Best Baseball Movies

"I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.. It's a long season and you gotta trust. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."

~ Bull Durham

For baseball fans the end of October marks a long drought. After six months with few days off, suddenly there's no baseball, and that's tough for baseball addicts. Withdrawal symptoms soon set in; and the Hot Stove League strikes up—speculating about what moves the home team front office should make to improve the team before next year. It's a perfect time to break out the baseball movies.

Literary critic Jacques Barzun once wrote "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball . . ." So in a sense baseball movies can offer a great deal of insight into our collective psyches. Unfortunately, out of numerous baseball movies only a few are worth repeated viewing; most are as full of clichés as FOX sportscasters.

Following are the top ten baseball movies that I have seen (and remember). That leaves off the movies I haven't seen and neglects the ones that I barely remember. One film that will never make my list is Costner's abominable For Love of the Game, but it's ok if you disagree. Movie buffs fall all over the map when it comes to discussing film favorites. Just make your own list.

Top Ten Baseball Movies

1. Bull Durham (1988)

Hands down the greatest baseball movie ever made! Director Ron Sheldon actually played the game, and brings lots of "inside" baseball to the screen—the crazy superstitions, the eccentric players, the sexual games between games, the way players will remember that one swing of the bat that occurred 7 seasons ago, the one word that causes automatic ejection, and what really goes on during a mound meeting.

Susan Sarandan and Tim Robbins do some fine acting work, and even Kevin Costner works well as a realistic acting catcher in his best role. No other movie captures the spirit of the game as well - with as much naturalness and humor. "You can't beat fun at the old ballpark," Harry Caray used to say, but Bull Durham comes close!

2. Eight Men Out (1988)

The world champion 2005 White Sox renewed my interest in this generally historically accurate account of the 1919 Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball that features some good acting under the direction of well-known independent directory John Sayles. Don't expect a feel good, happy ending here. Things didn't turn out that well for the players in real life either. Shoeless Joe's shoes may be in the Hall of Fame, but his name will never be inscribed on its plaques.

3. Frequency (2000)

For those who cry "foul ball" because Frequency is a science fiction thriller, consider how big a role the New York Mets play in this film. It connects father and son much the same way that baseball connects in Field of Dreams, and the specific incidents of the 1969 Miracle Mets World Series help advance the plot. Besides, what are all of the actors doing in the last scenes? Frequency will remain an enjoyable, but overlooked movie that won't even be listed on sports movie lists. This is an attempt to correct that oversight.

4. Baseball: Ken Burns Documentary (1994)

This project oozes true love of the game, and stands as the most extensive film history of baseball ever. Rare archive material is used, along with remarkable interviews with baseball players like Mickey Mantle, Buck O’Neill, Curt Flood, and Ted Williams; sports announcers like Bob Costas, Red Barber, and Vin Skully; and assorted celebrities and writers like Billy Crystal, Studs Terkel, and George Plimpton. I'm neglecting a ton of professional voice talent—M. Emmett Walsh, John Turturro, and Jason Robbarts, to name a few.

The 10 DVD documentary mini series chronicles the history of the game, with a great deal of emphasis on social issues that intertwine with the game--most notably the race issue. It offers and excellent introduction to the old Negro Leagues and compels any baseball fan to consider the possibilities that were denied many of these great players.

My only quibble is that the filmmakers show their East coast media bias, and cover the Boston and New York teams thoroughly while giving far less coverage to other worthy baseball teams and players. But this series will send any true baseball fan into orgasmic pleasure—with over 20 hours of baseball coverage, pack lunch and dinner for the viewer and leave him/her alone!

5. The Sandlot (1993)

Simply a lot of fun with a message about facing your fears as a socially redeeming bonus, The Sandlot hearkens back to the innocent pre-teen years where summers were devoted to playing little league, collecting baseball cards, and hanging out at the soda fountain talking baseball. There's also the meanie who lives beyond center field who won't give back your balls - anyone who played baseball as a kid will relate to this, and will want their kids to see this film. While it does deliberately teach its lesson, it's not over didactic about it and supplies a great deal of humor. It also reveals the worst insult you can make to any young baseball player - "You throw like . . . a girl!" Oh, the horror!

6. Field of Dreams (1989)

Kevin Costner's second best baseball movie. (He strikes out on the third, so don't go to that turkey) Baseball is used as a metaphor that allows a few characters to reach their lifetime dreams, or come to resolve differences with their father. I'm not sure what it is about a simple game of "catch" that connects fathers and sons, but many men will find a few tears forming during the last scenes. Just what is out there beyond that cornfield? "If you build it, he will come!"

