As a way of getting through the lull between baseball seasons, my son Daryl and I decided to join Netflix and rent baseball movies. Some descriptions are from the IMDB website.
Bad News Bears (original, 1975 ONLY—no sequels or remakes, please!)
Maybe it’s because watching this with my kids when they were little made for quality time, but it remains my favorite baseball film to this day. All heart. With a very old Walter Matthau, a very young Tatum O’Neal, and an adorable buncha misfit kids.
A League of Their Own: Baseball and Feminism—what could be bad? Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis. 1992.
The Fan: Wesley Snipes is Bobby Raeburn, an ace hitter recently sold to the SF Giants for $40 mil. “Robert DiNiro reprises his stock loser/psycho role, as Raeburn’s biggest fan, with predictable results.” Robert DiNiro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, John Leguziamo.
Damn Yankees: “The devil steps in to grant the wish of an aging baseball fan who longs to see his losing team triumph.” Musical–this is where Ya Gotta Have Heart comes from. Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, Ray Walston. 1958.
The Babe: John Goodman plays Babe Ruth. A biopic that’s supposedly nowhere near the truth, most fans and critics hated it, but I love Goodman and I enjoyed it well enough.
Bull Durham: Sexy Susan Sarandon attends The Church of Baseball, where each season she takes a new player as her lover, mentoring him to improve his game. Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Kevin Costner.
The Natural: “An unknown middle-aged batter with a mysterious past appears out of nowhere to take a losing 1930s baseball team to the top of the league.” I found this exceedingly boring, despite the pretty actors: Robert Redford, Glenn Close. 1984.
Field of Dreams: The first time I saw this I felt like I was on a hallucinatory trip and cried from beginning to end. Now I find the whole thing sort of silly. Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan. 1989.
Fever Pitch: If I didn’t loathe the Red Sox this might be one of my top three favorites. A loony Red Sox fan (are there any other kind?) consistently puts the team before his girlfriend. The idiot even rejects a trip to Paris so he won’t miss a game. With Jimmy Fallon and the incomparably luscious Drew Barrymore.
Angels in the Outfield I (1951): A young woman reporter blames the Pittsburgh Pirates’ losing streak on their obscenely abusive manager. While she attempts to learn more about him for her column, he begins hearing the voice of an angel promising help for the team if he’ll mend his ways. As he does so, an orphan girl who is a Pirates fan and has been praying for the team begins noticing angels on the ballfield. Sure enough, the Pirates start winning, and the manager turns his life around. Very Fifties. Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh. **
Angels in the Outfield II (1994 ): I saw this before the original. Surprisingly—I usually prefer old classics to new mush—I liked this one better. The same idea more or less, but because of what film can do now, like show “angels” manipulating the players on the field, it’s more engaging. And Equal Opportunity Adoption gets a plug. Danny Glover is great, but the younger kid played by Milton Davis Jr. walks off with the whole movie. As he says all the time, “It could happen.” Brenda Fricker, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd. ****
The Stratton Story: Another fifties type film. Major League pitcher Monty Stratton loses a leg in a hunting accident, but becomes determined to leave the game on his own terms. James Stewart, June Allyson. This was a little low-key, but it’ll do if you’ve got the baseball jones bad enough. 1949. *
Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars: In director John Badham’s comedy, baseballers Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) and Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) lead a group of fellow black players defecting from the Negro League in 1939 thanks to their unethical, tightfisted team owners. The duo soon strikes out on their own, forming a barnstorming squad that squares off against their white counterparts in pickup games. Richard Pryor is among the familiar faces in the topnotch cast. This movie had its moments–but only moments. **
Brewster’s Millions: “Minor League ballplayer spends money to qualify for inheritance. Excellent daffy comedy with hard-working lead performances. This movie is a classic.” 1985. Richard Pryor, John Candy. Way fun. ***
Cobb: Ty Cobb was as crazy as they come. He was violent, racist, and misogynist, and thought he could do whatever he wanted because he was “the best baseball player ever.” Is that where the arrogance comes from? Seems to be. Tommy Lee Jones is a great actor, and he has a blast chewing up the scenery as Cobb. I might’ve liked the guy for being funny and a few other redeeming qualities, like supporting his ex-teammate, the alcoholic Mickey Cochrane, if he hadn’t been so godawful bad to women. Here’s the IMDB summary: “Non-reverential Hollywood biopic about one of baseball’s greatest players. Critically acclaimed lead performance draws in drama fans seeking strong character portrait.” (1994) Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Wuhl
Fear Strikes Out: True story of ballplayer battling mental illness and domineering father. “This dark drama, with its vivid lead performance, pleases classic drama fans, those seeking baseball movie without the usual cliches.” I liked this a lot; it’s the actors that made it. I kept wondering if Perkins was preparing for his iconic role in Psycho. (1957) Anthony Perkins, Karl Malden.
