Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our all-time favorite baseball movies

The entire line-up of Late Innings took in the Jays versus the Jankees on Tuesday evening, and as is normal, a lot of baseball trivia got thrown around. Towards the middle of the game, we were discussing things we thought might be good for the blog (Will wants to get some heavy-duty sponsors like GM, so we can make serious cash. I told him not to hold his breath. We just might be able to attract Hot Wheels as a sponsor.)

One thing we did agree on was that there should be a list of our favorite baseball movies. So here is our list, in no particular order except that we all agreed that Bull Durham has to be considered the best of the best, so that’s why it’s first.

Bull Durham: Just a great and very accurate depiction of what life is like in the minors. It’s also very funny. Costner is exceptionally good in this, and that’s sort of special, considering Waterworld...

Field of Dreams: From WP Kinsella’s magic realist novel, Shoeless Joe, it’s a terrific and, well, unexpected movie. Written by a Canadian, it’s a quintessentially American story.

The Sandlot: A movie that reminds us exactly what baseball should be all about. Funny, touching and the kids are fantastic.

A League of Their Own: Okay, what baseball fan doesn’t know the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” This movie isn’t so much about baseball as women’s rights, but it has several great scenes and some of those women play some pretty good ball. And who knew Tom Hanks could play a crusty old bastard so well?

For Love of the Game: Okay, this one will probably be controversial. It’s not a great movie, but it’s got a good story line. Kevin Costner looks very convincing as a pitch, as opposed to Lori Petty in A League of Their Own. Will insisted we put this in, probably because you can hear the late Bob Sheppard and Vin Scully. The ending is pretty sappy.

Eight Men Out: The infamous Chicago “Black” Sox story. While it’s a dramatization of what happened, the script makes you feel they got it right and the cast is terrific.

61*: A made for TV movie but pretty good by any standards. It’s all about the ’61 season when Maris and Mantle were trying to break Ruth’s single-season home run record.

Fear Strikes Out: The story of real-life ball player Jimmy Piersall who had to overcome pretty severe mental illness to resurrect his baseball career. It always leaves me feeling sort of sad, but Anthony Perkins in the title role is excellent.

The Natural: Not quite magic realism, but rather a far-fetched plot. There are a lot of good old-time baseball touches, but the ending could have you rolling your eyes, while feeling good for Roy Hobbs and the team anyway. I especially liked Wilfred Brimble as the team’s manager.

and of course,
Major League: A very silly movie, but it’s arguably the best baseball comedy. Bob Uecker alone, as the team’s PA announcer, is worth the price of admission, and Charlie Sheen is completely over-the-top. You will laugh.

I didn’t include it since it doesn’t really fit the criteria, but all of us thought the Ken Burns series, Baseball is something that has to be mentioned. Every single baseball fan should watch it at least once. It is simply fantastic.

Okay so that’s our list (as far as I can remember it from the game). Now, we’d like Late Innings fans to weigh in. Do you agree with us? Do you have alternate suggestions? Do you have any comments? Please share them with all of us.

The Professor


John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Yes, Rick, we had a great time at the game even tho those damn Jankees won.

Watching Sandlot I felt like I was ten years old again. Great stuff. Bull Durham tells a real baseball story and does not get involved in non-essential story line. Loved it.

We chose not to include Cobb. Too dark (literally) and too many obscure moments. A great player and awful person. Mr.Baseball is just silly.

One I liked is The Comrades of Summer and the name Sparky Smith.

Rick Blechta said...

Okay, Tomahawk, let's add The Comrades of Summer to the list.

Anyone else with a suggestion?

Actually, I have another one, suggested obliquely by John. How about Damn Yankees? It's a great musical and it has a solid baseball theme.

JohnZ said...

Being a Yankee fan i like "61" and i agree that Bull Durham is near the top of the list..I also liked "Bang the Drum Slowly" for the story and Robert DeNiro plays the dying catcher.

Rick Blechta said...

Bang the Drum Slowly was seriously considered by us, too, but I limited the list (perhaps foolishly) to only ten. Even so, by the end, I was starting to cheat by mentioning Ken Burns.

