Play Ball!: 10 Must-See Baseball Movies

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Play Ball!: 10 Must-See Baseball Movies
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Spring has always been my favorite time of year.

This is the case not only because of the weather becoming nicer, but also because it's baseball season, still America's National Pastime - despite the popularity of the NFL.

When you combine that with the fact that I'm a movie buff, with over 300 films in my collection, it can safely be said that baseball movies hold a special place with me.

I've seen many diamond flicks through the years, but these 10 are the ones I particularly recommend, starting with (in chronological order)...


The Bad News Bears (1976)

The quintessential little league movie; if you want a realistic picture of what youth baseball is like, this is film you need to see.

This flick about no-talent "ballplayers" coached by a beer-guzzling has-been, played brilliantly by Walter Matthau, was one of the reasons why I started to play the game as a child.

And as fireballing pitcher Amanda and the stud-hitting delinquent Kelly Leak, Tatum O' Neal and Jackie Earle Haley were big influences on me.

Tatum striking out all of the boys was what first led me to believe that girls were equal to their male counterparts, and I patterned my style of hitting after Jackie's character - with pretty good success.

The music, Bizet's "Carmen", was a great touch as well.

This movie is clearly a classic. I think people will agree with me on that.

 

The Natural (1984)

I never really knew about Robert Redford until I saw this movie.

As Roy Hobbs, the 35-year old rookie trying to make up for lost time when he finally gets his chance at the big leagues in 1939, Redford was great in portraying a guy having his last chance to leave his mark on the game.

Which he ultimately does, as he overcomes a crooked owner and a devious girlfriend—played by Kim Basinger—to lead his New York Knights to the pennant.

Favorite scene? When a bloody-jerseyed Hobbs blasted that home run in the last game, breaking all the lights and circling the bases to Randy Newman's soundtrack.

It was all I could do to keep from cheering in the theater when I saw that. 

 

Bull Durham (1988)

If I had to pick one baseball film as being the all-time best, this would be the one.

And many people would—and have—agreed with me, including Sports Illustrated when they listed the top sports movies in their magazine.

As career minor leaguer Crash Davis, Kevin Costner shows us the frustration of playing pro ball for 12 years and barely making the majors for "...21 days...the greatest 21 days of my life", according to him.

Tim Robbins was also great as the not-too-bright phenom Nuke LaLoosh, who Costner's character is assigned with preparing for "The Show", and Susan Sarandon was at her sexiest as veteran groupie Annie Savoy.

Indeed, that is what you need to see if you want to know what life in the minors is like. Writer-director Ron Shelton should know; he played minor league ball for a time, and Bull Durham was based on his experiences.

 

Eight Men Out (1988)

Based on Eliot Asniof's book and written and directed by John Sayles, this movie is a master history lesson on the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and the factors that led those eight Chicago White Sox, including the legendary "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, to throw the World Series for gamblers that year.

The way those Sox were treated by their miserly and abusive owner Charles Comiskey, who refused to pay them a decent wage, that fix was pretty much inevitable. This film did an outstanding job at depicting that.

Maybe, just maybe, if Comiskey had treated his players better, they wouldn't have been tempted to mess around with gamblers in the first place.

That's the conclusion I made from watching this film.

 

Field of Dreams (1989)

"If you build it, he will come."

I must be honest—I never really got into this movie when it first came out. It just didn't hold my interest.

But seeing as this film about Kevin Costner building that ball diamond on his Iowa cornfield and seeing almost all of baseball's legends play on it is beloved and acclaimed by so many people, I feel I have no choice but to put it on this list.

One scene does stand out to me—the one where Ray Kinsella's (Costner) long-lost father comes on to the field and Ray says, "Hey dad, wanna have a catch?", then does, bonding for the first time.

A real tearjerker of a scene, that was.

This may not be one of my personal favorites as far as baseball movies go, but I do understand why everyone likes it so.

 

Major League (1989)

This is one of those "fun" baseball flicks where you can just sit back, laugh, and have a good time.

Yes, it was predictable and formulaic—the sad-sack Cleveland Indians (who were terrible in real life at the time) become motivated and win the big game—but I enjoyed it all the same, because of the familiar names that were in it and the memorable characters that they played:

Tom Berenger as the broken-down catcher Jake Taylor.

