The memory may be more than half a century old, but the emotion it conjures remains strong. Wandering into a Greenville, S.C., liquor store, a young Alex Sanders had the meeting of a lifetime with its famous proprietor: retired baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson. Then again, perhaps it was in the nearby Bolt Drug Store that the introduction really took place. It’s hard to remember the details after all these years, admits Sanders, who served as president of the College from 1992 to 2001 and remains a professor of political science. Memories, you see, have a tough time forming in the minds of starstruck little boys who have the good fortune to meet a World Series champ.
Two years ago, Sanders published a story about that meeting during the annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. It’s one of five essays that Sanders has written for the event (other compositions include “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule” and “How Baseball United America After the Civil War”). But Sanders’ story about meeting Jackson, which also elaborates on Sanders’ childhood memories of two other famous baseball players from South Carolina, has gone on to a second act. This past year, his story was turned into a half-hour documentary by three College of Charleston staff members: videographer Tim Fennell, multimedia artist Dave Brown and audio-visual expert Brooks Quinn.
In November, Cards Against a Wall: Memories of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Van Lingle Mungo and Bobo Newsom aired on South Carolina Educational Television, and this spring it’s slated to show at several film festivals. The documentary’s title is a reference to a card trick Sanders witnessed when meeting Jackson, and the film explores the legacies of these three great, colorful, old-time ballplayers from different regions of South Carolina.
“This, to me, was Field of Dreams meets Forrest Gump,” says Fennell, who directed and co-produced the film. “It’s baseball history, but every time the film takes a turn, the ballplayers influence Alex Sanders or others from that time period.”
Cards Against a Wall blends archival footage with reenactments shot in black and white with a vintage Leica Super 8 camera that the filmmakers happened to find on a shelf, collecting dust. The transition between new and old footage is so seamless, and the re-creations so compelling, that many viewers don’t realize that much of the footage in the film is actually new. That’s thanks in part to the use of digital filters Brown created to “age” the new footage, as well as rented costumes that included the baseball uniforms used in the Hollywood movie Eight Men Out (which, coincidentally, is about the scandal-tainted 1919 Chicago White Sox team of which Jackson was a member).
Beyond enumerating the men’s athletic accomplishments, Cards Against a Wall explores the ballplayers’ lives beyond the baseball diamond, including Jackson’s post-career interaction with fellow slugging great Ty Cobb, Newsom’s eccentricities and Mungo’s career as a movie theater operator. Most of all, it showcases that these ballplayers cannot simply be summed up by box scores and that their influence goes far beyond the bleachers, even shaping the childhood of a little boy who was once bold enough to sneak into a liquor store.
A College Affair
Cards Against a Wall features the talents of many members of the CofC community, including Heather Brewer ’11, who with Tim Fennell adapted Alex Sanders’ short story into a screenplay; professors Frank Cossa, Jon Hale and Evan Parry, who acted in the film; theatre professor Janine McCabe ’98 and costume shop manager Michael Wiernicki ’06, who served as wardrobe consultants; and Rick Zender, the curator of the John Rivers Communication Museum, who loaned historic props.