With the World Series over and Major League ballparks silent for the next four months what are baseball fans to do? It’s time to dust off the DVD collection and survive on baseball movies all winter long. What better way to scratch your baseball itch when the temperatures drop?
Hollywood has been telling stories about baseball for as long as movies have been made. They keep churning out baseball movies too with Money Ball receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Picture just last year. You may be surprised that Money Ball isn’t on the list, but that’s because unfortunately I haven’t seen it yet.
A number of baseball movies released over the years are comedies. Abbott and Costello tapped baseball’s comedic potential decades ago with the Who’s on First routine and writers have been finding new ways to make baseball fun ever since. There’s also some pretty good baseball drama’s too that sometimes delve into the more serious side of the game, whether fictional or historical true stories. No matter which genre you prefer there’s a baseball movie for you to fill the void.
Now, on to the list. Picking only 10 baseball movies turned out to be really hard. I had a few baseball movies I saw as a kid that I wanted to include, but they were bumped out by movies that I felt I had to include. Agree or disagree let me know in the comments section. Sound off about you No. 1, or let me know if you think a different movie deserves to be placed in the Top 10. Here we go…
The Rookie is the true story of Jim Davis, who went from family man, coaching high school baseball to striking out Major League hitters with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. When he made his MLB debut, Jim Morris was 35-years-old. After an injury forced him to give up on his baseball dream when he was young Davis returned to the game late in life after making good on a bet he made with the High School team he coaches. Kind of like a real-life telling of the Roy Hobbs story. If you don’t know who Roy Hobbs is you’ll be introduced to him later.
If The Sandlot was released in 1993 that means I was 11 or 12 years old when I first saw it. That seems like the perfect age to first experience this coming of age baseball tale. The story is told from the perspective of Scotty Smalls the new kid in town who finds acceptance and friends through baseball at the local field, or sandlot. It’s somewhat cliché, but worth watching and watching again if you grew up with it and haven’t seen it in a while.
The Sandlot is also Roberto Alomar’s favorite baseball movie. Here’s what Robbie had to say on Twitter when I asked him his favorite baseball movie. “The Sandlot. It reminds me of when I played baseball with the neighborhood kids.”
In 1919 baseball was rocked by one of the biggest scandals in the sport’s history when the Chicago White Sox purposely threw the World Series. Eight Men Out delves into why and how eight players on the White Sox were found to have gone along with the plot, which caused them to be banned from the game for life. The eight players included Shoeless Joe Jackson, who despite being one of the best players in his era, still remains locked out of the Hall of Fame. Say it ain’t so Joe.
A League of Their Own tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was created in the 40′s, when the men were at war in Europe and the Pacific.
The movie is a fictionalized account, but it’s real enough, with most of the on-field and off-field stories likely taken from actual events in some way. Geena Davis stars as Dottie Henson, the league’s best player. Also staring as players are Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna, but Tom Hanks really steals the show as drunken manager Jimmy Dugan. Remember, there’s no crying in baseball.
61* is a HBO film directed by Billy Crystal that tells the story of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris during the 1961 baseball season, the season Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.
I’ll admit I love this movie even though I’m in no way a Yankees fan. Thomas Jane plays Mickey Mantle, the drunken, womanizing, immensely talented superstar very well, and Barry Pepper is equally as good in the role of Roger Maris. The beauty of 61* is that is depicts a time when baseball was the most popular sport in America and what that meant in New York where the press is always on your back, especially if you were Roger Maris.
The little things from the era are also major highlights for baseball fanatics. The monuments at Yankees Stadium on the field, the money that the players DIDN’T make (Maris had to room with other players to afford to live in New York) and what Old Yankee Stadium used to look like. The movie was actually filmed at old Tiger Stadium because it looked more like 1960′s Yankees Stadium than the House That Ruth Built did in 2001.
In Bull Durham lifelong minor leaguer Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) is sent all the down to A ball to mentor the team’s new pitching prospect, Ebby LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins). Sounds simple enough, except when you throw baseball groupie Annie (played by Susan Sarandon) into the mix. Not for the kids, but baseball fans will thoroughly enjoy this raucous comedy that isn’t just about baseball on the field.
