By some wonderful cosmic coincidence, Augie Garrido, the winningest baseball coach in Division 1 NCAA history, happens to manage the University Of Texas Longhorns in Austin, the hometown team of director Richard Linklater. Linklater prizes eccentrics and philosophers with a Zen-like perspective on the world around them, and Garrido could easily be a character in movies like Slacker or Waking Life, waxing poetic about his unique approach to the game. Produced to air on ESPN—the DVD comes with “censored” and “uncensored” audio options, due to Garrido’s occasional profane meltdowns—Linklater’s Inning By Inning takes the form of traditional sports-TV hagiography. But much like its subject, the film is less interested in wins and losses than how the game is played. Garrido does have a competitive streak—he hasn’t notched more than 1,600 wins and five national championships for nothing—but his attention goes wholly to the minutiae that makes winning possible.
Case in point: Garrido doesn’t go off on his players very often—one alumnus estimates that he screamed at them maybe six times in four years—but his most explosive dressing-down in Inning By Inning comes after his team notches a dramatic 5-4 come-from-behind victory. His colorful rants would make Earl Weaver blush, but they’re only a small part of his psychological arsenal; between his obsession with fundamental mechanics and his mastery at head games, Garrido gets the most out of every individual while leading them to coalesce as a team. Ideally, he wants baseball to be the unalloyed pleasure it was when the players were boys, and that’s only possible when they play the right way.
Collecting an impressive wealth of testimonials from players and coaches, Linklater interweaves candid behind-the-scenes footage of a season while recounting Garrido’s life and achievements. Rebelling against a father who expected him to work at a shipyard, Garrido was determined to coach at a very early age, and he got his first job at Cal State Fullerton, a program he lifted from obscurity to one of the nation’s elite teams. Expectations were higher at UT, which combines a winning tradition with extremely impatient fans, but he was able to shed his anxieties and develop the sort of intimate, detail-oriented relationships with blue-chip UT recruits as he did with the overlooked scrappers he assembled at Fullerton.
Among the many insights Garrido puts forth, one that stands out is his belief that baseball is about coming to terms with failure. He notes that in major-league baseball, only a handful of batters hit above .300 on the season, leaving the majority to stumble constantly with their pop-ups, whiffs, and botched sacrifices. For Garrido, baseball is about coming to terms with failure without letting it become overwhelming, keeping fear and uncertainty from battering the fragile barrier of confidence. It’s the ultimate cliché to draw parallels between the game of baseball and the game of life, but Inning By Inning gleans insights that extend well beyond the diamond.
Key features: The 60-minute “Extra Innings With Augie” offers more of the abundance of Garrido interview footage, and the 95-minute A Game Of Adversity chronicles the entire ’06 season.