October 17, 2017

The Ten Greatest Baseball Movies of All Time (?)

Christianity Today has some wonderful articles on film these days. (Hats off to CT for the increased attention to what most of us were told would send us straight to hell.) This week they have the “Ten Greatest Baseball Movies of All Time.”

Since baseball is my therapy, and I want more of my peers to put down those darned books and go to the ball park, this list may help a good cause. Here’s some of my thoughts on the best baseball movies.

It’s hard to quarrel with this list. I’d probably put Ken Burns’ “Baseball” at #1 out of sheer admiration for the visual achievement. Burns correctly senses the soulish connection between America and Baseball, and how that differs from the connection of Baseball with “sports.” The great stories that make up this documentary- Jackie Robinson especially- are better stories than any movie script. Burns will be remembered for “Civil War,” but this won’t be overlooked years from now either.

“Bull Durham” is about as “foul” a baseball film as you’ll ever find, but despite the blue language and bluer sex themes, this is the only film to show the soul of minor league ball and the charm of the small town fan devoted to those farm teams. Today, minor league ball is big business in big stadiums. “Bull Durham” reminds me of visits to an ancient wooden ball park in Knoxville to watch a farm of the Toronto Blue Jays playing in front of a few hundred baseball-starved fans. I love this film, even though Sarandon and Robbins are difficult for this Republican to watch. Costner’s portrayal of Crash Davis is probably the closest I’ll ever get to knowing a real ball player.

Speaking of Costner, “Field of Dreams” is the mystical, mythic tale of Baseball’s supernatural connections with the past, hope, dreams, boys and their dads. This is the antithesis of the chick flick. It’s the movie where men cry at the sight of a grown man playing catch with his twenty-something father. I watch it once a year, just to hear James Earl Jones intone the liturgy. It’s a sweet, flawed, mysterious, heavenly movie that makes me want to visit Iowa.

“The Natural” is a beautiful film, but Redford never manages to convince me that he cares about baseball. He’s great to look at…..but most baseball players aren’t. The magic here is contrived, and it all falls flat reaching way too far. Swap it for any number of other movies.

A movie not on the list that does achieve it’s goal is “The Babe,” John Goodman’s bustin’ out, excessive portrayal of the man who built Yankee Stadium, Babe Ruth. Goodman brings it all: the boyish talent, the self-destruction, the sadness, the celebrity, the power and the tragedy. It’s a great film by an accomplished actor, and it deserves to be on the list.

“The Rookie” may not be too far from a tv movie of the week, but Dennis Quaid is the man to portray the common man who experiences the life-changing second chance. I like this movie, not because of its appeal to old guys, but because it brings the magic of the major league dream right down to every small town, to every school team, and yes….to every coach.

Missing from this list: Tommy Lee Jones’s great portrayal of Ty Cobb, “Cobb.” It’s not an upbeat story, because Cobb was a jerk. But this movie takes that in stride, and the always great Robert Wuhl gives a good performance. Cobb was worth a good movie, and this may not fill expectations, but it’s the best we’ll get. Check it out.

Tom Selleck’s “Mr. Baseball” is a look at Japanese ball through the eyes of an aging major leaguer trying to find a last moment of glory in another country. I like Selleck, and he is pretty successful with this mediocre script.

HBO made a documentary called “When It Was a Game.” It’s almost all shot by fans in the 1930’s-1950’s, the Golden Age of baseball fandom. Very nostalgic and interesting.

Would love to know what you think of the list, or your comments on the films. Thanks to CT for a good article. Let’s play ball! (Or at least watch a movie!)

Comments

  1. “Eight Men Out” is a very good film by a fantastic director.

  2. RyanCurmudgeon says:

    Bull Durham is certainly the best baseball movie–probably best sports movie. I loved watching “When it was a game,” with my dad. There is nothing like talking about the good ol’ days of baseball with your father and grandfather. I get to hear about going to Crosley field and getting pictures of the young Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. And my grandpa telling me about Johnny Vandermeer’s no hitters, and the Klu. I’m glad Great American Ball Park has tried to incoroporate some of the Red’s great history into the stadium area. Anyway, I’m rambling! I was surprised you didn’t list “The Pride of the Yankees.”

  3. I really liked _For Love Of The Game_, but then, I’m not a real baseball fan. Plus, it was decidedly inappropriate viewing material. Still, I liked it!

  4. I haven’t seen most of those that you’ve listed, but I have seen Mr. Baseball. I have to agree with you about it. I really enjoyed that movie. 🙂

  5. Curley (Australia) says:

    61* to me outstrips them all

  6. How can this movie not even be mentioned?
    You must be a Dodger Fan.

    The Pride of the Yankees (1943) – Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, The Pride of the Yankees is one of the greatest biographical movies in baseball history, if not in the history of cinema. This movie follows Lou Gehrig as he ascends from a mediocre first baseman into one of the finest baseball players the sport has ever known. Gary Cooper, who gives a magnificent delivery of GehrigÂ’s famous retirement speech at the end of the movie, plays Gehrig himself. Although Gehrig was to die soon after, his honest play and amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games played are a testament to a player who truly was the pride of the Yankees. The movie, however, is about much more than baseball; it captures a time period, a person, a disease and a sport which all bound America together, if just for an instant.