7. Fever Pitch (2005)

Sweet romantic comedy that touches on the emotional core of baseball fans and the people that love them. Armed with with Nick Hornsby source material, this film captures much of the spirit of the devoted Red Sox Nation while incorporating a few brief clips of the magical 2004 season—enough to satisfy most baseball fans. Ironically the ending had to be radically changed when the Red Sox "screwed up" and won the World Series.

8. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Robert De Niro plays a not too bright catcher who has a terminal illness while playing out his last season. Much more than a mere baseball movie, it becomes more about the relationship between De Niro's character and the star pitcher, played by Michael Moriarty. Any baseball fan realizes that the story isn't all that realistic since a catcher by the very nature of the position should be one of the smartest players on the team, but look at this movie more for the acting and the way the characters deal with impending death.

9. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (2000)

Extremely well done documentary that does more than chronicle Greenberg's career. It also serves as a sociological study and examines American attitudes towards Jewish athletes, by combining interviews and archive footage. And where else can you hear “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in Yiddish?

10. Still, We Believe - The Boston Red Sox Movie (2004)

Red Sox Nation fans have long held a reputation for being passionate and knowledgeable. The entire New England area is saturated with Red Sox fever during baseball season, yet longtime fans also can be darkly humorous and cynical as they forever root for their team with the Yankee sword of Damocles hanging above their heads. This documentary wonderfully captures this spirit, primarily collected during the heartbreaking 2003 season.

Honorable Mention:

Major League (1989)

Mention this film to any baseball fan, and immediately they'll start citing favorite scenes and quotes—from Bob Uecker's cryptic one-liners to Jobu and baseball superstitions. My favorite is the fan reaction to "Wild Thing" coming in to save the game--the film may be comedy, but it respects the game and inspires memories, just like baseball does.

The Natural (1984)

A fantasy, based on Bernard Malamud's novel about the best baseball player anybody's ever seen, The Natural uses baseball as metaphor. Everything is dreamlike here with its fuzzy luminescent lighting, from the dark forces in the owner's quarters to Glen Close as the "woman in white" who inspires Robert Redford. Everyone loves the climatic explosive ending, but I really enjoy the fact that part of the movie is set at Wrigley Field--a magical place that instantly sends you back to the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s. If you like your baseball served with symbolism and nostalgia, this is a good choice.

61 (2001)

A huge Yankee fan, Billy Crystal fulfills a lifetime dream with this HBO film that chronicles one of the most storied years in Yankee history--the year that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris starred as the M & M boys in pursuit of Babe Ruth’s most prized and (previously thought) untouchable record of 60 home runs in a season.

Cobb (1994)

An underrated biopic that credibly captures Ty Cobb's nasty competitive spirit, even when he's an old man suffering from a multitude of terminal illnesses.

A League of Their Own (1992)

The best aspect of Penny Marshall's film is the awareness of the All American Pro Girls League that it brings. Formed during WWII when many major league baseball players were serving the country, this league was formed to bring baseball entertainment (and make some money for the owners). The melodrama does have a number of memorable scenes and quotes, and gives Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell to give credible athletic performances.

The Bad News Bears (1979)

A gem included as an extra feature on The Criterion Collections new DVD release of Close-Up, this first feature by Kiarostami demonstrates what is to come from Iran's best filmmaker.

Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Idealized autobiographical story about the great Lou Gehrig, but I've never heard anything bad about the man from any sources. So maybe he really was as good as Gary Cooper portrays him. Some great re-enactments. And Yankee fans will weep along with Cooper during the famous "I'm the luckiest man alive" moment.

Up for Grabs (2005)

You probably heard about the record setting home run ball of Barry Bonds that set off a legal controversy between two Giants fans that battled for its possession for nearly two years. This is the story--with human faces attached.

Other Baseball Movies:

Note: All Arizona Diamondbacks fans and Yankee haters can add the 2001 World Series video/DVD to the top of this list and enjoy watching it over and over and over. There's a ton of drama, but I personally favor skipping over games 4 and 5 and heading to the nine inning of game 7—it's a doozy!!!! For some reason my eyes beginning watering and I start smiling and cheering every time I watch that thing. It ranks among the top "feel good" movies of all time!