Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased history in 1961 during the New York Yankees’ championship season. Forty years later, director and executive producer Billy Crystal immortalized that season in his epic HBO film 61*.
Crystal has made history again – donating several artifacts from the film to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on the 49th anniversary of Roger Maris’ record-setting 61 home run season in 1961, as the Hall of Fame paid tribute to the HBO film.
Crystal, a longtime baseball fan who appeared in a Spring Training game with the Yankees in 2008, was joined in Cooperstown by actor Thomas Jane, who portrayed Mickey Mantle in the film; Ross Greenburg, President of HBO Sports and Executive Producer of 61*; Hank Steinberg, the writer of 61*; and Emmy-Award winning broadcaster Bob Costas.
“To be invited to be a part of the Hall of Fame – for this high school player with one day in the sun – to represent our team, a group of incredible people who made the film, is truly an honor,” said Crystal, an award-winning actor who has injected baseball references into several of his other films. “I thought I was going to get here as a player. But to get here as a director is the greatest thrill of my performing career.”
Crystal donated the film’s bound shooting script from June 2000, along with story boards, a Yankees jersey with the No. 61 on the back and a certificate presented to him for his Best Picture nomination. Other artifacts in the Museum’s 61* exhibit include: A Yankees jersey with reverse lettering and numbering worn by actor Anthony Michael Hall (a right-hander who was portraying Yankees’ left-handed pitcher Whitey Ford); a Yankees jersey and batting helmet worn by actor Thomas Jane; and newspapers, baseball cards and press credentials used in the film that were copied from 1961 originals.
The 61* exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame will be on display throughout the next year and helped open the fifth-annual Baseball Film Festival at the Museum. 61* was nominated in 2002 for a Directors Guild Award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement” for Crystal’s work on 61*. The film received a total of 12 Primetime Emmy® Awards nominations and was recognized with two Primetime Emmys®.
“It’s a big honor for an actor to be involved in something like this today,” said Jane, whose portrayal of Mantle drew rave reviews for his spot-on dialogue and mannerisms. “It is the best film experience I’ve ever had.”