October is upon us which means Autumn harvest and pumpkin patches and spooky Halloween feelings everywhere. But what October can also mean for the baseball fan is the thrill of playoff games. I grew up loving and learning from my father and brother and am now lifelong fan of the sport, and while I was not blessed with athletic ability, I did grow to love and appreciate the sport on multiple levels. In the spirit of that , of course what I think of is one of my other great loves: film. So when you combine the two, the possibility of knocking it out of the park is always there for me. No baseball film is created equally, nor are their objectives all the same. And, of course there are still some I have yet to see. Of those that I have, there are many that have become absolute favorites. And instead of simply ranking them, I thought I would showcase films that each capture some aspect of what the games means to the players and fans, the history of the game, and the intrinsic nature of what makes the sport ever timeless and beloved.
Youth & Baseball
The Sandlot (1993)
As I said in my End of Summer Movie Night article,” No matter if you love or play baseball, this coming of age story of kids learning about this sport and themselves is a hilarious and often sweet look at childhood, its pangs and its simple joys, is one we can all can find something to relate to. Nostalgic, funny and rich with a small town American vibe, the summer spent with these young boys changes their lives forever, and the film has become part of our culture.” Forever we will quote it when we think of that summer classic treat s’mores with “You’re killing me Smalls!” The Sandlot so wonderfully captures what baseball can mean to young kids and emerging teenagers, as they form friendships and learn about discipline and self confidence as well as compassion- all things necessary to mentally prepare for the game- seen thorough a comedic and nostalgic lens.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Much like The Sandlot (which obviously drew upon some things from this film), The Bad News Bears captures what baseball can mean to children at a very trying and formative part of their lives as they learn and improve their skills, as well as their overall attitudes and belief in themselves. Some of these kids however are more, shall we say, “foul mouthed” or of the delinquent type, but at their heart they’re good kids who really are just misfits who have been pushed around and overlooked, overcoming the odds and actually becoming a contender in the Little League’s season and final game. Very much of its 1970’s era, funny and so re-watchable, The Bad News Bears wins for all these reasons as well as the best non-traditional use of Opera “Carmen’s” music ever.
History of the Game
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
This touching and thoughtful biographical classic stars Gary Cooper as the great Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest men to ever play the game, who tragically succumbed to the rare disease that is now named after him. It shows his early life, falling in love with his wife, and his life as player up until he game where he gave the now famous speech about considering himself the luckiest man on earth. Understanding and loving the game should in my opinion constitute an appreciation for the great history of the sport which includes the lives of some of its greatest players. Lou Gehrig’s life was short but his impression was indelible.
One of the most important times in the history of baseball was when African American players, finally and rightfully joined the MLB, the first being the great Jackie Robinson, who in this film is wonderfully portrayed by Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther fame. Of course today, players of every ethnicity and nationalities play in the Major Leagues, and they would not be here without Robinson who paved the way for them all. We see his struggles and triumphs and the adversity and prejudice his faced every day and how his courage and strength of character led him to become of the greatest players of all time. Many scenes that display the horrific racism he was subject to are quite difficult to watch, but it’s important to showcase and recognize that hatred will never win. 42 is captivating and beautifully done.
Spiritual and or/ Deep Personal Meaning
Field of Dreams (1989)
“If you build it, they will come” is a line many people who have never even seen this beautiful, poignant film even know. The reverent, almost hushed omniscient voice is haunting and yet hopeful, and to those who do know this movie, know how much this simple line encompasses. Field of Dreams is about a man who builds a baseball field in his corn field in Iowa, after hearing this voice and a team of players magically appear. Are they ghosts? Are they angels? What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things and to this man and his family and friends? I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to watch. But I will say that Field of Dreams profoundly demonstrates the depth baseball can have on an individual in terms of their relationships with those they love, personal fulfillment and growth. Fathers and sons, and spiritual individuals will most definitely feel akin to it. It’s simultaneously melancholy and hopeful, and grand and simple, but all together wonderful.
Angels in the Outfield (1951) & (1994)
Although there are differences between the two versions of these films, at their hearts the same feelings and overall meaning are evoked. In the classic film, there is less slapstick and a romance element in addition to a orphaned child in need of a home; in the remake there are instead two children in need of a loving family. In both however, these children pray for the Angels and their coach, and those prayers are miraculously answered. What’s lovely is that in both films it’s not about winning or losing, although that is a big part of it. Rather it’s about how the sport was metaphor for the struggles in these people’s lives. They were low, dejected, even hopeless, and a miracle happens. But the true miracle is the kindness and love that forms in all of their lives. Watch both as they both are a hit.
