Top Ten Baseball Movies
I was very happy to see my Alice in Wonderland review get as many hits as it did (even had one commenter!). I hope it was something you all enjoyed reading, even if it was rather short. I plan on updating this blog quite regularly, so hopefully I can keep you all somewhat interested.
With Major League Baseball starting up this coming week, I thought I would take the opportunity of making a list of my favorite baseball movies. I realize there will be some missing due to not having seen them before (Bang the Drum Slowly) or I just haven’t seen them since I was a kid (the original Walter Matthau version of The Bad News Bears). If you have any other suggestions of one’s I missed/should watch, please let me know.
10. Little Big League (1994)
I fully realize that this is a complete guilty pleasure. It follows the journey of Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards), the 12 year old grandson of the Minnesota Twins’ owner (Jason Robards). Billy is terrible at baseball, yet knows everything about it. When his grandfather passes on, he leaves Billy the Twins franchise. Eventually Billy fires the hot-headed manager (Dennis Farina) and assumes the role as owner/manager. The rest is rather predictable from there. There are plenty of cameos from then current major league stars, including Ken Griffey Junior in a villain type role, which was contrary to his public image. The best part of this movie are the montages set to Dion’s “Runaround Sue.”
9. The Rookie (2002)
Based on a true story of the improbable story of 39 year old Jimmy Morris (Dennis Quaid) from high school baseball coach to major league pitcher. Directed by John Lee Hancock (who would later go on to direct The Blind Side) in a style that very much mimics another sports movie released by Disney (Remember the Titans), it was a very feel good movie. We follow Jimmy as he leaves his teaching job behind to join the minor leagues in the Tampa Bay Devil Ray organization and we see the strain it puts on his family back at home. Of course, all the hard work and sacrifices (made by the entire Morris family) pay off in the end as he makes his major league debut in front of his family and the kids he once coached. Quaid, as always, is excellent and holds the movie together.
8. For Love of the Game (1999)
This is the first appearance of Kevin Costner on this list. It definitely won’t be the last. Costner plays Billy Chapel, an Hall of Fame pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. It follows what could be his final outing (just so happens to be at Yankee Stadium, naturally). While the movie does drag a bit during the non-baseball parts (despite my lifelong crush of Kelly Preston), it is interesting how Chapel goes through the same routine before every batter and how he talks to himself about each one. This is the best part of the movie, all the relationships he has come across and how he thinks of each one as the game progresses. John C Reilly has a very nice turn as Gus Sinski, the long time catcher and friend of Chapel.
7. The Sandlot (1993)
What can I honestly say about The Sandlot? Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is a new kid in town. He moves right after the school year ends with his mother (Karen Allen) and his step-father (Denis Leary). Scotty never really had a father before, so he doesn’t know how to do boy things (play baseball). After a game of catch with his step-father goes awry (that was a nice shiner), the best player in town (Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, played by Mike Vitar) befriends Scotty and the rest is the story of the best summer of Scotty’s life. The story includes a camp-out, a game with a rival team, and a war with a monster dog named Hercules to get a ball signed by Babe Ruth back. The real heart of this movie is not with baseball, but its the friendships developed and how they all, unfortunately, separate (via voice-over) as the years go along.
6. The Natural (1984)
Based on the outstanding novel written by Bernard Malamud, Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs an middle age man who comes out of nowhere with uncanny ability and amazing power to play for the New York Knights (aka the Yankees). He lives in the fame that he should have had as a much younger man, an upcoming pitcher who even strikes out The Whammer (clearly based on Babe Ruth) after The Whammer challenges Roy to do so, before his career is derailed by a woman. He returns 16 years later with his bat, Wonderboy, in hand which he carved as a kid from a tree that was struck by lightning. Along the way he meets back up with Iris (Glenn Close), his childhood sweetheart, who eventually helps save him from the fame (including the gold digging Memo, played by Kim Basinger). While the movie’s climax is the complete opposite of the novel, it’s one of the best endings to any sports movie ever made.
