While the New York Yankees played against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater Tuesday, the team's braintrust, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner took in an animated movie during an afternoon matinee.
The film called "Henry & Me" — which is nearly completed and had been six years in the making — serves as an homage to Yankees' history and includes a virtual Who's Who of Bronx Bombers past and present.
It had been so long in production the producers faced a possible conundrum with Alex Rodriguez playing a small but pivotal role in the uplifting film. In it, A-Rod hits a big home run with the help of the movie's protagonist, Jack, who is battling cancer and is given life lessons by current and former pinstripe stars.
The dilemma for the Yankees and producers was whether nor not it was appropriate to portray the injured third baseman in such a positive light given A-Rod's reported PED link in the Biogenesis scandal.
After seeing the rough cut of the project, Hank Steinbrenner, who is the voice of his father George in the movie, gave it a thumbs up.
"I think it doesn’t matter," Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ co-chairperson with his brother, told The New York Post. "The move is about a child with cancer and his love of the Yankees. Everybody else is in it, too, Ruth and Gehrig and everybody else, so it’s really a small part of it.
"The focus really needs to be on what the movie is about. It’s really sad at the beginning and luckily a happy ending. It’s not about whether Alex is in it or not. Maybe it is to the baseball press, but it’s not going to be to anybody else."
The film’s producers, Joseph Avallone and Joe Castellano, and director Barrett Esposito presented the movie along with executive producer Ray Negron, the Yankees adviser who was personally hired as a Yankees batboy when he was a teenager. Negron's Yankees-centric children’s books are the foundation of the story.
"This is my tribute to The Boss and the Steinbrenner family and [team president] Randy Levine for all the things they’ve done for me," said Negron.
The film has a voiceover cast which includes star-studded Yankees fans Richard Gere as Lou Gehrig, Chazz Palminteri as Babe Ruth and Paul Simon as Thurmond Munson.
Yogi Berra, Bob Sheppard, Bernie Williams, CC Sabathia, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman play themselves as toons.
A-Rod himself met with the producers two times to record his lines, once in 2009 — a few months after he confessed to using illegal PEDs — and in 2010 after a great postseason.
On whether or not A-Rod's troubles off the field taint his role in the film, Avallone was practical and philanthropic.
"We could change it," said the producer. "Give me another million, give me another year, we could change it. We don’t have a million. We don’t have a year. And you know what? It’s really bigger than Alex. It’s about giving back. It’s about the children."
The producers plan to donate $2 from each DVD purchase or download to the charities of the film's actors.
The Yankees next animated role for A-Rod might be in Spirited Away but that's after he plays a Centaur in a remake of Beauty and the Beast.