News
Fastball, a baseball documentary three years in the making, debuted Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. Produced by Thomas Tull and directed in association with Major League Baseball by Jonathan Hock (director of an impressive slate of award-winning 30-for-30 films on everything from the NC State Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA tournament run to forgotten football player Marcus Dupree,) Fastball celebrates baseball’s signature pitch and aims to definitively answer the age-old debate: who threw the fastest fastball of all-time?
Posted 22nd Apr in News
Following a post by New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey in The Players' Tribune, Derek Jeter's venture, is a preview for the documentary "Fastball," a movie that aims to celebrate baseball's seminal pitch, getting into the physics, history and lore of it. The photography looks amazing, and the science sounds astounding. The movie also provocatively purports to discuss who threw the fastest fastball ever — possibly a reference to Steve Dalkowski.
Posted 20th Apr in News
The most compelling aspect of the documentary film 'Fastball' might be its science. Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson and Justin Verlander talk anecdotally about whether a fastball can rise, and scientists try to explain the phenomenon, Ken Rosenthal says in his MLB notebook.
Posted 20th Apr in News
Fastball: Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Aroldis Chapman, Steve Dalkowski, Derek Jeter. A cast of at least 20 Hall of Famers and more discuss how the magic of baseball boils down to the 396 milliseconds it takes a 100 mph fastball to reach home plate. Director: Jonathan Hock (1:27). At Tribeca Film Festival.
Posted 18th Apr in News
Washington Senators fireballer Walter "The Big Train" Johnson struck out 3,509 batters in a 21-year Major League career that spanned from 1907-27. He summed up his prowess on the pitchers' mound succinctly: "You can't hit what you can't see."
Posted 18th Apr in News
It may take a director days, weeks, even months to figure out the perfect title for a film. However, this time it was rather easy...
Posted 16th Apr in News
Baseball has fascinated us as a game obsessed with speed, statistics, and of course, a bit of myth and magic. The fastball has become part of that obsession as an element of human performance that both eludes and captivates players and fans alike.
Posted 16th Apr in News