We’ve all got baseball fever today in the Twin Cities. Even the movie guy, for whom outdoor baseball holds the same once-bygone mystique as seeing a double feature at a drive-in theater … preferably a double feature of baseball flicks.
I remember writing about this very topic a couple years back in the Twins blog. Back then, I remember drawing a clear parallel between the seemingly disparate topics of baseball and movie fandom, in order to justify my argument that baseball movies are not only more common than movies in just about any other sport, but also very often of better quality.
At the time, I remember reasoning that there’s a narrative thrust to a baseball game that seems to work well for movies. Plus, it’s a game filled with close-ups. Unlike hockey, soccer, football or basketball, usually baseball is all about focusing in on one or two people at a time, and each at-bat is ripe with the possibility of a sudden twist.
So when it came time to whittle together a list of the best baseball movies, I found that I was not wanting for candidates. I even had to bench one of my favorite pieces of baseball satire ever, the final half-hour of The Naked Gun. Here, in chronological order, are an extra inning’s worth of great baseball movies:
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Your grandparents’ choice, your parents’ choice, and you know it’s your choice. This is one of the great sports weepies in movie history, no more so than when Gary Cooper utters the same words Lou Gehrig used to offer his farewell to the sport: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” No other movie captures the stately dignity of the sport like this one.
Fear Strikes Out (1957)
A few years before he went Psycho in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Anthony Perkins went a little mad as Jimmy Piersall, who spent some time in the ’50s institutionalized with what was termed “nervous exhaustion” but what people now say was bipolar disorder. Piersall’s explanation at the time was that his father exerted intense pressure to succeed in baseball.
Damn Yankees (1958)
What, baseball’s too macho for catchy tunes and pinpoint choreography? While the title of the Broadway musical is enough reason to include it on the list (grumble, grumble), Gwen Verdon’s saucy rendition of “Whatever Lola Wants,” embellished gleefully by Bob Fosse’s bumps and grinds, spike this modern day retelling of “Faust.”
The Natural (1984)
For some, Robert Redford’s bathetic melodrama about the life and times of a mysteriously faultless baseball natural so deifies its lead character and the subject of baseball itself that it slips into irredeemable corn pone. If you ask me, the combination of Redford’s matinee idol goodness, Randy Newman’s Americana music score and those exploding lights all combine to create what is probably the closest sports movies ever got to the realm of Douglas Sirk.
Eight Men Out (1988)
John Sayles is even still an underappreciated figure in American cinema. But luckily, most sports movie fans are attuned to his frequency when it comes to this powerful, incredibly well-acted depiction of the 1919 White Sox team’s scandalous deal with gamblers to intentionally lose the World Series.
Bull Durham (1988)
Every top 10 list comes with its own “Nuff said” entry. Bull Durham is this list’s.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Call if a “chick flick” if you must, but I defy you to find many other sports movies with as many memorable scenes or moments, or any other baseball movie line as iconic as: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
The Sandlot (1993)
For any kid who ever swung at a beanbag with a stick or substituted their shoes for “bases.” Swipe this one out for The Bad News Bears if you, unlike me, learned to swear before the age of 10.
Billy Crystal poured his baseball-loving heart into the story of North Dakota’s own Roger Maris, whose run at Babe Ruth’s season home run record was not, in the end, met with much support from teammates, fans or Hall of Fame powers-that-be.
Mr. 3000 (2004)
Scoff if you will, but Bernie Mac’s smart, funny, warmly engaging romantic comedy is wholly underrated. If I began this list by reckoning that baseball is a sport of close-ups, Mac’s “Mr. 3000″ gradually learns throughout the course of this movie that it is also, in the end, a team sport.
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.