Corbin Bernsen as the prima donna Roger Dorn.

Dennis Haysbert as the voodoo-worshiping slugger Pedro Cerrano.

Wesley Snipes as the ultimate hot dog Willie Mays Hayes.

Any my personal favorite - Charlie Sheen as "Wild Thing" Rick Vaughn.

Those five guys alone gives this movie a big thumbs up from me.

 

A League of Their Own (1992)

"There's no crying in baseball!"

Simply put, this is one of my favorite baseball movies; I liked it so much that I saw it no less than three times in the theater, and enjoyed it immensely each time.

Wonderfully directed by Penny Marshall, this film about the 1940's All-American Girls Baseball League was a completely enjoyable experience.

Not to mention showing a part of the game's history that was mostly unknown.

Led by Geena Davis as hard-hitting Dottie Hinson and future Oscar winner Tom Hanks as the alcoholic has-been manager Jimmy Dugan, League was great in showing the passion that these young women had for the game.

And this was set at a time when it wasn't seen as proper for females to be athletes, when a women's place was thought of as in the home; cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids.

Oh, and it had Madonna playing the partying, wild-child center fielder "All The Way" Mae. Enough said.

 

COBB (1994)

If there was any doubt about the fact that this Detroit Tiger legend was a miserable, racist bastard who was baseball's most hated man, this Ron Shelton production puts that to rest once and for all.

As the "Georgia Peach", Tommy Lee Jones was spectacular as Ty Cobb. So much so that I felt he should have gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Actor that year.

I particularly liked the way the film was set when Cobb was near the end of his life and continued to be mean and rotten, while trying to write his memoirs with Al Stump (played by Robert Wuhl), who ended up being a caretaker of sorts as Cobb was dealing with his numerous ailments.

Most of all, this film showed a man who was so unlikable he ended up as a lonely shell with no friends, which was quite sad.

It just goes to show that being a good person is more important than being a great ballplayer.

 

Soul of the Game (1996)

Like A League Of Their Own, this is a movie that covers a part of baseball that was definitely not in the mainstream: the Negro Leagues.

Specifically, this HBO film focused on the greatest pitcher and hitter of all time (in my view, and I hope yours)—Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, played respectively and brilliantly by Delroy Lindo and Mykelti Williamson.

It also focused on the great Jackie Robinson, and how he chosen by Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey to break the color line, as well as Paige and Gibson's frustrations over not being chosen themselves, as they were the biggest black stars of that time.

Blair Underwood was tremendous in his portrayal of Robinson, and the movie was great in showing what African American ballplayers had to go through in those days, the prejudice, the second-class treatment, and all of that.

I would definitely show this to kids and classrooms as part of a lesson on black history.

 

*61 (2001)

In Ken Burns' documentary Baseball, Billy Crystal talks about how as a child, he had a burning passion for the New York Yankees and especially Mickey Mantle.

When he produced and directed this HBO production depicting Mantle and Roger Maris' chase to break Babe Ruth's single season home run record, Crystal called it a labor of love.

When I watched *61, it was clear that the love shined though the screen.

This film wonderfully illustrates the pressures that Mantle, played by Thomas Jane, and particularly Maris, played by Barry Pepper, went through during that 1961 season in the Bronx.

You develop a deep sympathy for Maris as he goes up against not only the Babe, but also against the fans and especially the press, who didn't want to see him pass Ruth. When he achieves the feat at the end, you feel so happy for him that you want to to cheer.

The bottom line here is that Billy Crystal did an absolutely fantastic job in making this movie.

So much so that you become a Yankee fan—at least for the film's duration.

 

There it is, fellow baseball fans, my list of the 10 diamond films that one ought to see.

I know full well that I left quite a few well known flicks out that people love, such as the Lou Gehrig biopic Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper, and Bang the Drum Slowly with Robert DeNiro as a slow witted catcher dealing with cancer.

There will certainly be disagreements about me choices, which I totally understand and accept. I welcome the debates that will probably happen.

So Play Ball! And let the debating commence.

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