Just in time for the MLB Playoffs, Geekade columnists Dave DiOrio and Chip Garrison present their line starting nine line-up of the greatest baseball films of all time.
Fall. The time of year when the temperature finally begins to cool off from the summer heat. When the leaves turn beautiful shades of orange, red, and yellow. When pumpkin spice flavored items fly off the shelf (Really? Pumpkin-Flavored Oreos? Really?) When every retail operation you shop in starts putting up its Christmas displays. But if you’re like us, fall is the time of year when our casual summer fling with baseball gets hot and heavy with the playoffs.
In the summer, baseball is what you listen to on the radio when you’re working on something in the garage. It’s what you watch when you’re sitting on your deck drinking a nice cold beer. It’s what you put on in the car when you’re driving anywhere at night. You follow the game, but the win or lose thing doesn’t matter so much when there’s 162 of them.
In October, however, baseball becomes blood sport. And since there are fewer games because most of the league is practicing their backswing on the ninth hole at Pine Valley, the excitement of playoff baseball means you finally have time to catch up on your baseball movies. To help you navigate the literally hundreds of movies about baseball, we have each created our starting lineup of the nine great baseball films.
Why baseball, you ask? Well, I can’t honestly say that the other sports have given us much to work with. What else do have? Hockey? We can think of three: Miracle, Mystery, Alaska and Slap Shot…and then there’s Slap Shot…Oh, and that movie about mighty ducks.
Basketball? Please. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, complete with Julius Irving, is one of the worst films ever made. The Will Farrell movie about the ABA? Terrible. Whoopi Goldberg takes over as coach of the Knicks? Yech! Alright, we’ll give you Hoosiers, Hoop Dreams and White Men Can’t Jump, but to paraphrase Forrest Gump, that’s all we’ve got to say about that.
And what about football, America’s most popular sport? Go ahead. Make your list. We’ll wait here. Still waiting. Ok, you’ve written down The Longest Yard. Twice because you seem to think Adam Sandler is talented. So I’m sure you’ve got The Water Boy on there too. Please. What else? Brian’s Song? Ok. North Dallas Forty? I guess if you consider Mac Davis to be a good actor and not a washed up 1970’s variety show host. The Replacements? Keanu Reeves as a heroic quarterback? Yeah, that will fly.
No, baseball is truly the standard bearer for quality films. So here are our line ups.
Like any batting order, the following lists will create some debate. But that’s what makes baseball fun!
To start, the film we both agreed not to include on our lists is probably the greatest of them all. Rick Burns’ documentary Baseball is everything you need to understand the complete history of the game. It’s like spending a week in Cooperstown with the greatest baseball players of all time as your tour guides. If you haven’t seen it, well, we can’t help you – you clearly are not a baseball fan. But if you are a baseball fan, you’ve probably already seen them far too often. Let’s move on. Here are the starting lineups:
- Major League
- A League of Their Own
- Field of Dreams
- The Natural
- Pride of the Yankees
- Bull Durham
- The Sandlot
- The Bad News Bears (’76)
- Bull Durham
- A League of Their Own
- The Natural
- Major League
- Bad News Bears
- The Sandlot
- Rookie of the Year
Chip: 1989’s Major League is the perfect lead-off film for this list. What could be better than a feel-good comedy about those perennial losers, The Cleveland Indians, finally having a winning season? Starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen and Rene Russo, Major League is the right combination of hilarious locker room antics, quirky characters, and light-hearted romance, so much so that the ending, which has been telegraphed from the beginning of the film, is still earned. Who can ever forget the stately Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano praying to Jobu for a hit, Charlie Sheen (before the drugs ruined his mind) at his best as Wild Thing, or a very young Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes? And most importantly, Bob Uecker is hilarious as everyone’s favorite announcer/borderline alcoholic Harry Doyle. Major League sets the table for a strong baseball film line up.
