Tuesday August 5, 2003
Last week, I wrote about my trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I didn’t mention that in the museum, there is an entire section devoted to Baseball in the Movies. In that area, there are props and uniforms and other pieces of memorabilia from different baseball movies.
I love baseball movies. I love movies in general. All kinds of movies. Comedy, Drama, even the occasional chick flick! But there is something about baseball movies. I am going to list my top 15 favorite baseball movies that I’ve seen. There are many more that I have not seen and would like to see. For example, I’ve never watched Pride of the Yankees, but continually hear how good it is.
But anyway, without further ado, my top 15 Baseball movies:
15.) Rookie of the Year - A good movie about a boy who is a really bad Little League player. Then by some supernatural means, he suddenly is able to throw nearly 100 mph. As a 13 year old, he’s able to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. Of course, at the end of the movie, his “pitching powers” suddenly disappear and he has to find a way to pitch without them! Favorite line - to former big leaguer Tim Studdard, “Pitcher’s Got a Big Butt!” Plus, Thomas Ian Nicholas is the star, five or six years before American Pie!
14.) The Rookie - Major League Baseball really did a lot to promote this movie, the story of Jim Morris. It’s his story from making a bet as a high school coach with his team, to his big-league tryout, through the minor leagues and into the big leagues. It’s truly is a great story. The movie is really good too. Just not as good as I think it could be. It’s too Disney’d, if that makes sense. Did You Know? Jim Morris has a cameo as an umpire.
13.) The Natural - It may be considered sacrilege for a baseball fan to not have The Natural in the top 5 of any list of favorite baseball movies. But, I’ve got to be honest. The story itself was just too unbelievable maybe. There was too much other stuff going on. Maybe my reason for not liking it was because I was young when I first watch it and just didn’t get it. Like The Rookie, it’s basically a story to say it’s never too late to follow your dreams.
12.) Hardball - Keanu Reaves’ character has a big-time gambling problem and ends up coaching a group of Little League kids from the projects of Cabrini Green, in Chicago. I was first made aware of Cabrini Green in the freaky movie, Candyman. Fortunately, the first time I watched Hardball was with a big group, so I could keep myself from bawling! A great movie of a team coming together. Favorite part - “I love it when you call me Big Papa!”
11.) The Bad New Bears - First, Walter Matthau was incredible. That said, this is just classic Walter Matthau. To see him “coach” a Little League team of terrible ballplayers is hilarious. I mean, it’s as if the role was made for him. The cast of kid characters are great. You have to love seeing the shortstop, Tanner, missing grounder after grounder and tossing his glove to the ground. The girl is the best pitcher on the team. Another story of a team sticking together. Do I smell a theme to baseball movies? There were four Bad News Bears movies made within a four year period and all are funny. The later ones include some major league cameos. But the first is the best!
10.) Little Big League - The owner of the Minnesota Twins dies. He leaves the team to his 12 year old grandson, Billy, who names himself the manager. Of course, that doesn’t go over well with players and others, but it turns out that he knows more about baseball than most of the players. Of course there is the side-story of his mother and his star player hooking up and the problems that Billy has with that. Just a really good movie with lots of cameos by major leaguers, the most significant being Ken Griffey Jr and Randy Johnson. For the Twins, former big leaguers Leon “Bull” Durham and Kevin Elster are on! This movie could have been higher on the list if not for the fact that John Gordon appears on it as the team’s radio voice!
9.) A League of their Own - This movie is really good. I mean, anything that Tom Hanks is in is good. The thing is that a guy can’t admit that he likes this movie too much, even if every time he passes it on the TV he ends up watching it. Just a great story of a part of baseball history that isn’t well known. At the end of the movie, they showed a reunion of the players at the Hall of Fame and there was a big room full of displays. When I was there two years ago, the display consisted of a board with the player’s names on it, and another board with some big, vintage pictures. But, there is plenty of baseball, and well, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna are good! And, you have to love the following:
“We are the members of the All-American League,
We come from cities, near and far,
We’ve got Canadians, Irish ones and Swedes,
We’re all for one, one for all,
8.) Summer Catch - I can admit it, I’m a Freddie Prinze, teenie-bop movie fan. But, this is the story of the Cape Cod League, a league of the best college baseball players in the country. Cape Cod is one of the more affluent regions of the country. So, there is the difficulty of mingling between economic societies. But, to me, even though the baseball isn’t real high quality, it’s got enough of a baseball story to make it believable. I have to make another confession. I don’t know if this movie would rank as high if not for Jessica Biel. And, Matthew Lillard is absolutely hilarious! And, Hank Aaron makes an appearance! OK, so the end is a little bit silly, but that’s ok. The rest is great!
7.) Soul of the Game - I’m a big fan of the history of baseball, especially the Negro Leagues. This movie is the best I’ve seen when it comes to portraying that life. The HBO movie chronicles the lives of Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson. It shows how much of an entertainer Paige was, and how much pain he was in. It also almost comically discusses his real age. Josh Gibson was a monster home run hitter. Although stats from these games were tough to come by, it is generally accepted that Gibson hit over 900 career home runs. With all that talent, the movie appears to be very fair in also showing the mental issues that haunted Gibson throughout his shortened life, and the reasons he was not chosen to be signed by a major league organization. The movie shows Jackie Robinson as a highly educated military man who really struggled to gain the acceptance of his teammates. When Branch Rickey decided to sign him, it really dives into how that affected his relationship with Gibson and Paige. But the movie also, it brings to light other portions of black life in the ‘40s, from the music of Ella Fitzgerald to the dancing of Mr. Bo jangles, to New York’s mayor LaGuardia. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone!
