With baseball season in full swing, I thought it would be fun to reflect on all of the movies portraying baseball, America’s past time. Below is a list of the Five Best Baseball Films of our generation.
5 – Field of Dreams (1989)
“Field of Dreams” was the second movie in as many years starring Kevin Costner, and addressing the sport of baseball. The film tells the story of Ray Kinsella (Costner), a farmer who lives in rural Iowa, who hears a voice while walking though his cornfield late one night, that sets him off on a journey of self-discovery through baseball. Seeing a vision of a baseball field, Kinsella decides to plow down a large area of his cornfield, and build said field, to the chagrin of his wife, and speculation by the townspeople, who believe Ray has gone mad.
Eventually, a man does appear in the field, and Ray discover’s this man to be the deceased “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, of the famous 1919 Chicago White Sox team that was accused of throwing the World Series. Over the next hour of the film, Ray is urged to visit several people, and slowly begins to unravel his purpose for building the field, and near the end of the picture, Ray is able to make amends with someone from his past.
“Field of Dreams” explores many themes in baseball, such as baseball’s impact on culture, literature, and American history, and the movie itself was nominated for several Academy Awards, such as Best Writing, Original Score, and Best Picture. The film also featured legendary actor Burt Lancaster in one of his final roles.
4 – The Natural (1984)
“The Natural” tells the story of success and failure in America. Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a teenager who could perhaps be the greatest baseball player ever, but after making his big break, he is lead astray by a tempting woman, by whom he is shot. As a result he is injured, and loses his chance to try out as a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
The movie jumps ahead about 16 years, and at this point, Hobbs is now a 35-year-old man, and is given the chance to sign with a fictional baseball team the “New York Knights”, all the while the coach of the team is of mind that Hobbs at this point is simply too old, and doesn’t even allow him to attend team practices. Over time Hobbs proves himself worthy of being a part of the team, and the story continues in show the theme of second chances, and not dwelling on the past and missed opportunities.
This movie is one of the best rated sports films on RottenTomatoes.com, receiving an 83% fresh rating, and is considered by many critics to be in the top 10 of sports films of all time.
3 – Bad News Bears (1976)
One of the best baseball movies ever made, and unquestionably the best little league movie ever made, “Bad News Bears” is a comedy starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal, and tells the story of an alcoholic former minor league baseball player who is approached to coach a minor league team, consisting of the children in the area that were not accepted to the ultra-competitive teams already formed in the area.
After repeatedly drinking way too much, passing out during practice, and basically making no real effort to coach the team, the kids begin to lose respect for Buttermaker (Matthau), and eventually he realizes the children are tired of being picked on for not playing “any good”, and after taunts and insults from other league coaches, Buttermaker makes it his mission to coach up these kids, which eventually leads to a championship game with the Yankees.
Genuinely funny, touching, and a definite feel-good-movie, this classic gem from the 70’s is definitely a great baseball movie in it’s purest form.
2 – Major League (1989)
“Major League” tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a lousy baseball team, set-up to fail by Rachel Phelps, a former Las Vegas showgirl, and widow of the team’s previous owner. Phelps learns that if the ticket sales to the games reaches below 800,000, she can move the team to the warmer climate of Miami, and release all of the current players and staff and start again from scratch.
Phelps begins to build a team in Cleveland consisting of a coach who works as a tire salesman, who’s only previous experience was with the team the “Toledo Mud Hens”, a catcher with bad knee problems, an outfielder who practices in voodoo and a pitcher who was originally incarcerated, and played in the Arizona Penal league. As originally planned, the team plays horribly, and the fans begin to bash the players. To make things worse, Phelps takes extra measure to insure the players fail, such as downgraded their team plane to a bus, and cutting back on hot water in the showers. A change occurs when the coach realizes Phelps’ plan to move the team, and after sharing this information with the players, and them realizing that a losing season guarantees them all being dropped or shipped back to the minors, the player’s rally to make a remarkable comeback, slowly winning back the fans of Cleveland and making a run for the World Series.
The film has many stars such as Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen, and Renee Russo, and is a definite must see for any fan of baseball, who likes to root for the underdog.
1 – Bull Durham (1988)
“Bull Durham”, released in 1988, a year before “Field of Dreams”, also starring Kevin Costner, tells the trials and tribulations of a minor league baseball team in America. Crash Davis, a 12-year-veteran is called upon to help shape and mold an up-and-coming hotshot pitcher named Ebie LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who’s potential is only matched by his naivety. Right off the bat, Crash nicknames LaLoosh “Meat”, and the two get off to a rocky start.
The movie has many themes. LaLoosh and Crash both fight over the attention and intimacy from a local substitute teacher (and part time philosopher and spiritual seeker). More importantly, the film shows the troubles of growing old in the sports world, and how a person that may once have once embraced as a talented young prospect, will eventually no longer be useful and forgotten to the next batch of prospects. Crash does have an incredible season, while mentoring LaLoosh, but it goes virtually unnoticed, even as he edges towards a minor league home run record, due to the buzz of a hot young pitcher with a cannon for an arm.
The real charm of this film would have to be it’s realistic nature, and the wonderful dialogue shared with the players on the road. It’s a very surreal look into an almost dubious profession, and a great glimpse into the world of America’s favorite past time.