When the cast is removed from his severely broken arm, clumsy 12-year old Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is shocked to find his arm has become a 100 mile per-hour thunderbolt. His throw from the bleachers directly to home plate alerts the last place Chicago Cubs and before you can shout "play ball!" he is signed as their new ace pitcher. With a few pointers from an aging star pitcher (Gary Busey) young Henry actually manages to pull of the impossible.
Baseball movies seem like a sure thing, combining the drama of the game with positive values. So it's too bad this pleasant film takes the field in the most superficial way. Henry, the worst player in Little League, suffers an injury that miraculously heals as the strongest pitching arm in the world. His life becomes a kid's dream with a career in the Majors, but nothing really happens. His strength cannot hide his lack of skill, yet audiences love him, probably to support subplots such as the team being rescued from bankruptcy and Mom's boyfriend turning bad. Small attempts are made to create character, relationships, and themes. Gary Busey, as a burnt-out pitcher named Rocket, finds a family. Henry learns the importance of being a kid, not to mention a surprisingly cynical lesson about stardom, when Rocket says, "One day your gift will be gone." Mom learns Henry always respected her and Henry learns to rely on himself when his "power" disappears in the climactic game. Sadly, a fine cast including Dan Hedaya, John Candy, and '40s comedian Eddie Bracken is given nothing to work with. Worse yet, director Daniel Stern plays Phil, who suffered a head injury that left him an insult to comedy fans as well as the mentally challenged. Kids who love baseball films where kids are the heroes and the comedy is dumb will enjoy sitting through Rookie of the Year, but I wouldn't expect them to pull it off the shelf too often. --Lloyd Chesley