Q&A with 'Mad Men' star, Cardinals fan Hamm
Actor will play agent in baseball film 'Million Dollar Arm,' slated for 2014 release
For the past six years, Jon Hamm has become known to the American public as enigmatic advertising executive Don Draper on AMC's hit TV series "Mad Men."
But long before he was a fictional pitch man on television, Hamm hung on every pitch of his beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
The 42-year-old St. Louis native will star in the motion picture "Million Dollar Arm," scheduled to be released in 2014. In the movie, he will play former high-powered agent J.B. Bernstein, who in pursuit of the next big thing, holds an "American Idol"-esque tryout in India to find the nation's hardest thrower. The search nets a pair of kids, Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, who come to America and, after a successful tryout, get signed to Minor League contracts by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
During a recent filming session for "Million Dollar Arm" at Georgia Tech's Russ Chandler Stadium, Hamm took time out to talk with MLB.com. Among the subjects he discussed were what makes Cardinals fans special, what game is most special in his Cardinals memory banks and, if given the choice, which role would be more special to him -- Stan "The Man" Musial or Tony La Russa?
MLB.com: Are you a little disappointed this shooting wasn't scheduled when the Cardinals were in town?
Hamm: Oh, yeah, I really wish they would have. We're going to miss them by like two weeks, which is a real drag.
MLB.com: How much fun has been being a part of the movie "Million Dollar Arm"?
Hamm: It's great. It's nice just to have a job, first of all. That's nice. But I've been a baseball fan my whole life. I've had friends that played at every level. My best friend's dad growing up played professional baseball with the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves, Ted Simmons. So, I've loved baseball my whole life. This movie is ostensibly about baseball, but it's not just about that. It's about the importance of family and relationships and the important things in life rather than just work and money and all that stuff. So it's a good story and it's heartwarming and it's real.
MLB.com: You always hear about St. Louis Cardinals fans. What separates Cardinals fans from everyone else?
Hamm: I just saw a very funny thing on Deadspin. I like reading it. There was a clip from a recent Mets game, the Cardinals won, 2-1, Adam Wainwright pitched very well. There is a tight shot of the pitcher. You could see the Mets fans standing in the background. There's a guy kind of standing with his foot on the back of his seat with a beer in his hands and he tripped and fell over the seat, completely face-planted on the row or two ahead of him. His friends, Mets fans -- it was at Citi Field -- did nothing to help him, but the three Cardinals fans sitting in front of him, immediately turned around and tried to help him up. There's a perfect example of Cardinals fans. We are nice people who really like the game. We appreciate other people rooting and cheering for their team, but we're not going to beat you up in the stadium. The thing about Cardinals fans is most of them grow up rooting for the Cardinals and when you root for something that long and that hard, and we've had success, that's the other thing. It's not like Cubs fans or Red Sox fans -- until very recently -- where this sort of "loveable loser" mentality kind of creeps in. We appreciate excellence and expect it and hope for it and if the chips don't fall our way, there's always next year.
MLB.com: While on the subject of the Mets, in an episode on "Mad Men" last season, there was a conversation about baseball tickets. Was that part of the script or an ad-lib?
Hamm: (Big laugh.) Oh, yeah, I was reading about this online, too. The line is, "I get baseball tickets all the time. I'll take you out. But they're mostly Mets." and I say, "I'm glad you didn't." That was in the script. You know, the Mets were pretty terrible in 1966 or '67. But they were only a couple of years away from winning it all. So, hope springs eternal.
MLB.com: Do you remember the first baseball game you went to?
Hamm: I don't physically remember anything specific about it, but I do remember going to ballgames at Busch Stadium. I compare it to the shot that opens "Bull Durham," when Susan Sarandon's character is talking about the Church of Baseball. When you walk through the tunnels and all of a sudden you see the greenest field you've ever seen in your life, it feels like "The Wizard of Oz," when everything goes to color. Busch Stadium, especially, was a concrete doughnut. Everything's kind of grey and washed out and then you get out on the field and it just pops. That I do remember, seeing that for the first time and thinking, "Oh, my God, this is amazing!" From that point on, it's magical.
MLB.com: What was your favorite game you ever saw?
Hamm: I have two stories, one where I was there and one where I wasn't. The first one was Game 7 of the 1982 World Series that I was at, when we won. (The date was Oct. 20, 1982, and Hamm was 11.) The place was absolute pandemonium and delirium. I never thought I would see a World Series game. I sat through the '70s rooting for the Cardinals when they were terrible. The fact that I got to a World Series and also see them win was spectacular. And then, the next one, that I actually watched, I wasn't able to go because I was shooting "Mad Men" at the time, was Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when the Cardinals came back twice and won it in extra innings. That was spectacular. I've actually gotten to meet David Freese and talk to him. That must have been a pretty good feeling for that kid.
MLB.com: If you got the chance for a future starring movie role, who would be more fun to play: Tony La Russa or Stan Musial? Could you play both?
Hamm: I don't think you could play both. Those are two pretty different attitudes (laughs). I don't know. We lost a great man when we lost Musial this year. I read Bob Costas' eulogy of him. I met him when I was a little kid in St. Louis. Everybody did. He was just always around. I mean everybody has a Stan Musial story if you lived in St. Louis any length of time. He was such a lovely guy and an insanely good baseball player that if you look at his statistics, you can't believe it, and the fact that he took time off to go to war and the fact that he also managed the club, the amount of things the guy did for St. Louis was insane and not just the ballclub, obviously, for the city and the community as well. So that would be the guy that I would prefer to play. But La Russa would be fun, too. He's such a devious smart guy. But I'd rather be on the field than standing and sort of scowling in the dugout. There's good devious, too. He was a smart dude.
MLB.com: Who are your favorite Cardinals position by position?
Hamm: As long as we said outfield is just outfield, rather than left, center and right. Catcher I would say Simmons, a personal connection, although Yadier Molina is giving him a pretty good run. Shortstop, Ozzie Smith. Second base, Tommy Herr, (from ) the '80s. Outfield, I would go Willie McGee ... I have 30 years of fandom, what can I say? Third base, I go Freese because I can't say Kenny Reitz, that's just too old. To be continued.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.