Jon Hamm ditches Don Draper to play a real-life sports agent, J.B Bernstein, with a big heart in the Disney movie Million Dollar Arm. Yes, tissues may be required.

Jon Hamm takes on a much different role than the dapper Don Draper in Disney’s newest feel-good sports movie, Million Dollar Arm. Based on the true story of sports agent J.B. Bernstein, and his quest to find the next great pitching arm in India, the film is likely to be a family classic in the same vein as The Rookie, Invincible and Rudy.

Down on his luck, the smooth-talking and fast-thinking Bernstein came up with the wild idea to find the next “million dollar arm” across the pond in a nation where cricket — a sport akin to, but very different from baseball — is the national pastime. In 2008, Bernstein concocted a reality show, aptly titled Million Dollar Arm, where more than 37,000 hopeful Indian athletes auditioned to become the next big thing in Major League Baseball.

Bernstein suspected that just like there was natural baseball talent in the states, he could also find this athletic talent in the eastern part of the world. “There had to be ‘natural ability guys,’ just like there would be here in United States,” Bernstein stated. “It wouldn’t change Roger Clemens’ natural ability. He would just be doing something else because there’s no baseball.”

MILLION DOLLAR ARMThe winner of Bernstein’s show, Rinku Singh, and runner-up, Dinesh Patel (played by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal in the film), two javelin throwers who proved themselves the fastest and most accurate athletes, won the honour of the chance of a lifetime: signing on to play major league baseball in the US. Bernstein planned to represent and bring the young athletes to Los Angeles and have them try out for over 20 major league teams.

However, though they impressed audiences and judges on the reality show, when Bernstein flew them out to California, the boys — who had never played baseball before in their lives — flubbed their very first try out. Patel and Singh were unable to produce the same level of skill and accuracy they had displayed during the reality show, much to Bernstein’s dismay. This turn of events seemed to put a downer on Bernstein’s plan to find the next big baseball stars.

To add to the pressure, Bernstein was left responsible for these youths who were totally unaccustomed to American life, with no family or friends around. Their failed tryout allowed Bernstein to take some time to revamp his game plan and during this time he got the opportunity to spend time with and get to know the young men more intimately.

“He realizes that he’s impacting their lives, not always positively. So he makes the decision to become a force for positive change in their lives, and becomes much more of a father figure to the boys than I think he ever intended,” Hamm explained. “It’s just a very interesting story for me, especially as someone who gets to play maybe not the most wholesome person [as Don Draper] on the planet, six months out of the year.

MILLION DOLLAR ARMNot one to give up hope and always finding a new solution to his problems, Bernstein soon sought out professional assistance. He hired University of Southern California trainer Tom House (played by Bill Paxton in the film), who helped the boys train and teach them to pitch properly before they went off to their next tryouts.

Eight months after training the guys, along with House’s help and Bernstein’s encouragement, Singh and Patel were given a second chance at the major league and this time they proved themselves to be the natural talents Bernstein knew they had deep inside. They were signed to the Pittsburg Pirates and became the first Indians to ever sign a contract with Major League Baseball.

Singh finished in 2012 from Class A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League when he pitched a career-high of 39 games, but struggled with injuries throughout 2013. This year, he was invited back for the spring training with the Pirates.

Patel finished in 2010 and is now back in India where he spent some time teaching baseball to children in Delhi before helping the boys of his home village prepare for the second season of the Million Dollar Arm reality show. He also went back to complete his schooling and is now devoting his time more seriously to javelin throwing.

Both players and Bernstein himself were invited back as consultants for the making of Million Dollar Arm and got the chance to relive their glory days.


Million Dollar Arm hits theatres on May 16 and stars Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin and Lake Bell.





—Sarah Khan

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