Dave: When I’m thinking lead-off, my focus goes right to on-base percentage. I want a guy who can hit for average, leg out an infield single, make a pitcher show all of his pitches, draw a walk after being down 0-2 and generally be a nuisance to the opposition. This is why I’m going with the on-screen adaption of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are so great together as Billy Beane and Peter Brand hashing out how to be the smartest team in Baseball. With very little money and a pool of other teams’ castoffs to work with, these guys took the Oakland Athletics to the postseason and went toe to toe with teams that vastly outspent them, teams that on paper should dominate them. Making something out of nothing, and working smarter not harder is what this film is all about, and that’s what I want out of my lead-off man. I also choose to ignore Phillip Seymour Hoffman, may he rest in peace, and his portrayal of A’s skip Art Howe. Why do we torture these managers by making them wear baseball uniforms? And I completely agree, Bob Uecker is hilarious.
Chip: Yes, the story of Billy Beane and the upstart A’s is definitely a compelling film. Interesting that you chose it – a film based on analytics when you yourself have written a disparaging piece about those who crunch numbers in sports. (I’m looking at you Hinkie-ites!)
Batting second for me is Penny Marshall’s classic baseball comedy/history report A League of Their Own. Personal story. I went to a mutual friend’s wedding and sat at the reception in the beautiful Newark Art Museum with a family who knew A League of Their Own VERBATIM. They spent almost all of the reception reciting EVERY SINGLE LINE FROM THE FILM (because that’s what verbatim means) and laughing hysterically as if they had never heard any of them spoken before. But that being said, A League of Their Own is brilliant and informative all at the same time. Tom Hanks and Geena Davis have such a great chemistry. Side Note: Tom Hanks has great chemistry with every actress he works with. Meg Ryan? Check. Julia Roberts? Robin Wright? Check. Sally Field? Check. Bonnie Hunt? Check. Helen Hunt? Check. Elizabeth Perkins? Check. Darryl Hannah for God’s sake? Check. He even made Shelley Long look relatively good in The Money Pit. If I were a talent agent and I represented an actress, I would fight like hell to get her into a movie opposite of Tom Hanks. Anyway, A League of Their Own tells a terrific story and shows people that this league did actually exist. And quite honestly, A League Of Their Own has the best actual baseball game sequences of any baseball film. The montage about the World Series is top notch and the final game is fantastic.
Dave: Okay G-Man, I think you’re short-changing A League of Their Own just a hair, but more on that later. It’s the two hole, and I’m looking for the unsung hero of the top half of the line-up. I want a player with situational hitting ability. We may need to get that lead off guy into scoring position with a shot to the right side of the infield. We may need a timely sac fly, a bunt in a close game, or to draw that walk to put more pressure on the pitcher when the meat of our order gets to the plate.
I’m looking for Crash Davis of the Durham Bulls in Bull Durham. That and I wanted to get the first Costner mention in the piece. This is the best Costner baseball movie. You and I may go toe to toe on this, but if anyone doesn’t have recollection of the “I believe…” speech, go YouTube that right now, and tell me I’m wrong. A young Tim Robbins is so much fun as young fireballer “Nuke” LaLoosh (originally intended for Charlie Sheen). Hell, even major leaguers respect this film for its accurate depiction of minor league life. I’ll hold off going any further since I’m CERTAIN this is on your list. I just love this film so much. I think more than any other film on my list, I’ll hop into Bull Durham any time I see it on from any scene.
Chip: I think my favorite part of Bull Durham is Robert Wuhl and the conversations on the mound. Hilarious film. I felt it was a good seventh hole hitter to restart the rally.
When you bat third in the order, you’re expected to be a contact hitter and bring some power to the line-up. No film does that better than Field of Dreams. Here is my venture into Costner-Land. I think this is his finest performance as Ray Kinsella, the farmer who hears the whispers calling him to plow over his crops to make a baseball field in Iowa, and it’s also got pitch-perfect performances by Ray Liotta, Bert Lancaster and the immortal James Earl Jones. I admit that I get incredibly emotional watching this film. Baseball is the great American pastime because it represents hope and idealism. Field of Dreams captures that idealism in so many innovative ways in the plot and writing. James Earl Jones’ monologue should be in a time capsule that we launch into space about why baseball is important to us all. And most significantly, I don’t know a single male who doesn’t cry at the end of the film when Ray realizes that all of the voices were not only leading him to the heaven on earth that is a baseball field but also to his estranged father who he gets to see as a young man. What a gift it would be for every son to have a catch with his father when he was the same age.
