The Top Five Great Baseball Movies of All-Time
With recent talk about the Field of Dreams plan for expanding the Dyersville, Iowa movie site and now a television show in development at NBC Universal's Peacock network, one can wonder how well Hollywood depicts America's favorite pastime.
There is no shortage of baseball films that are enjoyable to watch. So here is an admittedly subjective Top Five list of all-time favorite baseball films. They each provide a unique angle on the spirit of the game and a nostalgic look at the culture, affection, and passion many have for America's favorite pastime.
THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942)
Gary Cooper playing the New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig may not be the most exciting film by contemporary standards. Still, it touches the audience as a biopic story of one of baseball's greatest players forced to bow out of the game in his prime because of a deadly disease.
Pride of the Yankees ranks high for many reasons. Still, it is perhaps the final third of the film where Gehrig delivers his iconic farewell speech, telling a packed Yankee Stadium that he is the "luckiest man on the face of the earth" despite facing a debilitating disease and uncertain future. But his speech wasn't simply about baseball as much as it was about his love for his family. So again, it is a humbling, inspiring, and yet heartbreaking film.
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
The film is a sentimental story about a father and son's relationship wrapped in a surreal baseball fantasy. Ray Kinsella is an Iowa farmer who risks financial failure by plowing under his cornfield to build a baseball field. It's all because a mysterious voice tells him to listen more carefully, look for life's clues, and follow a dream to heal old wounds.
It seems an improbable premise for a baseball film, but it somehow ties together and stands the test of time for many fans. The scene that resonates most with baseball fans is perhaps the James Earl Jones character perfectly describing people's love for the game and how they will come to rural Iowa to see and play on the field if Ray sticks to his dream. Is Field of Dreams the best baseball movie ever made? No, but it is one of them. But most likely for reasons that transcend baseball.
BULL DURHAM (1988)
This film's humor, dialogue, and acting push Bull Durham towards the top. It is a fun baseball story tucked inside of a romantic comedy. Perhaps the film best portrays life in the minor leagues in backwater Carolina. A stellar cast consisting of Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins is a home run.
Robbins is the young and untamed but potentially talented pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. As the seasoned catcher, Costner's character, Crash Davis, sees his time as a player winding down and giving way to being an on-field mentor with a wise view of life. Team groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) selects one young player each season to be her "special" project, leading to several comedic scenes. There is no championship game or dramatic home run finish, but the game scenes and depiction of life in the minors make this a terrific baseball film. All the other facets of the story make it a fun movie.
Baseball is ultimately a numbers game, and Moneyball provides a strong underdog story with great dialogue helping to knock it out of the park.
Moneyball is intelligent, has a strong cast, and is well-acted to tell the story of an Oakland A's team unable to compete with big salaries for big stars. So instead, the team gets cobbled together by a number-crunching statistician. Does that sound like a nerdfest or a sports film?
Nevertheless, it shows how the right combination of raw and consistently talented players leads to wins. Ultimately, that may be Moneyballs biggest draw, a team of decent talent working to find a way to win. Isn't that what most of humanity does every day?
The A's General Manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and the nerdy numbers cruncher played by Jonah Hill, understood that a team could buy wins instead of big names. As a result, Moneyball is on the money as a smart, fun, and entertaining baseball film.
THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)
The original Bad News Bears is not about big leaguers or baseball legends but rather a little league team of misfits led by a down-and-out drunk of a coach. Doesn't that sound inspiring and entertaining?
Walter Matthau delivers a believable and heartfelt performance of a desperate former minor league pitcher turned pool cleaner named Morris Buttermaker. An alcoholic willing to do whatever he must for a measly paycheck. However, despite his desire for beer and his hapless team's lack of athleticism, by the season's end, the rag-tag group of boys and one strong-armed and strong-willed twelve-year-old girl, played by Tatum O'Neil, bond as a team, hit their stride and learn what it takes to win.
The film celebrates the underdog, shows baseball's sweet essence and what it teaches us about winning and losing. But just as endearing is its true-to-life depiction of the healthy competitiveness and authentic culture of 1970s suburban America.
The Bad News Bears is tender, funny, dramatic, and honest at times, making it one of the all-time great baseball films.
Sidenote, by using Georges Bizet's opera Carmen as part of the film's soundtrack also helped transform this "kids" baseball movie into a memorable story of triumph and redemption.