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Skip Griparis, the Best Color Man in the League

Skip Griparis, the Best Color Man in the League

| On 21, Jan 2014

In 1988, Skip Griparis auditioned for a baseball movie in his hometown of Chicago. The movie, a comedy about a terrible baseball team that suddenly got its act together, would film in Milwaukee.

Griparis, a comedian and musician, brought his glove and a bat to try out for a minor role as a baseball player – “they said be ready to show us you know how to play baseball,” he recalled – but he ended up auditioning for another role. They gave him a script with a scene, which had one line:

“You can’t say f— on the air!”

The movie, of course, was “Major League,” which was released 25 years ago, and the line was changed to “you can’t say goddamn on the air!” Griparis ended up getting cast as Monte the Color man, a small but entertaining role. And while the role in “Major League” and “Major League II” remain Griparis’ only screen credits, he looks back on the roles fondly.

Griparis spent about three days in June filming at Milwaukee County Stadium, which stood in for Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, while the Brewers were on a road trip. He was paired with Bob Uecker, who played play-by-play man Harry Doyle, the comedian in a movie full of them. Uecker, after a five-year career as a major league catcher, returned to his hometown of Milwaukee to become the voice of the Brewers, a job he still holds.

Griparis said Uecker, who as a beer pitchman, sitcom star and talk show guest had acquired a reputation as an entertaining raconteur, probably ad-libbed about a quarter of his lines.

“He was just a joy to work with,” Griparis said of Uecker. “He was always great, friendly and funny.”

Because they spent most of their time in a broadcast booth – and shot their scenes quickly – Griparis said he didn’t interact with a lot of the other actors. However, he did chat at some length with Tom Berenger, who played Indians catcher Jake Taylor in the movie. He said Berenger was very concerned about the movie, since it was only David Ward’s second movie as a director. Ward, who grew up in Cleveland, wrote the script as a tribute to his favorite baseball team. He’d made his name as a writer,  with an Oscar for best screenplay for “The Sting.”

When the movie premiered, reviews were uneven. Sports Illustrated said that it was “too bush for the bigs,” but reviewer Steve Wulf said Griparis was one of the great jokes of the movie as “a radio color man who never talks.”

However, the movie turned out to be extremely successful at the box office, making nearly $50 million, far more than its $11 million budget, and Cleveland fans took the movie to heart, believing that someday, the Indians might actually be good.

It took a while, but they got there, owning the American League Central Division through the 1990s. “The movie was sort of prophetic in a way,” Griparis said.

In 1994, “Major League II” was released. Griparis said the filming of that was a lot less fun. While the first movie was shot in the summer, this one was shot in November, with temperatures barely above freezing at Camden Yards in Baltimore, which filled in for Jacobs Field. During the scene where Uecker’s wearing a sleeveless undershirt in the broadcast booth, Griparis remembered him actually shivering.

“You could see our breath when we filmed it,” he said. “I don’t know how that didn’t get into the movie.”

The sequel wasn’t as well-received as the original, making $30 million, not much more than its budget of $25 million. Griparis, like many fans, refuses to acknowledge “Major League: Back to the Minors.”

“It doesn’t count,” he said.

Ward has talked about a third “Major League” movie, revisiting some of the players 25 years later, and wrote a script. But it remains a little more than talk right now.

Griparis never made another movie. He’s still in the Chicago area, and performs and tours with his one-man show, a mixture of comedy and music called “Skip Grip and the Oldies Trip.” He’ll see Uecker at Wrigley Field sometimes, and he’s still amazed at the enduring popularity of “Major League” – even the popularity of his character.

“Who knew what was going to happen?”