I believe there is a reason that baseball is called “America’s favorite pastime” and it’s not for the love of running the diamond or the sound of the bat connecting with the ball. These things are apart of what defines the love of baseball but I think it’s the history of baseball and what it represents that has made the sport truly spiritual to some. Whether it be the way a father and son bond playing catch, a pickup game with friends, or a couple of kids exchanging a couple of cards with their heroes’ faces on them, baseball has brought joy to many. Baseball has so much history and because of that history it has been a great source for film. There are many great films but these are my favorites (in no particular order)…
15. Angels In the Outfield
This movie is true inspiration for faith, not religious faith necessarily but faith in the individual. An orphan’s belief in heavenly spirits helping out the Angels baseball team inspires a faithless manager, washed up players, and an entire fan base to believe in the underdog team. The movie demonstrates how a little faith among a team acts as a cohesive agent that bonds them all together. It’s a true underdog story that also inspires many into believing in themselves and shows how a strong belief can change any outcome.
14. Rookie of the Year
This movie took the childhood dream of growing up to play professional baseball and ignored the growing up part. The fun of watching this came from taking that childhood dream to the next level by essentially giving a kid a superhuman throwing arm and having him compete among adults. When a child is introduced into the sport, it is a reminder as to why all of these professional players started playing in the first place. Oh and did I mention the team he plays for has some of the most die-hard fans in baseball? If you’re a Cubs fan then you’ve probably seen this film, given that Cubs fans will take any win they can get. There is a ton of memorable moments from this movie that made me laugh but it is the overall unique idea of introducing a kid into the sport that puts this film on my list.
13. The Bad News Bears
This was one of Walter Matthau’s most memorable roles and was a reminder of how little league could be. It was a fantastic comedy filled with a bunch of foul-mouthed kids and a coach who is very rough around the edges. The humor is unforced and works it’s way into the film very well while also establishing a very good underdog story. It truly set the tone for many baseball comedies that followed, but no matter how much these movies tried to emulate the original Bad New Bears, they could never surpass the quality of this film.
12. The Scout
This is another one of those fun films for baseball fans. It’s not an iconic piece of great film making but it is an entertaining guilty pleasure. It’s a little ridiculous to have a scout find a guy who is both the best pitcher and hitter that baseball has ever seen, but it’s also entertaining to see someone accomplish new things in baseball. There are also a good number of cameos from real professional baseball players and even the former New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, has a prominent role. This gives the film some credit when watching because it seems to place an added reality and authenticity on the film.
11. Soul of the Game
I was in 7th grade and during Black History Month we were asked to write a report on one inspirational African American. I found a baseball player that I had never heard of named Satchel Paige and reading his story inspired me then and still inspires me today. From everything I had read because of my fascination with this player, the movie Soul of the Game captured almost every element of who Paige and his teammates were. It accurately showed how racism and segregation may have kept the world from seeing some of the greatest baseball players play the game just because of the color of their skin. The film was a TV-movie that never made it to the big screen but it definitely deserves its place on this list.
10. The Sandlot
This is a story of friendship forged through baseball and the memorable moments of the summer spent playing the game on a barren lot. I would call this film The Wonder Years of baseball movies from its depiction of the 1960s and the narration throughout the film from a voice that sounds very familiar. Beyond baseball, this film brings back anyone to their days of childhood mischief and has probably given us one of the most commonly used and memorable film quotes, “You’re killing me Smalls!” Great baseball players start out the same way that these kids did, just having fun playing a game.
9. For the Love of the Game
What kind of list would this be without a Kevin Costner film appearing at the very least once? Costner plays a Nolan Ryan type baseball player who focuses on his two loves, the love of baseball and the love of a woman. This film focuses on how a player can love the foundations of the game so much that it becomes a relationship shared between that player and baseball. The isolation of the pitcher on the mound is depicted brilliantly and it is a perspective that is filmed in a way I have not seen in another baseball film. This is a love story but the love story is split between the sport and two people in love. It truly shows the depths to which someone can love a sport when they are conflicted between choosing true love or a sport. Although this could be considered a “chick-flick”, when you think about the fact that baseball is apart of the love triangle, it gives guys a couple macho points for watching it.
