10) Bad News Bears – No, not the Billy Bob Thornton remake, although that did have some funny moments. This is the original starring Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, the drunken leader of little men. The 70s was when suburban little leagues were growing, and Bad News Bears tapped into the dynamic of a man with little or no sports credentials (although Buttermaker had a history of minor league experience) coaching up a team of misfit kids in a pre-teen baseball league that is perhaps a little too competitive. This was also Tatum O’Neal’s follow up role to her Academy Award, and she steals the show as a mouthy girl with a big arm.
9) *61 – Often overlooked, and simply because it was an HBO film rather than a theatrical release, *61 is a baseball movie that revolves around a specific moment in history. The story centers on the homerun race between beloved charmer and known boozer Mickey Mantle, played by Thomas Jane, and quiet family man Roger Maris, played by Barry Pepper. Directed by Billy Crystal, *61 does not shy away from the harsh truths surrounding Mantle’s life, and he creates some genuine drama. Another thing *61 does is remind you how big 61 homeruns were a big deal before steroids took over.
8) The Sandlot – This is my childhood favorite, and The Sandlot captures the aura of baseball and the camaraderie of the team when you are a youth more than any other film. Telling the story of the new kid in town in the sixties and how, through the friendship of a group of kids in the neighborhood, he came of age and came to love baseball, The Sandlot is one long nostalgic trip through the time in America when Apple pie sat on the windowsill and baseball was on the television. And what is so refreshing about The Sandlot is that it is told through the eyes of a collection of innocent youths that enhance the fantasy elements of the story.
7) Major League – Although there are elements that are borrowed directly from Bull Durham, Major League is perhaps the best straight baseball comedy. The collection of late eighties stars is impressive, from Tom Berenger to Corbin Bernsen to Charlie Sheen to Wesley Snipes. And what better city to show a misfit bunch of baseball players than Cleveland, where the Indians have never won much of anything despite being one of the oldest, most recognizable baseball franchises. Major League is simply a fun movie to watch this time of year, and everyone in the story seems to fit. And Charlie Sheen’s entrance near the end of the game, as Rick Vaughn, to the Wild Thing song, is fairly iconic as far as baseball moves are concerned.
6) Bull Durham – It seemed only fitting to list the movie Major League borrowed from directly above it on the list. Finally, we see Kevin Costner make an appearance here. Costner plays minor screen legend Crash Davis, an aging catcher trapped in the minors for the duration of his career on the hapless Durham Bulls, and having to wrangle a team groupie (Susan Sarandon) and a hotshot young pitcher (Tim Robbins) who thinks he has made it in this world. Bull Durham is all about the superstitions (when you make it in the show, then you can have fungus on your shower shoes) and the life of a minor leaguer: Traveling in buses, playing in front of five hundred people, hanging out in dive bars. Bull Durham is a textured baseball movie, a living breathing sports flick that gets sidetracked at times by a love story, but that is a minor quibble.
5) Pride of the Yankees – This 1943 picture is still one of the most touching baseball movies out there, and like *61 deals with a specific slice of time in baseball history. Gary Cooper embodies Lou Gehrig, one of the most mythical of all Yankee legends; a man who played in over 2000 consecutive games before succumbing to a nerve disease that would forever bear his name. Pride of the Yankees tells the life story of Gehrig from a little boy until his forever famous “luckiest man” speech. It is one of the first baseball stories, and the baseball scenes still feel authentic. Cooper’s was nominated for playing Gehrig, and his uncanny likeness of Lou is worth seeing.
4) A League of Their Own – This one often goes overlooked simply because of the gender difference between A League of Their Own and most baseball pictures, but it is one of the finest baseball stories ever made. Again telling a specific slice of baseball history, League revolves around World War II, and the attempt to keep baseball going by having women play the sport. The women who make up the nucleus of the story – The Rockford Peaches – Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty, all have excellent chemistry, and the supporting actresses all circle the leads with their own memorable moments. And then, well, there is Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan, an alcoholic former superstar demoted to coaching women. Hanks is hysterical at times, touching at others, but all in all a perfect fit to the story.
3) Eight Men Out – Chronicling a darker time in the early days of baseball, Eight Men Out focuses on the scandal involving eight members of the Chicago White Sox who took money to fix games. One of the most important aspects of a baseball picture is how the cast is assembled, and Eight Men Out has perhaps the best collection of teammates to tell this story of corruption. In the scandal there were definitely members of the ChiSox who took the money, but there were also perhaps a couple of members of the eight who were wrongly accused, one of those being “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (played by D.B. Sweeney), a folk hero to the youngest ChiSox fan base. Eight Men Out captures the look, the feel, and the aura of 20s baseball with perfection.
2) Field of Dreams – “If you build it, he will come.” Seven of the most famous words in cinema. Field of Dreams is a fantasy story for men, for the child living inside men all across the country. Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who hears voices in his corn field one day, voices that lead him to build a professional-sized baseball field in the middle of his crops, despite his better judgment. The field brings about the ghosts of former players, namely the eight men kicked out for taking money led by “Shoeless Joe (this time around played by Ray Liotta). But what is so great about Field of Dreams is not what it begins as, rather what it becomes. It ties the mystique and the common American thread of baseball in with American families, fathers and sons, and becomes one of the only movies around that can bring any grown man to tears at any given time.
1) The Natural – This baseball fantasy is, and will forever be, the most exhilarating baseball story ever made. Told through a series of archetypal characters and moments, the film stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, a budding superstar pitcher who is gunned down after a run in with a mysterious woman on a train, only to emerge some fifteen years later as an aging phenom, a man so gifted that he becomes an instant legend. Everyone surely knows the story of The Natural, so I won’t go into details. The Natural is a pure baseball fantasy, told with real elements to create an amazing narrative and an unforgettable experience. Only so much can be said about The Natural, it must only be absorbed for what it is, a mystical story about the forever lost spirit of the game, and what it once did for this country.