Best Baseball Movies To See Before The World Series
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” – FIELD OF DREAMS.
No truer words were ever spoken about America’s Pastime. Baseball began this past Spring with 30 teams vying for the chance to become World Champions and now it’s been decided. The San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers will play ball in the 2012 World Series. Before the final hurrah of nine innings, stats, bases and 3 strikes you’re out, WAMG has compiled a list of the Best Baseball Movies. Did we leave any in the dugout or are there some that should be sent to the showers? The Fall Classic begins Wednesday, October 24. See ya at the old ball game!
Adapted from the 1952 novel by Bernard Malamud, THE NATURAL tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a fictional baseball prodigy who rises from nowhere, only to have his career nearly cut short when a woman shoots him down. The story is rumored to based loosely on real-life baseball players Eddie Waitkus or Billy Jurges, but this has never been confirmed. The 1984 film, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford as the talented ballplayer, with Robert Duvall and Glenn Close, was nominated for a Golden Globe and four Academy Awards.
Based on the experience of writer/director Ron Shelton, this 1988 film focuses on the antics and comedic drama between the team’s veteran catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner), the wild rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and the sultry baseball groupie/guru Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). The film was a commercial success, a hit with critics and ranks in the top 100 of both Bravo’s and the AFI’s best comedies, also ranking #1 as the greatest sports movie of all time by Sports Illustrated.
EIGHT MEN OUT
Adapted from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book, this 1988 film is written and directed by John Sayles and features a lineup of stars including John Cusack, Cliffton James, Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Rooker. EIGHT MEN OUT is a dramatized account of the scandal brought on by the Chicago White Sox who took bribes from the mob to throw the 1919 World Series. The film carefully details what led to the infamous Black Sox scandal and who was involved.
THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS
In 1952 Dan Dailey starred in THE PRIDE OF ST. LOUIS, the story of Jerome “Dizzy” Dean, a major-league baseball pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in the 1930s and 1940s. Dailey, usually seen in Hollywood musicals, made Dean, a backwoods hillbilly, into a cheerily sympathetic figure, A fine baseball film and a real tribute to an American success story.
THE BAD NEWS BEARS
After skewering all-American subjects such as politics (THE CANDIDATE) and beauty pageants (SMILE), director Michael Ritchie naturally set his sights on the national pastime for this classic about the nastiest, most incompetent, foul-mouthed little leaguers ever. Who better to motivate them to victory than boozy Morris Buttermaker (AKA “Coach Boilermaker”) played to surly perfection by Walter Matthau. But he’s got a ringer in diamond diva Tatum O’Neal (fresh off her Oscar win for PAPER MOON). The flick was such a hit it inspired two quick sequels (THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING and THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN coached by William Devane and Tony Curtis!), a short-lived TV sitcom starring Jack Warden, and a 2005 remake with Billy Bob Thorton. Look for “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” TV star Brandon Cruz as an opposing player in the crucial final game.. Hard to believe, but the flick delivers nearly as many laughs as the poster from Mad Magazine artist extraordinaire Jack Davis!
One of the best baseball bio-pics to come along over the years, The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid, tells the true story of Jim Morris, a man who finally gets a shot at his lifelong dream-pitching in the big leagues. A high school science teacher/baseball coach, Morris’ players make a bet with him:if they win district, he tries out for the majors. This family feel-good movie has heart and a great cast, including Rachel Griffiths and a young Angus T. Jones of Two and Half Men fame.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
When the armed forces snatch up all the able-bodied baseball players to serve in World war II, what are the team owners gonna’ do? Why, send in the ladies! This inspiring feminist story (based on true events) was a big surprise box office smash back in 1992. It reunited director Penny Marshall with her BIG star Tom Hanks who plays boozy ex-Cubbie Jimmy Dugan, the coach of the Rockford Peaches whose roster includes competing sisters (Geena Davis and Lori Petty) alongside team mates played by comedienne Rosie O’Donnell and pop queen Madonna. Look for scene stealing turns by SNL vet Jon Lovitz as a wise guy recruiter and Penny’s big brother Gary as Cubs owner Walter Harvey. Be sure and stick around for the end credits which features footage of many real players from the era. There’s lots of laughs and more than a few heart-tugging moments. But remember the words of Coach Dugan, “There’s no crying in baseball!!”.
THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY
This 1950 biography of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player in the 20th century, is one of the best and most convincing baseball biopics ever filmed. Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson plays himself and Ruby Dee as his wife Rae in THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY. Dee would later play Robinson’s mother in the 1990 TV movie The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson. In April 2013, Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures are teaming up with director Brian Helgeland for 42, the powerful story of Jackie Robinson, the legendary baseball player who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when he joined the roster of the Brooklyn Dodgers. 42 will star Academy Award(R) nominee Harrison Ford (“Witness”) as the innovative Dodger’s general manager Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who first signed Robinson to the minors and then helped to bring him up to the show, and Chadwick Boseman (“The Express”) as Robinson, the heroic African American who was the first man to break the color line in the big leagues.
Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Since that time, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” in which all players on all teams wear #42.
BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
Fantastic picture about a Cy Young caliber pitcher, Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty), who befriends a lesser known catcher, Bruce Pearson (Robert DeNiro), who was just diagnosed with cancer prior to the 1972 baseball season. DeNiro and Moriarty have excellent chemistry throughout the movie. The supporting cast is excellent featuring many familiar faces. Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, Selma Diamond (Night Court), Ann Wedgeworth (Three’s Company), and Phil Foster (Laverne and Shirley).You will not be disappointed.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Before this film, Sam Raimi played solely in the realm of genre fare, with horror, a Western, superheroes, and even slapstick. So teaming up with Kevin Costner for a down-to-Earth baseball drama was quite a change in direction for him. This movie features Costner as an aged pitcher whose final day on the mound takes an unexpected turn when it begins to look like he may pitch a perfect game. At the same time, he flashbacks to his relationship with his girlfriend (Kelly Preston), and realizes What Really Matters in Life (TM).
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
This 1942 classic is mostly known today for the iconic line, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” and not much else, and there’s good reason for that. It’s competently done, featuring a pleasant lead performance from Gary Cooper as famous Yankees player Lou Gehrig, whose admirable life and career were tragically cut short by ALS. But it’s also bland and hagiographic, a repetitive cavalcade of “isn’t this just a swell guy” moments, which isn’t just dull – it’s anti-dramatic.
IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING
After winning an Oscar for the dark 1945 drama THE LOST WEEKEND, actor Ray Milland starred as Professor Vernon K. Simpson AKA “King” Kelly in this 1949 sports fantasy comedy. When a baseball (naturally!) crashes through his lab window, an untested pesticide formula becomes a liquid that makes objects repel wood (and this was a dozen years before Disney started the “Flubber” flicks!). This turns the timid prof (Milland resembles George reeves as TV’s Clark Kent) into a pitching wizard, and helps him earn enough money to wed the college dean’s daughter (Jean Peters). Because Major League Baseball did not co-operate with the film makers there’s no official team mascot or ballpark names, so Simpson plays for St. Louis at St. Louis Stadium! The MLB didn’t want to condone cheating since the ball was coated with the formula. Ah, the simpler days! Look for future USS Minnow skipper Alan Hale as college varsity catcher.
This 2011 Best Picture nominee from writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zallian and director Bennett Miller, stars Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who in 2002, attempted to put together a baseball club on a budget to go up against powerhouse clubs like the New York Yankees who had an unlimited budget to buy the best players and win championships, by using a computer-generated analysis to acquire new players. Beane hires Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who evaluates players using the statistical approach. Beane assembles a team of no-names who, on paper, can get on base and score runs. But is this approach enough to take the A’s all the way to the 2002 World Series and turn convention baseball wisdom upside down?
THE FAN (1996) is a great dark satire of baseball. Robert DeNiro plays Gil Bernard an odd knife salesman who loses the visitation rights to be with his son. Bernard vents his rage by following his San Francisco Giants religiously. Gil becomes obsessed with Bobby Rayburn, the Giants’ new top paid center fielder. Rayburn believes in jinxes and wants his lucky jersey number back to end a slump. Gil gets it for him by killing his teammate. Gil confronts Rayburn who says his change of luck was due to his not caring anymore. Gil goes berserk and threatens to kill Rayburn’s son if he doesn’t hit a homer for him. Directed by Tony Scott, the disturbing story concerns a troubled man’s disintegration into insanity with murderous results.