Adversity & Triumph
The Natural (1984)
A beautiful and poignant film, The Natural tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a man whose one mistake led him down a path in which his dreams of becoming the best player there ever was, alas never truly happen, at least not in the way or time frame he expected. As a naive 20 years old ace pitcher, he never makes it to the big leagues until 16 years later, no longer pitching but a hitter of extraordinary abilities who inspires and helps his team regain their confidence and lead them to the playoffs. With allusions to The Odyssey, this story is one about overcoming the past and learning from it, showcasing that as strong as Hobbs is, his true strength is his strength of heart, character, integrity and determination. With stunning cinematography, this golden hued film shows baseball in its true glories, defeats, and moments that are both about what the sport and players can mean to us all, and what it represents to the players themselves. The ending will no doubt bring forth chills and tears from many a viewer. And what is so extraordinary about this film is how the drama of the story Hobbs mirrors that of how the game itself so often plays out. It so often is with one team feeling defeated and dejected, metaphorically knee deep in the mud, but in that final inning no matter how down you are there is always hope for that lightning to strike one more time, if you have courage, determination and belief. The Natural, which also is filled with wonderful performances, direction and captivating score, is not only a amazing baseball movie, but stunning film all together.
The Rookie (2002)
Based on a true story, The Rookie tells the story of Jim Morris, a high school teacher and coach, who once had aspirations for the Major Leagues but an injury ended his career. Now 36 years old his teams makes him promise that he will try out again if they win their championship, and lo and behold not only do they beat the odds and win, but Morris somehow is able to pitch better than he ever could before. And so begins an touching look at a man who amazes everyone, including his family and himself with his rise though the minors to finally a chance to pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The fact that it’s based on a real story makes this all the more wonderful as we see that like baseball itself there is always a chance to live out your dreams- your ninth inning may come when you least expect it!
Romantic/ and or Fan Perspective
Fever Pitch (2005)
Is this a romantic comedy or a baseball film? The answer to this question is that Fever Pitch is truly a bit of both. Unlike most of the other films on this list, this film’s main characters do not play the sport. Instead this is about a man who falls in love with a woman who is completely unknowledgeable of the game, and he brings her into this world and this part of his life- one that is very much all consuming that he wants to share with her, while also learning to balance it with the other aspects of their relationship. The romance may be the main plot point, but Fever Pitch captures so wonderfully what baseball means to its fans, especially those whose love of the game is a generational familial one or one shared with friends. We get to see the collective joy and elation that baseball brings to so many, and how wonderful it can be to share that with someone you love. Set during the Boston Red Sox road to the World Series in 2004, fans of the teams will surely feel a connection to this film, but truly this could be about any team or fan as the shared feelings and love of the game is a universal thing.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)
A charming and sweet musical set during the turn of the century and starring three incredible performers Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams, this film may not be the most accurate depiction of the game of baseball, but it more than makes up for it in entertainment value and a unique look at the sport at a time period rarely depicted for the sport. Funny, romantic and rich with 1900’s Americana nostalgia, Take Me Out to the Ball Game follows two star players who moonlight as singers and the new female owner of the team who turns both their heads, and of course hilarity, and personal and romantic entanglements ensues, with songs and as well as a fun look at the team’s road to the World Series. Very much like many of the MGM musical of the time, you’re sure to have a grand time watching this one and delight in the full performance of the title song.
A League of Their Own (1992)
This film is without a doubt not only my favorite baseball film, but one of my favorite films of all time. Some may disagree with that sentiment, which is fair, or believe that it is merely because of the strong female aspect of the story. And while that is a definite part of the film’s appeal and a strong characteristic, what makes A League of Their Own so special is that it encapsulates so much about so many aspects of life, touches on so many emotions and relatable things, and showcases everything about the game of baseball that makes it the great sport that it is. Following the short lived All American Girls Baseball League which was started the save the game while so many male players were fighting in World War 2, this story follows many stories most notably 2 sisters, the team they join The Rockford Peaches and their brash coach and former All Star. It’s story about sisterhood, the toils of those on the home front, the chauvinistic attitudes women faced, and determination and perseverance, filled with some these actors’ finest performances, stunning direction and masterful editing and musical score, all of which makes this one of those rare perfect films. But what makes A League of Their Own so wonderful in its depiction of the great game of baseball is that is shows the struggles that players go through on a daily basis emotionally and physically, and the toll it can take on the mind and the body. It showcases the drama of both each and every game and the ones that matter the most, where every out, every pitch, is such a tense moment in time. And above all it so wonderfully demonstrates what the sport means to players and fans alike in such a beautiful and poignant way in the elation and collective joy or absolute heartbreak, which can be found in one swing of the bat, or one play at the plate. The film’s most famous line is “There’s no crying in baseball” but certainly this film not only elicits just that, but shows us something else: “Baseball is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!”
What I Need to Still See
No list of films is complete in my book unless it includes those of which you have yet to see but hope to someday. On that list for me are two starring Kevin Costner, the classic comedy Bull Durham as well as the drama For Love of the Game. Also on my list are the film about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle attempting to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in a single season 61, the Jimmy Stewart classic The Stratton Story, and the recent biographical drama Million Dollar Arm.
What are some of you favorite films about Baseball? Did I mention yours? Let me know in the comments!!