After Al's latest would-be star player (Michael Rapaport) suffers a humiliating and very public bout of stage fright at Yankee Stadium, Al is fired from the Major Leagues and for some reason sent to Mexico. There, Al encounters Steve Nebraska -- who might act like he has an IQ of about 6, but he sure can play baseball!
Al tries to find out more about Steve's past, but Steve "doesn't like to be asked questions." Nevertheless, Al guarantees Steve that he can make him a New York Yankee, and convinces him that he'll earn millions of dollars. Steve agrees to fly back to New York, live with Al, and do everything Al says (show off his baseball-playing skills for the other scouts, talk to the press, etc.) to embrace his role as the "greatest baseball player in the world."
Sure enough, Steve turns out to be worth millions, and is snapped up by the Yankees -- with a couple of conditions. One: he'll make his pitching debut with the Yankees at the World Series only if they happen to actually make it to the World Series (otherwise, he'll have to wait until the following year). Two: Al must provide a signed letter from a psychiatrist or psychologist ensuring that Steve is mentally stable enough to play professional baseball -- and won't run away or "throw up" like Al's last discovery.
At this point, it's already clear that Steve has his fair share of issues (hinted at during the flight to New York when he loudly and "obliviously" -- and badly -- sings along to "Do You Know the Way to San José"; and made all the more evident from his angry reaction to one too many photographers snapping his picture at a press conference). Still, Al finds the number of a psychiatrist named "H. Aaron" in the phone book (H. Aaron -- just like Hank Aaron!) and decides that it must be a sign.
Dr. H. Aaron turns out to be a woman (played by Dianne Wiest); but Al doesn't care -- he just wants to get that letter and get out of there! She agrees to see Al and Steve that day. Unfortunately for Al's sake, after Dr. Aaron talks with Steve and shows him a few drawings, Steve's responses concern her (he can't even identify a drawing of a father and son fishing as father and son! gasp!) and she determines that Steve is "disconnected." She initially refuses to write the letter vouching for Steve's sanity; however, they manage to work out a deal: Al will bring Steve to visit her every day, and, in turn, she'll provide the requested letter.
Eventually, Steve starts to make progress during his (offscreen) visits to Dr. Aaron -- who later reveals to Al that Steve had an abusive father (so Al had better watch out, because Steve already sees him as a father figure and might one day snap and try to kill him!).
But as the World Series approaches -- and it's determined that the Yankees will, in fact, play in it; and Steve will, in fact, pitch -- Steve continues to act alternately like a 5-year-old, a ticking time bomb with anger issues, and a generally socially awkward individual (he even "steals" Tony Bennett's final number one night at a Tony Bennett concert that Steve and Al randomly go to with some of their pals! Apparently, Steve loves the Great American Songbook?) It's quite evident that Steve Nebraska is... not ready to play professional baseball. Dr. Aaron is VERY concerned, and tries to warn Al -- to no avail.
The night of Steve's pitching debut arrives, and he manages to make it out onto the field (after much nervous stalling). But then, who should Steve encounter? None other than Tony Bennett, who happens to be singing the National Anthem. On his way to the microphone, Tony stops to sneer at Steve, "Are you going to steal this one, too?" (Ha!) This proves to be the final straw for poor, pressured Steve -- and (never mind that the World Series is about to start) he leaves the field to "get some fresh air"... on the roof of the stadium.
After Al spots Steve up on the roof, he makes his way up there himself. A dramatic confrontation ensues: Al yells that he doesn't care what's going on in Steve's head; Steve threatens to throw Al off the roof; Al yells "Go ahead!" -- then Al suddenly changes his tune and says that Steve doesn't have to pitch, after all, and it doesn't matter because Al is just a failure. Steve is all, "No, Al! You're like a dad to me!" Al, in turn, assures Steve that he's not mad at him, and that he'll still be his friend; later, they can even do laundry together (Steve loves to do laundry). Somehow, all of this convinces Steve to change his mind and he rides down to the field in a helicopter to play ball, ending the movie on a happy note (after Steve makes an annoying "Tarzan" yell out on the field -- maybe this role helped Fraser land 'George of the Jungle' a few years later?).
Yes, in many ways 'The Scout' is as silly as it sounds. It also takes awhile to pick up; I like Michael Rapaport well enough as an actor, but he seems a bit miscast in this film (as Al's original discovery), so the early scenes with his character didn't do much for me. (In fact, I didn't become fully invested in the movie until after Al and Steve flew back to New York.)
However, Brooks, Wiest, and Fraser are all good in their respective roles (even if "Steve Nebraska" irritates in some of his goofier scenes, Fraser more or less manages to pull off the "emotional" ones; and the climactic scene between Fraser and Brooks is surprisingly effective. Fraser is certainly more believable as a "crazy" guy here than in the dreadful 'The Passion of Darkly Noon', which came along a year after this movie.)
Is 'The Scout' a great baseball film? (Or even realistic?) Probably not -- but what I know about baseball couldn't even fill a thimble, so I'm not really sure.
I'm not even really sure if 'The Scout' is intended to be a comedy or a drama, or what; regardless, despite the slow beginning and handful of scenes that made me roll my eyes pretty hard, the movie definitely has a strange sort of appeal and is worth a watch if you haven't yet seen it. (6/10)