Let’s see… A movie where Charlie Sheen is WINNING?! SCORE! MAJOR LEAGUE is a clever movie from 1989 that really lets the underdogs shine. When the new owner of the Cleveland Indians trys to put together a losing team, they take her by surprise and pull together a winning season. Wild Thing! Wild Thing! Wild Thing!
This 2001 HBO movie was made shortly after the Mark McGuire/Sammy Sosa single-season home-run battle, where both were trying to beat the record set by Roger Maris in 1961. The movie portrayed a similar home run battle between Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane), who in 1961 were both trying to beat Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs. Maris is the underdog, minimized by sports writers and fans because of his plain-spoken demeanor. Mantle is a fan favorite and league golden boy. The baseball commissioner announces that Ruth’s record stands unless it is broken within 154 games.Any record set after 154 games of the new 162-game schedule will have an asterisk. The film follows the two on and off the field, their friendship, the stresses and frustrations, and Maris’ desire to play well, win, and go home.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Clint Eastwood provides another variation on his crotchety old man act in freshman director Robert Lorenz’s TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, a captivating saga about an aging Atlanta Braves baseball scout whose contract is up for renewal. Basically, the movie concerns the generation gap and the difference between the way men conduct business with either first-hand information or second-hand information. It’s sort of a baseball rebuttal to MONEY BALL, pitting Clint against younger guys who prefer to base their scouting decisions strictly on the statistics that they juggle on their laptops. Though predictable, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE has a lot of balls and throws them in a variety of ways. Amy Adams co-stars as Clint’s adult daughter who has spent most of her life away from her single father living with relatives. Part of the conflict occurs between the two have been apart so long that they don’t function together well when they are in each other’s company. One of the best films of 2012 so far.
You don’t have to be a hard-core baseball fan to see that The Babe, starring John Goodman as America’s legendary slugger, turns the life of Babe Ruth into a whitewashing that is genially sweet . Despite a few attempts to present Ruth’s darker side (i.e., women and booze), it tidies up his more disreputable adventures and gives him a heart of gold to boot. The movie understands the rich comedy of Ruth’s appeal, the fact that the grandest athlete of the 20th century was, in one sense, barely an athlete at all. He was, instead, a kind of carnival showman, a big, soft, dumpling-shaped guy who knew how to perform one trick of genius, and who did it over and over again. The fans never got tired of it, and neither did he.
There are some great stories reminiscing about childhood baseball games, but this one is my favorite by far! Scotty Smalls takes us back to the summer of 1962… a summer of friendship, leaning, love and baseball. This movie is the perfect combination of “coming of age” tale and nostalgia. Just don’t hit the ball over the fence, or it will remain the property of The Beast!
Here’s something different from the usual baseball biopic. COBB concerns one of the sport’s early superstars whose prowess on the field was almost overshadowed by his reputation as a really unpleasant guy. Most of the film is a road trip that Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones) made to Cooperstown New York with sports writer Al Stump (“Arliss” TV star Robert Wuhl) in 1959. Included are flashbacks to Ty’s glory days illustrating many of the legends surrounding him ( sharpening the bottoms of his cleats in order to injure opponents, pulling a heckler out of his wheelchair for a beating during a game). After the high spirits of BULL DURHAM, writer/director Ron Shelton gives us a hard look at the dark side of baseball history.
ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1994)
Disney remade ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD in 1994, this time using the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels) as the team. This updated version has Danny Glover as the feisty manager whose team gets some help from above and 13-year old Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the boy whose wish sets the plot in motion. A heart-warming crowd-pleaser which was a surprise hit in 1994 and spawned two direct-to-video sequels: ANGELS IN THE ENDZONE and ANGELS IN THE INFIELD.
ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951)
Speaking about the original, ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (1951) is the one of the best comedies about the sport. It’s the story of baseball manager (Paul Douglas) who loses his temper too much until he hears an angel’s voice (James Whitmore), who makes a deal with him. He and his other angels will help the baseball team win games if the manager stops losing his temper. When the deal is set, the manager’s life changes. The filming locations were old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, home of the triple A Los Angeles Angels before the Dodgers arrived. Forbes Field in Pittsburg and Yankee Stadium were also used in this 1951 film. Some popular ballplayers from that time can be seen as well. It’s a fun movie to watch, especially for a baseball fan.
