Mr. Go: A Triumph of the Hominid Spirit

This is a Korean film about a baseball-playing gorilla that is at least twice as insane as you think a film about a baseball-playing gorilla should be. Let’s start with a scouting report for Ling Ling, our hero and titular gorilla:

Age: 45
Origin: A Chinese circus

Hit: 80/80
Ling Ling, aka ‘Mr. Go’, reliably makes contact on balls anywhere in the strike zone as well as on pitches over his head or behind his back. Bat speed and player’s overall size are such that there is no way to pitch around him.

Raw power: 80/80
He makes a baseball explode.

Game power: 80/80
He hits a homerun basically every single time. 3.500 is a conservative slugging pct. estimate.

Field: 20/80
Unplayable in the field, Mr. Go has no concept of how to field a ball nor of the rules which govern defensive play. A pure DH.

Run: 20/80
Though he possesses some raw speed, Mr. Go is also a liability on the basepaths. He is often confused and bewildered in baserunning situations, and is unable to interpret signals from his basecoaches. He can use his size to his advantage and muscle defenders out of the way, but is hopeless when he can be forced out. Needs a pinch-runner.

The film is remarkably faithful to its hypothetical ballplaying gorilla’s skills and limitations as an athlete. His club, the Doosan Bears, ends up employing him strictly as a situational PH (I infer that the KBL does not have the DH) – he’s basically a “one free home run” card that the Bears can play at any point during the game, which obviously has incredible value. At one point, the opposing team decides to hold the ball without pitching until the umpire is forced to call a ball, then repeats this four times to issue a bases-loaded walk, Mr. Go having already demonstrated his ability to hit even pitchouts out of the park. However, this strategy doesn’t seem to catch on league-wide as Mr. Go finds himself facing hittable pitching once again when the playoffs roll around.

The owners of top clubs from Japan are drawn to Korea to watch Mr. Go and are drawn into a bidding war by the somewhat hapless, Scott Boras-like superagent who also plays a central role in the film. At one point, it is implied that the Yomiuri Giants have offered Mr. Go $30m per year with a $60m signing bonus. If we imagine that Mr. Go is worth about 3 offensive runs per game (ie the average value of his nearly one pinch-hit homerun per game), we see that this contract is perhaps a tremendous bargain.

If you have some basic familiarity with the movie, such as its premise and the trailer, what you might not realize is that there’s a second baseball-playing gorilla, this one trained as a pitcher, hailing from the same circus as Ling Ling. Leiting is an ill-tempered mountain gorilla who Wei Wei, Mr. Go’s trainer, deemed untrailable. But his raw talent is undeniable, let’s look at the scouting report:

Lei Ting, aka ‘Zeros’

Stuff: 80/80
Has a 120-mph fastball.

Control: 80/80
Can pound the heart of the strike-zone with laser-like precision.

Movement: –/80
Doesn’t matter, see “stuff”.

Composure: 20/80
Cocky, prone to aggressive outbursts.

At some point, you can start to see the shadings of a future where baseball is played exclusively by gorillas. However, on further consideration, it’s unlikely that such a scenario could come to pass. Until someone is able to teach a gorilla the finer points of defensive and baserunning rules, there will always be a role for human players in professional baseball. Furthermore, how long and how dramatically would a gorilla have to succeed in the KBL or in Japan before a Major League Baseball team would consider signing him? Would MLB owners institute a panicked humans-only rule to prevent such a scenario from arising? Would any of the gorilla players following in Mr. Go’s footsteps be able to break the species barrier?

Now, if you’re clever, you’ve probably already anticipated where the climax of the movie is headed, and you’re right, essentially. But you couldn’t imagine just how it finally goes down and then resolves itself. It’s a film that reaches new heights of absurdity even after featuring a mid-game gorilla helicopter chase on top of the stadium. And all of this is without having even touched on the subplot where Mr. Go’s contract negotiations determine the fate of dozens of orphans about to be sold into child slavery to settle a gambling debt. The pathos is as real as the euphoric, delirious highs. Oh, and this slimy bastard:

mrgo2

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