Dave: Field of Dreams didn’t even make my line-up. Do I really need to say more than: this movie has SHOELESS JOE JACKSON HITTING RIGHT HANDED? Aside from that, I don’t think the movie has aged well. All of the films on my list I can watch anytime from any point. Trying to rewatch Field of Dreams is a really tough slough for me. I actually bought this film on DVD not too long ago since I thought I needed it to round out a pretty good sports movie collection and watching it after all these years, it just feels overly sappy and corny. Above all, it’s pretty weird. Is it more or less fantastical than Angels in the Outfield, Teenwolf, or … the Lord of the Rings series, for that matter?
Third in my order is A League of Their Own. I always think of the three hole hitter as the best hitter on a team. Does this mean I think A League of Their Own is the best BASEBALL movie out there? Hmmm. That’s a tough one, but if it’s not, it closes the gap with one thing: mass appeal. I feel like this film would be prominently placed on my kids’ lists, my grandparents’ lists, my wife’s list, and my father-in-law’s list for all the reasons you already touched on. Additionally, the star power of this movie is pretty incredible, rivaled in baseball movie terms by maybe only Major League. A League of Their Own is just a solid, universally beloved film, that’s accurate without too much “inside baseball.” And c’mon – “There’s no crying in baseball” is a pervasive quote.
Chip: We both have The Natural as our clean-up hitter.
Dave: Ready for the mutual bowing down to this film’s greatness? The good vs evil, the light vs dark, the Christ story wrapped in a fable about America’s past time? The subtlety of the acting and the symbolism is rich here, but I never feel like the movie gets too heavy or bogged down by it. There’s an undercurrent of levity behind much of the film’s drama, from Roy’s interactions with The Judge to the death of Bump Bailey. The Natural is an easy watch that leaves an indelible mark on your baseball soul. Who wouldn’t want Roy Hobbs who not only LITERALLY knocks the cover off a ball, he shoots the lights out with an epic home run, hitting clean up.
Chip: You know, the funny thing about this film is that in the book Roy blows the game intentionally and becomes a bum. Interesting take by Bernard Malamud in light of the constant scrutiny on the temptations of modern athlete/celebrities.
Rounding out my lineup, I think 42 and Pride of the Yankees go well with each other. Each one depicts heroic real-life players who each faced their life-altering problems with tremendous bravery, grace, and heroism. At the bottom of my order are the kids. I think The Sandlot captures everything I used to do during the summer with my friends – the baseball, the sleep outs, and the fun of throwing up at the carnival. The Sandlot feels like I am looking at a home movie. And most importantly, everyone should have a friend in their life as cool and dependable as Benny Rodriguez, he of the PF Flyers.
Last but not least, Walter Matthau is fantastic as an alcoholic pool repair man/Little League coach in The Bad News Bears. Any time I see a baseball game with a rally, I start humming “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen. What resonates most for me in that film was the over-involvement by the parents of the other teams. By today’s standards, the premise where a lawsuit against a southern California youth league is settled by forming an additional league team of the worst players is incredibly contemporary. In 1976, it was a pretty bold statement to make. Vic Morrow is fantastic as the over-the-top, jackass coach of the top team in the league – a team you know he handpicked so he could win the championship of a league of twelve-year-olds. Again, wonderfully contemporary. The showdown between the Yankee’s coach and his defiant son at the end of the film is a truly dramatic moment in what is a light-hearted, children’s film about baseball.
Dave: We took a similiar approach with the bottom of our lists. I think it’s the place you find a way to play those feel-good players. Those scrappy guys that drop bunts, slap singles, and turn over the order. Here we both tucked in movies that are filled with nostalgia, that make you remember a time when life was simple, and baseball was your world. I can’t believe you slept on Rookie of the Year! “Funky butt lovin” may be right up there with “There’s no crying in baseball” for baseball movie quotes.
So that’s it. Enjoy your Samuel Adams Octoberfest and the thousands of foods now inexplicably laced with pumpkin spice as you watch some of the greatest movies ever made and wait for the next game.