In the spirit of Academy Awards Sunday, I’ve compiled a top 10 list of my all-time favorite baseball films. Baseball movies are rarely nominated for Oscars. Moneyball will try to nab the first major Academy Award for a baseball film, since there has never been one to win Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actor/Actress.
Baseball lends itself to the art of cinema well since the game is already drama-filled on and off the field. Baseball is also often poetic in nature. The emerald green grass and baby blue sky is perfectly beautiful when captured on camera. Baseball has had its share of characters running through its history, and the pages of these screenplays reflect their egos, eccentricities, and heroics. During the offseason, a baseball movie can transport the anxious fan back to the ballpark for a temporary fix.
Now, this list is of course subjective. Depending on who you root for and what you like about a movie can create a different order for each viewer. For me, the way the film depicts baseball cinematically along with the emotional appeal helped me decide the rankings.
An interesting pattern I noticed is that many of my favorite baseball films were made during the late ’80s/early ’90s. Perhaps this was somewhat of a Golden Age of Baseball Films.
10. The Babe-1992 Directed by Arthur Hiller
John Goodman plays the iconic role of Babe Ruth in this biographical film. The film has had mixed reviews over the years, and even John Goodman himself was a bit disappointed in his performance. For me, I suppose the movie means a bit more personally after Scott and I met John Goodman at Dodger Stadium when we were kids. He sat through almost the entire game signing autographs for fans. Goodman plays the Sultan of Swat, and his visual impersonation is neat to watch. The film charmed me. The Babe allows us to celebrate the quintessential American baseball hero.
9. The Sandlot-1993 Directed by David M. Evans
A nostalgic family film which harkens us all back to our youthful days of playing with our friends during summer. This coming-of-age film takes place in the 1960’s. Scotty Smalls, the new kid on the block, narrates the film when needed. Smalls desires to join the neighborhood baseball team. He isn’t very good, but the ragtag group of kids help teach him to play that summer. In a somewhat Stand By Me style, this film delivers a sweet look at how baseball can envelop a child’s world and imagination.
8. The Bad News Bears-1976 Directed by Michael Ritchie
A classic underdog tale complete with baseball bloopers and a grumpy manager played by the great Walter Matthau. Long before The Mighty Ducks came to the silver screen, we had Morris Buttermaker’s bunch of misfits who had no business playing ball on the Bears, a Southern Californian Little League team. The washed up former minor leaguer transforms the team into competitive form while they seek to avenge their past loss to their rivals, the Yankees. Tanner Boyle: “Hey Yankees… you can take your apology and your trophy and shove ‘em straight up your ass!”
7. Eight Men Out-1988 Directed by John Sayles
The Black Sox scandal of 1919 has always been one of the most fascinating aspects of baseball history to me. Based on Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book 8 Men Out, the film dramatizes the sad chapter in baseball where arguably one of the best teams in baseball history were paid to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series and were subsequently banned from professional baseball for life. D.B. Sweeney is excellent in his performance as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Sweeney and several others from this production went on to work on Ken Burns’ 1994 film miniseries Baseball.
6. The Pride of the Yankees-1942 Directed by Sam Wood
“I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys behind the wire up there in the press box: my friends, the sportswriters. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time: Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy. I have a mother and father who fought to get me help and a solid background in my youth. I have a wife, a companion for life who has shown me more courage than I ever knew. People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
Whether you are a Dodger fan or a Yankees fan, Lou Gehrig is an American hero who transcends rivalries and continues to inspire.
5. A League of Their Own-1992 Directed by Penny Marshall
Being a woman, this film may rank higher and mean a bit more to me. Putting to light a sometimes forgotten piece of baseball history, the film depicts the all-women professional league during WWII. Not only is the film inspirational, but it is uplifting and funny as well. The Jimmy Dugan proclamation, “There’s no crying in baseball!” is one of the greatest film quotes of all time.
4. Major League-1989 Directed by David S. Ward
Perhaps the best comedic baseball film ever made, Major League is a satirical comedy which follows the fictional version of the Cleveland Indians. The box office smash follows the exploits of such players as Ricky Vaughn the poor sighted pitcher played by Charlie Sheen, Willie Mayes Hayes (Wesley Snipes), Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), and washed up Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger). Rachel Phelps attempts to put together the worst team possible in order to move the team to Miami after she has inherited the team from her husband. To her dismay, the team begins to win, and they face their hated rivals (yup the Yankees of course) in the pennant playoff game.
3. Bull Durham-1988 Directed by Ron Shelton
A romantic comedy which follows the minor league Durham Bulls. Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner is the veteran catcher who mentors the rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in lessons of baseball, love, and life. Annie (Susan Sarandon), who classifies baseball as her “religion”, complicates the situation as both characters get involved romantically with her. The Bulls are plagued with mediocrity, and Davis struggles with finishing his career on a dignified note, while Nuke yearns to play in the Majors. Shelton’s original screenplay is witty, and the baseball visuals are spot-on. From the painted green grass of the field to the memorable characters and dialogue, Bull Durham finds its place among the best sports films of all-time.
2. Field of Dreams-1989 Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Field of Dreams was the last baseball movie to be nominated for Best Picture before Moneyball. It lost to Driving Miss Daisy that year. A fantasy about a man trying to reconnect to his father and the past, Field of Dreams has become an iconic baseball movie of our generation. The film references the Black Sox Scandal, but the story is ultimately about a man’s personal spiritual journey. “Build it and they will come,” is one of the most recognized movie quotes of any baseball or sports film. This film incites the biggest emotional response for me, and depending on the day and my mood could be slotted as number one on this list.
1. The Natural-1984 Directed by Barry Levinson
Adapted from Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel of the same name, Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a mythical yet principled athlete in this large-scoped film. Barry Levinson’s film captures the spirit of the game in a way that no other baseball movie has done. The theme of redemption is woven throughout the film. Fable-like, the film romanticizes baseball complete with homeruns which shatter clocks and the famous scene which has Hobbs hitting a homerun igniting the stadium lights in fireworks as he rounds the bases in slow motion while sparks and debris fall. Some may argue the film is too simplistic, but I feel it captures the essence of the game with a cinematic touch which is used superbly to enhance the game and create a perfect blend between the game of baseball and the medium of film. The Natural is an epically magical baseball film, and stands as one of the best sports films of all-time.
What’s your #1 baseball film?