5. A League of Their Own (1992)
It’s the early 1940s, the men have gone off the war, but America still needs it’s baseball. Much like everything else at the time on the domestic front, it was up the women to save the day. Geena Davis leads an all-star cast in the story based on (though very fictionalized, I’m sure) the All American Pro Girls League’s first season. Davis plays Dottie Hinson, a catcher and the league’s best player. She and her sister Kit (Lori Petty) is recruited out of Oregon (by the hilarious Jon Lovitz) to try out out for the league. It is through their eyes in which the story unfolds. It follows their eventual falling out, their separation via distance and time, and their eventual reunion at the Baseball Hall of Fame. While it’s their story, it’s Tom Hanks’ show. Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan (rumored to be based on Jimmie Foxx), an alcoholic former great baseball player who only takes the managing position for the money. Every moment Hanks is on screen is outstanding and his dialogue is fantastic, both the humorous and the serious lines.
4. Eight Men Out (1988)
Another one based on a true story and with an all-star cast, this one is about the 1919 White Sox, the team that threw the World Series and would forever be known as the Black Sox. The 1919 White Sox was one of the best teams ever assembled (in some circles, only the 1927 New York Yankees were better). It had two wouldbe Hall of Famer pitchers in Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) and Lefty Williams (James Read), and one of the best players ever in “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney). However, the owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James) was notoriously cheap, including keeping Cicotte out the last couple of weeks so he wouldn’t reach a certain amount of wins so he wouldn’t earn his bonus. This leads the players to reach out to gamblers, wanting to be paid to lose the World Series, as a way to stick it to Comiskey. This is the story on how they do it and how it all unravels with eight of them being banned for life. The ending is one of the more sadder ones, watching Jackson play in a semi-pro league with fans guessing whether it was Jackson or not. Buck Weaver (one of the eight thrown out, played by John Cusack), also at the game, proclaims that it’s not Jackson, saying, “those fellas are all gone now.”
3. Field of Dreams (1989)
This would be Costner’s second appearance of three. Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a former hippie turned farmer. While off tending his crop, he hears a voice (also done by Costner), “if you build it, he will come.” He builds a baseball field and Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) arrives. This leads a series of events where Ray meets his teenage idol Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and a deceased baseball player turned doctor (played by Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley). Eventually, Ray meets up with his estranged (and also deceased) father in the now famous “wanna have a catch?” scene that it’s okay for guys to cry during. That’s what the movie is ultimately about, a father and son finding each other and playing catch is their way of burying the hatchet. This would be Lancaster’s final film before his death and he is incredible as always. Jones’ monologue on baseball is one of the best in any sports movie as well.
2. Bull Durham (1988)
Say what you will about Costner at this point of his career, but he’s always gotten sports movie right (I have to include Tin Cup in this discussion). In this one, Costner plays minor league catcher Crash Davis who’s brought in to get Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) ready for the majors. Davis is considered to be the best catcher not in the majors, who was even called up very briefly but for some reason never stuck. Along the way they both meet up with Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a local baseball enthusiast that only sleeps with one of the players per season. While this is actually a romantic comedy masked as a baseball movie, most would say that the baseball parts are the most accurate in any movie ever. The give and take between players, coaches, and umpires is just brilliant. My favorite scene? Hard to pick just one, but I love when Crash argues with the home plate umpire overall a close call at the plate, “how romantic.”
1. Major League (1989)
I know that I said Bull Durham is probably the most accurate baseball movie made and it’s honestly just as funny as Major League but I honestly can’t get enough of this movie. The story is of the long suffering Cleveland Indians with a new owner that would like to move the team to a much warmer climate (Miami). To do this, she assembles the biggest group of nobodies ever. Included are washed up catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), a wild young pitcher fresh out of prison Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), and loud mouth speedster Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes). What follows is how hilariously bad they truly are until they all come together for a run to the playoffs. When Vaughn comes out of the bullpen in the final game against the Yankees and “Wild Thing” blasts, you can’t help but to get goosebumps. During the final play, you can’t help but to root along with everyone on the screen. When Harry Doyle (played by the great Bob Uecker) makes his final call, you can’t help but to get wrapped up in it. Basically, what’s a pure comedy becomes an inspirational movie that you always get drawn into. We’ll forgive the sequels that followed while we’re at it, the original makes up for them.
That’s my top ten. Feel free to chime in with your opinions. I’ll be back with something on Monday. Have a great weekend everyone!