Here’s what former Major Leaguer and current commentator Doug Glanville had to say on Twitter about Bull Durham, his favorite baseball movies. “Bull Durham. Hands Down. Captures the true spiritual rapture of baseball possibility like no other movie. And it does it walking so close to reality. I played in the Carolina League and we had all of those characters.” Follow Doug on Twitter at @dougglanville
I’m referring to the original Bad News Bears from the 70′s starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. I’ve never seen the recent remake and really have no interest in seeing it either. Oh, and avoid the sequels, they’re really bad. Really, really, really bad.
Matthau stars as Morris Buttermaker who agrees to coach a team young of boys that is comprised of the league’s worst players. Naturally they’re awful, thus the name, Bad News Bears. Buttermaker recruits a young girl Amanda Whurlizer (O’Neal) who he taught to pitch when she was younger. And boy, can she pitch. He also persuades the “best athlete in the area” and local troublemaker Kelly Leak to join the team. Thanks to their new ringers the Bears start winning games and eventually face the hated Yankees in the championship game. If you wanna know what happens next see the movie.
“If you build it he will come.” Field of Dreams is about more than just baseball, but if case you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it for you. If baseball is more than game to you or if your connection to the game runs deeper than just a game to you, you’ll find something special about Field of Dream.
Kevin Costner makes his second appearance in the list, as does James Earl Jones, in another memorable role. Jones is also in The Sandlot by the way. Field of Dreams also stars Ray Liotta in memorable turn as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Burt Lancaster as my favorite character in the movie, Moonlight Graham. “Wanna have a catch?”
Major League is a great 1980′s comedy. If you grew up in the 80′s you’ll know what that means.
In Major League the owner of the Cleveland Indians dies, leaving the team to his much younger gold-digger wife, Rachel Phelps. The Indians are awful, but she concocts a plan to make them into the worst team in baseball so she can move them Miami. To do this she assembles a rag-tag bunch of misfits and never-weres played by Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes and Tom Berenger among others.. You can probably guess what happens, but it’s the journey not the destination that make the movie worth watching. That, and the always hilarious Bob Uecker calling the game from the booth.
“Juuussst a bit outside.”
Based on the classic novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural is my favorite baseball movie. If you’re a huge fan of the novel you may not like the changes the film makes, but since I saw the movie before reading the book I actually found the book to be somewhat of a downer. The book has a different ending than the movie.
The Natural is about Roy Hobbs, a teenage phenom who has the stuff to be the greatest ball player of all-time. Imagine if you combined Stephen Strasburg, Josh Hamilton and Bryce Harper into one player.
Hobbs make one big mistake on his journey to the Majors and it costs him dearly and nearly costs him his chance at playing in the big leagues. As his new manager puts its, he returns to the game and begins his Major League career “when most players are thinking about retirement.” He’s not too old to also become the “best player he’s ever coached and the best hitter he ever saw.”
I would have loved to have seen a baseball game in the 20′s or the 30′s and I think in someways with the atmosphere, the people and the music, The Natural may be the closest I’ll get.
If you want to learn the history of baseball then Ken Burns Baseball is a must-see. It doesn’t really fit the mold of the other films in the list, so I’ve tacked it on as an honorable mention.
Originally released in 1994 and separated into nine parts totaling 18.5 hours, Baseball tells the story of the sport from it’s still argued about creation through to the 1990s. It touches on specific events with great depth such as the rise of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, the advent of free agency and even some things that seem like they would be trivial, like the addition of lights for night-time baseball.
Baseball, the game itself may be the same on the field, but the way it’s covered, written about, watched and even talked about has change dramatically over the last 100 years. You’ll see what I mean if you can get through all 18.5 hours.
Actually it’s more than 18.5 hours now. In 2010 Burns released a tenth part to his epic documentary entitled the Tenth Inning. This extra part covered the previous 15 years starting in 1994 with a look at the players strike that canceled the World Series. Also highlighted in the Tenth Inning is the Steroid Era, Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record and the rise of the Yankees “Evil Empire.” The Tenth Inning is worth checking out just for the great interviews with Pedro Martinez alone.
A few other memorable baseball movies, for good and bad reasons:
For the Love of the Game
Little Big League
Pride of the Yankees
Bang the Drum Slowly
Angels in the Outfield
Rookie of the Year