Jake Taylor and Rick Vaughn strategize about Clu Haywood in Major League (1989).
Greetings folks, it’s list time again! As we near the end of the MLB offseason (pitchers & catchers report in 4 weeks, yay!) and in the aftermath of the recent passing of one of the all-time great players and ambassadors of the game, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, I’ve had America’s pastime on the brain lately. So in that spirt, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 best baseball movies, in my opinion, that exist today. So without further adieu, and in no particular order…
1. Major League – A tremendous cast fuels this romp about a group of has-beens & never-was players that propel the Cleveland Indians to a division title. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s greatness. If you haven’t, stop reading this right now and go watch it. You’ll thank me.
2. Bull Durham – Just a damn good movie, and entertaining as hell. Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins are a fantastic duo, and are at their best here. A very funny and raunchy film that shows the zany life of the minor leagues.
3. Eight Men Out – Based on the fascinating book by Eliot Asinof which tells of the infamous 1919 World Series being thrown by the White Sox, this film has it all: Great action, strong performances, intense drama, and a wonderfully compelling, if not very tragic story. An absolute All-Star cast leads this John Sayles-directed effort. While not as detailed as the book (not even Peter Jackson could cover that much minutiae), this is a very solid film that is captivating from the opening seconds onward. “Say it aint so, Joe!”, as the apocryphal cry from the heartbroken young fan goes. Sadly, it was true.
4. A League Of Their Own – Another good cast here, spearheaded by a very entertaining performance from Tom Hanks. Penny Marshall does a great job directing this now-classic dramedy of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which existed during World War II.
5. Cobb – Tommy Lee Jones’ performance was so thorough, you almost felt disturbed and disgusted. Such was the real life of Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb, one of the best ballplayers of all time, and also one of the nastiest human beings by most accounts. In all, this somewhat underappreciated film holds it’s own and is a worthy entry.
6. The Sandlot – Although somewhat contrived and predictable in a Mighty Ducks sort of way, this coming-of-age film is, at it’s core, is a great representation of the joys of youth and the pure love of baseball. Although anyone can identify with some of the themes in this movie, it speaks especially loud to those who grew up playing between the lines.
7. Moneyball – This Bennet Miller effort is based on a book by Michael Lewis about Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, and how he and his staff utilized then-underused and overlooked statistical analyses and projections to put toether a roster of players that had high value but low worth. It’s a fascinating read, and this movie is very engrossing as well, largely due to a colorful and energetic performance from Brad Pitt. Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour-Hoffman are also excellent and help make this a damn good baseball movie.
8. 61* – Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane are excellent as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, respectively, in this underrated HBO film directed by Billy Crystal. It tells the story of how Maris & Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record during the 1961 season and all the ups and downs therein. Check this one out if you haven’t already.
9. The Natural – An obvious choice here, but nonetheless this classic cannot not be included. Robert Redford is great as the aging, mysterious rookie Roy Hobbs and a wonderful supporting cast which includes Robert Duvall, Darren McGavin and Kim Basinger really move the dark tale along. Although the novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud has a much different twist and ending at the climax, the film version is outstanding and beloved for many reasons.
10. Pride of the Yankess – No list of baseball films can be complete without this 1942 staple. Gary Cooper turns in a gem of a performance as Yankee great Lou Gehrig, resulting in a brilliant, loving homage to one of America’s most revered sports figures.
Honorable Mention: Field of Dreams – I know, I know, many of you must be thinking, “how on earth could you not have included it in the list?!”!” Well the simple answer is, it’s not really a baseball film. Sure, it has a huge baseball theme, and the whole story centers around the game, but by and large the story is about a man taking a chance to make a dream come true. It’s about how sometimes you’re faced with situations that defy logic and reason and you must simply take a leap of faith. It’s about possibilities. About chance. Magic. Fantasy. Hope. Love. But it’s not directly about baseball. Still, I had to include it here somewhere, as it’s a wonderful film. So is Shoeless Joe, the novel from which it’s based.
“Let’s play two!”
RIP Ernie Banks (1931-2015)