6.) For the Love of the Game - Kevin Costner has had some bad movies of late, but he had a few great baseball movies! This is one of just two movies (the other being Good Will Hunting) where, as I watched it, I was thinking it deserved an Oscar for writing. Granted, unlike Good Will Hunting, this movie was not even nominated. Everything just worked so perfectly. Any questions I was having while watching it were answered. Costner plays a 40+ year old pitcher who is nearing the end of his career. He finds out that that Tigers are being sold and he has the option of retiring or being traded. So, as he toes the rubber each inning of the game he’s pitching, we get to see flashbacks into his entire big league career, as well as his relationship with his girlfriend (Kelly Preston). As I mentioned, all of the loose ends are answered in the end. And, there is enough baseball and baseball discussion to make it a great baseball movie.
5.) Eight Men Out - I just like how it doesn’t make the players out to be evil as much as it makes their owner, Mr. Comiskey, the bad guy. The director makes us feel bad for how the White Sox players were treated and makes us understand completely why they would have accepted bribes to intentionally throw the World Series. The movie portrays two players really in-depth. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is shown as an uneducated man who really didn’t seem to be smart enough to even understand what was happening. And, Buck Weaver’s role, played by John Cusack, was great too. I liked how it showed that he applied every year for reinstatement until his death. And, the scene at the end, where Weaver goes to a semi-pro game and sees Joe Jackson playing (under a different name). Just a classic, historical movie!
4.) 61* – Another HBO movie and one of the newer movies on this list, I really enjoyed Billy Crystal’s portrayal of the New York Yankees 1961 season. It clearly demonstrates the differences between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. It portrays the New York media in a not very friendly way, which I think is warranted. It shows the commissioner, Ford Frick, as a Babe Ruth obsessed man, and that being the reason for the asterisk. It’s just interesting to see the events of that season through the eyes of Maris; everything he had to go through, how he just wanted to be with his family, how he truly seemed to enjoy his times with his teammates, and how the media took its toll on him. It is also interesting to see that Mickey Mantle and his antics were really portrayed in a light way. Mantle was Billy Crystal’s favorite player, so it was interesting to see how he would be shown, the good and the bad. Overall, I just think that this is a good, historical look at a very important baseball feat.
3.) Field of Dreams - The second Kevin Costner movie on this list is the first of three movies that I have to watch the weekend before baseball’s opening day! Although there isn’t enough of actual baseball in the movie, the movie is clearly about the historical and almost mythical beauty of the game. From “If you build it, he will come!”, to going to Boston to a Red Sox game with author Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), to driving to Chisholm, Minnesota, and meeting Moonlight Graham, to driving back to Iowa, to his baseball field in a corn field, now populated by some deceased former ball players. The climax of the movie, for me, is Jones’ essay to Ray telling him not to sell the land:
“Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it's money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered they're heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. And the memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh,.. people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
And, finally at the end, when Ray is able to have a game of catch with his father. Touching!! A must-see for any baseball fan!
POLL – When Terrence Mann goes into the corn field with the players near the end of the movie, what happens to him? Does he die? Is he able to come back as a living being? Send me an e-mail and let me know.
2.) Major League - This is by far the best baseball comedy movie that there is. Another movie that I make a point to watch the weekend before Opening Day, I just think the whole movie is funny! The cast is great. Tom Berenger plays the old catcher with the bad knees. Charlie Sheen (who is also in Eight Men Out) plays the Wild Thing, Ricky Vaughn, who the season before played in the California Penal League. The owner of the Cleveland Indians wants to move the team to Florida, and to do that, the Indians have to finish dead last. So, she brings a list of players that she wants on the team:
Board Member 1: I've never heard of half of these guys and the ones I do know are way past their prime.
Charlie Donovan: Most of these guys never had a prime.
Board Member 2: This guy here is dead.
Rachel Phelps: Cross him off then.
So, there are few fans, and the ones that are there are quite boisterous in their disapproval of the team. How about the aging pitcher who throws whatever it takes to get the batters out:
Rick Vaughn: What's that <excrement> on your chest?
Harris: [wiping his finger across his chest] Crisco,
[wiping it across his waist line]
[wiping it along his head]
Harris: Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curve ball. Of course if the umps are watching me real close I'll rub a little jalapeno up my nose, get it runnin', and if I need to load the ball up just
[wipes his nose]
Harris: wipe my nose.
Rick Vaughn: You put snot on the ball?
Harris: I haven't got an arm like you, kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too
Sure, some of this movie may seem unrealistic, but I’d venture to say that a major league clubhouse could very easily be as funny as this. So, if you want to laugh about baseball humor for 90 minutes, definitely don’t miss this movie.
And that brings us to my choice for the #1 baseball movie:
1.) Bull Durham - I have to admit, that I am generally annoyed, if not offended, by the ultra-liberal views of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. However, together, they made an absolutely incredible baseball movie, along with the frequently-on-this-list, Kevin Costner. Costner plays the role of Crash Davis, a long-time minor league catcher who is brought to Durham to mentor the new star pitching prospect, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Robbins). Annie (Sarandon) has her special way of helping LaLoosh get to the big leagues as well. Another movie with some great lines:
Crash Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.
Did they get this from listening to Tom Kelly? Cliches are too funny! They don’t mean anything, but people generally take them as acceptable answers.
Crash Davis: I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.
I can’t argue with that!!! I agree 100%!
Crash Davis: Think classy, you'll be classy.
That’s a small quote, but it’s something I’ve always tried to remember.
Bull Durham is just a great movie, in my opinion the best baseball movie.
Now, clearly I’ve left some movies off my list, and in my opinion, they aren’t even in the same category as the 15 above. Maybe you disagree? What do you think? Does my ranking fit yours? Where would you rank the baseball movies? Send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.
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