Admit it. Despite the common threads of good friend Tony La Russa and actor Billy Bob Thornton being around the St. Louis Cardinals for years, you’ve never once thought of the Arkansas-born thespian as a dead ringer for dour pitching coach extraordinaire Dave Duncan.
Yet that is what moviegoers will be asked to accept if new plans reported by venerable entertainment publication Variety come to pass.
The long-discussed, but never-scheduled cinematic adaptation of Buss Bissinger’s book, “Three Nights in August,” has received a fresh shot in the arm. The 2005 book took readers inside the maneuverings of La Russa and his circle during a crucial 2003 three-game series between the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.
The recent success of the baseball-themed film “Moneyball” has apparently helped open up financing for “Three Nights.” A newly-announced strategic relationship between Red Bird Cinema and Jeff Waxman, actor Edward Burns and Aaron Lubin of Marlboro Road Gang Productions has given the project greater definition.
Bissinger had earlier penned the screenplay and David Anspaugh has been selected as the director of a fictionalized version of the book that could begin filming as soon as this fall, Red Bird Cinema’s John Loar told Variety.
Red Bird was founded in 2007 by actor Kevin Pollak, businessman Loar and La Russa with Thornton later joining them as a partner. The company has owned the rights to the book for several years, having first announced the film project in 2009.
Burns isn’t just putting money into the project, but seems prepared to invest blood, sweat and tears, as well. Each production partner is apparently lined up to fill one lead role in the film.
Marlboro Road Gang’s Burns will be playing then-Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny while Red Bird’s Thornton, the one-time manager of “The Bad News Bears,” is slated to assume the identity of the Duncan character.
While one might be able to visualize Thornton as a stand-in for Duncan physically, it seems a stretch to think the on-leave pitching coach could have landed Angelina Jolie in real life. Then again, how did Billy Bob himself once pull that off?
One might get the impression that Thornton doesn’t think his new role will present much of a challenge. I was present at the January 2011 Baseball Writers’ Dinner in St. Louis when Thornton took a direct shot at Duncan. During a La Russa roast, Thornton asked the audience for 10 seconds of silence in honor of both coaches’ personalities.
Of course, remember that the film will be a fictionalized version of a friendly description of the real happenings, so there is plenty of room to take license. In other words, any relation to actual events may be purely coincidental.
Who knows where that could lead? Perhaps in the Hollywood version, J.D. Drew will be a tough guy and Kerry Robinson a superstar, with the two leading the club to the Chicago series win and later, the pennant.
And maybe if Burns is really good in his role, he should get a shot at making up the 2012 Cardinals lineup card on behalf of Matheny in the latter’s new job. As most know, the ex-catcher has since replaced La Russa on the top step of the Cardinals dugout.
With everything seeming to come together nicely, there may be just one major loose end in this long-awaited project. At this point, the actor to step into the formidable cinematic shoes of the future Hall of Fame manager has not been named, at least publicly.
Let’s give them a hand. You’re now in charge of casting. Who would be the perfect man to play La Russa in the film?