Here’s a film genre rarely associated with baseball : musical comedy. This 1958 film hit the big screen with the original 1955 Broadway cast almost intact. Who would have thought of a light-hearted sports romp inspired by Faust. The Yankees of the title are from NYC and the guy constantly damning them is Washington Senators fan Joe Boyd. He strikes a deal with Mr. Applegate (future favorite TV Martian Ray Walston) and the middle-aged slug becomes the youthful super sportsman Joe Hardy ( movie addition hunky blonde beefcake Tab Hunter). Helping out Applegate is the ultimate femme fatale Lola (Gwen Verdon). Be sure and catch the Mambo number between Verdon and future hubby choreographer supreme Bob Fosse. The musical may be best known for the songs “Whatever Lola Wants” (which became the film’s title in certain markets) and “Heart,” about trying your best even when losing. Hmm… wonder if they sing that ditty in the home locker room at Wrigley Field?
FEAR STRIKES OUT
FEAR STRIKES OUT (1957) is based on the life of troubled Boston Red Sox pitcher Jimmy Piersall, It compellingly charts his life from a boy with a love for baseball to his dream of making it in the big leagues. Piersall suffered from schizophrenia, a condition he blamed on his father’s aggressive and autocratic behavior. The pressure finally got to Piersall who went nuts right on the field and spent time in a mental institution. FEAR STRIKES OUT is a strange psychological look at the game grounded by a terrific sensitive performance by Anthony Perkins as the young Piersall and a scary turn by Karl Malden as his father.
After getting his 3000th hit, Stan Ross (Bernie Mac) retires right in the middle of the Milwaukee Brewers’ pennant race thinking he will be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. But now, just as the cocky star is about to be voted into Cooperstown, the media happily uncovers that Ross only managed to get 2,997 hits. So close to the landmark number, Ross has only one choice – rejoin the Brewers for the most unlikely comeback a sport has ever seen. Directed by Charles Stone III. With Angela Bassett and Paul Sorvino. Did you know that at the start of the film, when Stan Ross is walking to the plate with 2,999 hits (the first time), the announcer says “Will this be the at bat…” then states the date…”that Stan Ross hits number 3000?” TV announcer Joe Buck asked an almost identical question when St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire was sitting on 61 home runs. McGwire stepped to the plate and hit number 62, breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, set in 1961.
The timing on this one was tailored made – A romantic comedy revolving around the Red Sox’s fairy tale 2004, World Series Championship season. On October 27 2004, Game 4 of the 2004 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, the finale of this film was shot. After the last play of the game in the bottom of the ninth during the Red Sox celebration, stars Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon were filmed also celebrating together on the field. A brief shot of the filming could be seen live on the Fox broadcast of the World Series. Rewrites by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly had to be done immediately following the World Series game 7 clincher of the ALCS against the New York Yankees to include the historic 2004 Boston Red Sox post-season. Several fans who appeared in the 2004 documentary, “Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie,” were given roles in the movie.
FIELD OF DREAMS
After all these years the life-equals-baseball masterpiece still packs an unexpected kick, even after you know all its tricks and charms from repeat visits. Like all great sports movies, FIELD OF DREAMS isn’t really about sports. It’s about a quest, a yearning so deep it rules the characters’ lives. FIELD OF DREAMS is the perfect family pick and you won’t find a better film to clue your children into how important their parents will seem to them as they grow older. I know it did for me.
FIELD OF DREAMS is adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s book SHOELESS JOE. Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella an Iowa corn farmer who’s farm is failing, but instead of tending to business, he listens to a voice in his head that says: “Ease his pain. If you build it, he will come.” Ray plows the corn under and builds the most beautiful amateur field ever made, providing the backdrop for a reconciliation with exiled baseball star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
But there are other heroes who want to come play ball on Ray’s field, and one of them may be his father. Packed inside the movie are road trips with Terence “Terry” Mann (James Earl Jones) and Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), each vignette showcasing Costner’s ability to play well with other strong actors on the big screen. Your kids might not cry, but I can almost guarantee that you will. The results of the World Series may have you blubbering but FIELD OF DREAMS gets the tears flowing year in and year out.