This is another film that was made for TV and was a personal project for the director, Billy Crystal. Crystal, being an avid New York Yankees fan, truly captured the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in the race for beating Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs in a season. You see a phenomenal performance from Thomas Jane as Mantle and get to see all sides of one of the most memorable New York Yankees. The depiction of Maris and Mantle are spot on and it provides a great story arch not just for the Yankees but baseball in general. This is what brought the attention of the asterisk forward when viewing baseball records. Even if you aren’t a Yankees fan, this film is a must see.
7. The Rookie
A movie inspired by a true story always helps the audience relate to a film. This film told the true story of Jim Morris, a middle-aged high school baseball coach who got a shot at his life long dream significantly after his prime. This movie embodies hope against all odds. Having everyone tell him to give up on baseball since youth, Morris finds his way back to it and surprisingly proves everyone wrong…including himself. When he starts believing what he is capable of, other people start believing as well. The movie builds on taking risks while maintaining that relationship with your family and being able to support them. Beyond representing baseball, this movie sends the message that it is never too late to follow your dreams.
6. Major League
When baseball comedies are mentioned, this is the first one that comes to mind for me. You have a band of second rate and washed up players trying to keep their team, the Cleveland Indians, in Cleveland by proving themselves as a top contender. Watching the team come together is the funniest part of the movie but also inspirational. On a bare minimum budget with an inexperienced manager, they are able to formulate a somewhat solid team. You get every aspect of baseball with this movie, the rookie and veteran players, the fans in the stands, the owners, and even the sports announcers who play very funny roles. Given that this movie was made at the end of the 80s, they also managed to put in a couple great 80s sports montages to give that added effect. So if you’re not familiar with Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn or Willie Mays Hays then you better put this movie on your to watch list.
5. A League of Their Own
“There’s no crying in baseball”, unless you are in an all girls league of course. This movie shows that the spirit of baseball is blind to gender and men aren’t the only ones who can truly love the sport. When male baseball was put on hold during World War II, a women’s league was formed to bring out the crowds. A strong leading role played by Geena Davis demonstrated how capable women were at playing the sport and also the strength of their determination. Of course to balance things out we have the unforgettable role of Jimmy Dugan, a former major league star turned slob, played by Tom Hanks. Hanks showed his comedic and dramatic sides in this role and you got a full range of his abilities. With such dynamically strong characters, you are able to relate to this movie no matter what your gender may be.
4. The Natural
The Natural is probably one of the best baseball dramas out there. It is both magical and inspirational composed of multiple elements that many baseball films attempt to emulate today. The main character, Roy Hobbs, is truly dynamic having natural skills that are superior to anyone in the game and having a love for baseball that equals his abilities. After an injury sustained by a vindictive act of violence, Roy is only able to play in the minor leagues. His determination, skill, and love for the game satisfy any audiences’ movie appetite by serving a variety of movie elements on a sampler platter.
With so much of the sport being corrupted by ridiculous salaries and steroid scandals, this film was a flower among the weeds. Based on the true story of Billy Beane and how he utilized a new mathematical way of winning games, this film is uplifting and just plain cool. Brad Pitt encompasses cool on and off the screen and he makes baseball seem a little bit cooler after watching this film. Other than being entertaining, this film is the first to capture what baseball is today. In the years to come, this will be a movie that will define this generation’s perception of baseball.
2. Field of Dreams
This is a film about a journey and less about baseball. Baseball still has a significant role in the film because it is the essence of baseball that maps the journey of one man to find answers even though he may not know the question. The theme and common phrase throughout this film, “If you build it, they will come”, will be remembered throughout film history and what it symbolizes by the end of the film is emotionally stimulating. This film is much more than baseball, it is that first game of catch you played with your Dad.
1. Bull Durham
This is a drama/comedy that I can watch over and over again. Kevin Costner as Crash Davis is like a cross between Yoda and James Dean, sharing his knowledge of the game and life while being the coolest player to play the game. The film explores the theme of knowledge versus talent while Crash teaches the talented rookie (Tim Robbins) the game and subtly competes with him for the love of Annie (Susan Sarandon), a local woman with an affection for ball players. The story is a poetic tale of a lustful love of both baseball and a woman with characters so strong they drive the plot. After watching this film it is easy to see that the characters exhibit what baseball is made of…competition, talent, and love.