It's hard to believe, but the immediate reception to The Sandlot in 1993 was somewhat chilly. In fact, you could say many critics and audiences at the time felt it was a bit of a L7 weenie. Yet, in the years that would pass it became a multi-generational family movie classic that will probably be loved for-ev-er. Yahoo Entertainment sat down with the boys of summer as well as their director, David Mickey Evans, to talk about some things even the movie's biggest fans might not have known.
1. James Earl Jones's character isn't based on a real-life ballplayer
James Earl Jones played a brief but memorable role as Mr. Mertle, a blind and retired Negro League ballplayer. At one moment toward the end, Tom Guiry (Smalls) looks at a photo of Mertle alongside two real New York Yankee legends, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. This has led many to ask if James Earl Jones' character is based on a real person. The answer is no. Mertle's history was created after Jones was cast.
"Mr. Mertle was not written with any specific ethnicity or anything like that," said director David Mickey Evans. "We didn't know who to cast and [assistant director Bill Elvin] said, 'Why don't we get James Earl Jones?' And I said, 'Yeah, fat chance, we're never going to get James Earl Jones."
A shameful part of baseball and the United States' history, of course, was segregation. Given that The Sandlot is set in 1962, that meant they had to tweak the Mertle character so as to not sweep history aside. "An African-American, in reality, would never have been playing with Babe Ruth in those particular years," Evans added. "We did a quick polish [on the script] and the rest is history."
2. Sandlot co-writer Robert Gunter came up with the line "You're killing me, Smalls."
Evans was quick to credit his writing partner, Robert Gunter, with a line so popular that people sometimes don't even realize what movie it came from. "I fell out of my chair while we were writing it and I said, 'Man that is hysterical.'
While Patrick Renna (Ham) nailed the line reading in the scenes shown in the movie, Evans said he needed coaching on getting the proper inflection. Even when that was settled, it still required nine takes to get a usable version because of the "goofballs busting up" every time he said it.
The cast of 'The Sandlot' as they appeared in 1993. L-R: Patrick Renna (Ham), Victor DiMattia (Timmy), Shane Obedzinski (Repeat), Mike Vitar (Benny), Tom Guiry (Smalls), Chauncey Leopardi (Squints), Marty York (Yeah-Yeah), Grant Gelt (Bertram), Brandon Quintin Adams (Kenny), and James Earl Jones (Mr. Mertle). (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp/courtesy Everett Collection)
3. Many of the actors wound up switching parts
It may be hard to believe, but the young actors did a bit of shuffling of parts before the movie started filming.
"I originally read for Yeah-Yeah," Chauncey Leopardi (Squints) told Yahoo. "We got pretty deep into casting. And David wanted me to read Squints...[I] was kind of upset about it because I wanted to be Yeah-Yeah...It worked out in my 11-year-old favor that summer when I got to jump in the pool [and kiss Marley Shelton]."
"I originally read for Bertram," Marty York (Yeah-Yeah) chimed in.
"And I read for Smalls," Grant Gelt (Bertram) added.
"We knew we wanted these individual personalities," noted Evans. "You put them all up in a room and line them up and you go, 'Oh wait a minute.' It becomes pretty obvious pretty quick [who should play who]."
4. Five different dogs played Hercules, aka The Beast
The Sandlot was filmed over the course of 42 hot summer days in Utah, and the weather was no kinder to the dogs who played Hercules than it was to the cast. "They would run six yards and collapse in the heat," Evans said.
If you think that the boys might have had a great time playing with these dogs, you'd be wrong. "We were prohibited from really going near The Beast because it was a distraction for the dog," added Victor DiMattia (Timmy Timmons).
"We couldn't go near the Beast or Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton)," joked Renna.
That's right, just like the actors were told to stay away from the dogs, they were told to leave Shelton alone.
"I remember Dave saying, 'Look, I'm bringing a girl into the room,' reminisced York. "'Don't get crazy, I know how you guys are. Don't talk to her.'"
"We were at lunch the day she came on set for the first time," added DiMattia. "You got us all together in a group and said, 'Listen don't mess with her. Don't pull any pranks. Don't even talk to her.'"
"She sat down and we all gathered around her and said, 'Which one of us do you like the best?'" York said, wrapping up what seemed to be the most vivid memory for all the actors. "She was like, 'You guys are 12 — I don't like any of you!"
5. The Sandlot got involved in a legal battle
In the '90s, Michael Polydoros, a childhood friend of Evans, sued the makers of The Sandlot, claiming that "Squints" Palledorous was an exploitation of his likeness. The lawsuit would be tossed out of court.
"I won the lawsuit and made California state law — none of these kids that were in this movie were any boy I knew, but all the kids in this movie were every boy I knew," said Evans, paraphrasing Mark Twain's foreward to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
"It was unfortunate," Evans continued. "But it was what it was. Welcome to Hollywood — the Duffer brothers are getting sued right now."
"I was offended I wasn't sued," joked Renna.