Hustle: “An ESPN Original Movie about the true story of hit king Pete Rose and the allegations brought against him about betting on baseball. Nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” for his play on the field, Rose took that same aggressive reputation off the field which ultimately led to lifetime banishment from the game he loved.” (2004)
Major League: “High-spirited, upbeat baseball comedy/farce about underdog team that goes for the pennant. Critics frowned on formulaic plot, but this is one of the all-time best baseball comedies.” (1989) Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen.
Mr. Destiny: “Middle-aged, average Joe struck out in his final high school at bat. But with a little help, he gets to relive his shot at glory. This is an overlooked mainstream comedy which is funny, fantastical, and slapstick”–or so says IMDB. I found it pretty silly and mundane. (1990) James Belushi, Linda Hamilton. *
Pride of the Yankees: “Highly acclaimed, sentimental biopic about Lou Gehrig, the famed baseball player stricken with terminal disease. Much-loved, widely appealing, slow-moving drama remains a firm bet for lovers of pathos-tinged drama.” (1942) Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright. Slow-moving is right! Boring is more like it. Only real die-hard baseball history buffs will love it. *
The Scout: “Mood-swinging baseball movie about talent scout discovering teen phenomenon starts out as light comedy, abruptly becomes deeply sentimental drama. Best reserved for true baseball fans, due to its abundant baseball cameos.” (1994) Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser. Eh. *
Soul of the Game: Black baseball greats Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson vie to be the first Afro-American major leaguer, only to see the outspoken rookie, Jackie Robinson, get chosen. (1996) Delroy Lindo, Mykelti Williamson, Blair Underwood. This movie has a lot of heart. It could have used a little more clarity–I wasn’t sure much of the time where we were in time and space. Still, this was one of the best of the bunch. The acting–Del Lindo especially–is superb. *****
Stealing Home: A washed-up baseball player is called back home to deal with his childhood sweatheart who committed suicide. There, he remembers the past and the relationship they had, and finds himself again. (1988) Mark Harmon, Jodie Foster.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game: A tough woman takes over a turn-of-the-century baseball team, and has problems with a couple of her prize players until she sings their troubles away. (1949) Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly.
Baseball: A film by Ken Burns. During this year’s off-season, I made the grave error of renting Ken Burns’ baseball documentary, a ten-disc production. I interspersed them with other movies, but as of this date only managed to see five–half the total. This overblown opus is so godalmighty boring I keep moving them down down down on my Netflix list. Now, with a little over a month until baseball season, when I’ll be watching too many games to be renting so many films, I decided to move the baseball movie movies up the list, but I can hardly stand the prospect of watching any more of the Burns opus. Still, I feel like I have to finish – kind of like doing homework.
Happy Spring Training!
- Spring Training At Last! Warm Up With the Best Baseball Movies of All Time (aarp.org)
- Baseball movies, you gotta love ‘em! (jottingswithjasmine.wordpress.com)