So consider Bang the Drum Slowly on the list, John. I'll be putting it up in the right-hand column of the blog sometime this week.

Thanks for the contribution. Anyone else have an other suggestions?

Jared said...

As a baseball fan as well as someone that works in a world-renowned film archive, you might expect me to have something to say about this list. But you guys have done a pretty good job. As soon as I saw the subject, I immediately went looking for SANDLOT and MAJOR LEAGUE, to make sure they were included. When I saw that they were, I simply enjoyed the rest of the list. But as a stickler for detail, here are some others to think about:

MAJOR LEAGUE 2 - For my money, the funniest, most quotable of the series ("You have no mahbles!"), but a lesser baseball film than the first.


FEVER PITCH - I always like the less-popular Farrelly Brothers films. But Jimmy Fallon's there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I Red Sox fan hits many familiar notes.

LITTLE BIG LEAGUE - Another kid fantasy, but this time about running/managing a big-league team. With stats and brains.

BIG LEAGUER (1953) - A film I probably wouldn't have seen if not for working here. Edward G. Robinson runs a New York Giants training camp for young hopefuls, including Jeff Richards (a real-life ballplayer turned actor who previously appeared in ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD and went on to star in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS), William Campbell (best known for his guest roles as Tremane and Koloth on STAR TREK) and Richard Jaeckel. Al Campanis, Carl Hubbell, Bob Trocolor and Tony Ravish make appearances.

And I hold out hope this year for MONEYBALL, based on the bestselling non-fiction account of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, adapted by Aaron Sorkin.

Rick Blechta said...

Major League 2 is very funny, but it is a lot less concerned with baseball than its predecessor, so it wasn't included.

We did consider Pride of the Yankees, but Will, our resident Yankee fan, shot it down because Gary Cooper was just not believable as Gehrig. Same thing for the two bio-pics about Babe Ruth.

Fever Pitch is one we didn't remember and would be a good choice, I believe, although I would want to go back and see it again since I don't remember it that well. I do remember that I found the protagonist character to be a bit annoying, but that sort of thing shouldn't keep it off the list. The baseball scenes were good.

I've never seen Little Big League or Big Leaguer so I'm going to have to check those out!

Thanks for weighing in with some great information, Jared! I was hoping you would.

Anyone else?

Will Braund said...

I am very anxious to find the 1953 film "Big Leaguer" that Jarod commented on.
It really is a shame that they chose the actors they did to portray Gehrig and especially Ruth. "Pride of the Yankees" accurately depicted Gehrig's devotion to his mother but didn't say much about how cheap he was - 5 cent tips? Even in the 20's that was cheap for a ball player.
Wanna know Ruth's biggest tip? Supposedly he got in at 3 a.m. and asked the elevator operator what his largest tip had been. He said a hundred bucks (huge money in those days). Ruth gave him $200 and asked who'd given him a hundred. "You did, last night Mr. Ruth."
It's really too bad Hollywood chose two badly out of shape actors (William Bendix and John Goodman) to portray Ruth, who was a remarkable athlete (he'd play 72 holes off golf in a day!) and an outstanding runner and fielder until his final years. The only film clips are of him after he had put on the pounds. They also give Ruth little or no credit for being smart, which he certainly was (though not book smart) and they don't show just how great he was with kids, who hung off him wherever he went. The only guy he hated was Cobb, but who didn't.

Rick Blechta said...

The issue with movie-making is that they have to put butts in the seats and that means having a recognizable star in it. Sometimes it works (Bull Durham and sometimes it doesn't The Babe. That's why we get these often ridiculous movies: the casting is based on box office power and not on the script.

Elizabeth said...

What?!! How can you say that about the ending in The Natural?

Personally, I think the Ken Burns Series does fit the criteria. I particularly liked the interviews with Doris Kearns Goodwin - and any interview at all with Shelby Foote (Offtopic: Now I want to watch Burns' Civil War Series again just to hear Shelby Foote tell the story about the lookout answering the owl again.)

Now, how about favourite books? I'll start: Shoeless Joe and The Thrill of the Grass by W.P.Kinsella; Home Game by Paul Quarrington.

Nice nickname, John.