With Alabama baseball leaving much to be desired, perhaps we can find some joy in baseball movies.
Below are my top 10+1 (non-documentary category) plus a few others that may be on your list. Some are fictional; some are based on true stories; and some are fictional based on historical moments.
- Bull Durham (1988) - Kevin Costner is a career minor league catcher who is secretly chasing the minor league home run record while trying to outrun the eventual end of his playing career and his dream of making it to “The Show”. He is sent to the A-level Durham Bulls where a love triangle develops between the veteran (Costner), a self-proclaimed baseball guru/Bulls groupie (Susan Sarandon), and a space cadet rookie phenom pitcher “Nuke” Laloosh, played by Tim Robbins. Robert Wuhl (YES! Robert Wuhl!) is actually pretty funny as the chewing gum chomping pitching coach. So many great quotes from this movie. If you haven’t seen this film, check it out, ya Lollygaggers!
- Field of Dreams (1989) - Kevin Costner is back, this time as a former hippie who hears a voice that instructs him to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield. His wife thinks he is crazy until “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and the rest of the 1919 Black Sox show up. James Earl Jones gives an epic speech, but can it save the farm from foreclosure? Burt Lancaster’s last movie role.
- The Natural (1984) Incredible soundtrack and cinematography beautifully frame the story of a can’t miss phenom (Robert Redford) who is mysteriously struck down at a young age. Sixteen years later, a scout for the last-place New York Knights sends the fictitious major league team a 35-year-old rookie. Robert Duvall is a journalist who tries to expose the too-good-to-be-true player’s scandalous past. Nice cameos by Michael Madsen and Barbara Hershey. Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth have great chemistry as the coaches. Kim Basinger as the femme fatale never looked more beautiful.
- Major League (1989) The owner of the perennial last-place Cleveland Indians dies and leaves the team to his young scheming trophy wife who wants to move the team to Miami. However, she must first get below an attendance threshold in order to get out of her contract. Her strategy is to assemble the worse team of misfits possible. Used up catcher Tom Berenger, overpaid smug Corbin Bernsen, ex-con Charlie Sheen, and walk-on Wesley Snipes have a few surprises for the new team owner. Gravely voiced James Gammon has some great lines as the manager, as does play-by-play announcer Bob Uecker “Juuuust a bit outside.” Another great quote-machine movie.
- Eight Men Out (1988) A dramatization of the true story of the Black Sox scandal when the underpaid Chicago White Sox allegedly take bribes to throw the 1919 World Series. D. B. Sweeney (whatever happened to him?) portrays “Shoeless" Joe Jackson. John Cusack excellently plays a Sox player not on the take. Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, Michael Rooker, and Bill Irwin also star.
- Long Gone (1987) Originally released as a TV Movie on HBO, William Petersen is an aging player/manager for the last-place Tampico Stogies in the low-low minors in the 1950s. He meets a beautiful woman (Virginia Madsen) and sees the end of his playing days fast approaching. The team goes on a hot streak, but the scheming owners want him to throw the big game. Sounds like a little bit of the each of the above, doesn’t it?
- Soul of the Game (1996) Another TV movie starring Delroy Lindo as Satchel Paige, Blair Underwood as Jackie Robinson, Mykelti Williamson as Josh Gibson. A fun and interesting story about Negro League baseball and the race to see who will be the first to integrate MLB.
- The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) Tired of the unfair treatment by the team owner, pitcher Billy Dee Williams decides to strike it out on his own creating a 1930s barnstorming team made up of players (James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor) that he steals from other Negro League teams. Bingo's team soon becomes so popular that they start to cut into the attendance of the established Negro League teams and the owners want them gone. A winner-take-all game will decide the future of the team.
- A League of Their Own (1992) A fictional account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that popped up during WWII. Tom Hanks as manager, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, and Madonna as players. David Strathairn, Jon Lovitz, and Bill Pullman have supporting roles. Birthplace of one of the best baseball quotes ever: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
- The Pride of the Yankees (1942) You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to enjoy this film. Gary Cooper at his best as the talented yet humble Lou Gehrig, as he goes from playing in 2,130 consecutive games to dying of ALS. The movie features one of the most iconic baseball moments recreated for film as the man known as the “Iron Horse” gives his famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell speech. Is it dusty in here? Nominated for 11 Oscars but only a win for Best Editing. Hall of famers Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, and other Yankees played themselves.
- For Love of the Game (1999) Our ol’ buddy Costner is back again. This time as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers at the end of his career. Billy Chapel reflects on his life, all the while determined to pitch a perfect game. John C. Reilly is his catcher, Kelly Preston as his girlfriend who may or may not be dumping him, and Jenna Malone (“Donnie Darko”, “Sucker Punch”) as her daughter. Kinda schmaltzy but there is something about watching a guy pitch a perfect game, even if it is fictional.
- The Sandlot (1993) In the 1960s, the new kid in town hopes to impress the neighborhood kids with his baseball prowess. When he mistakenly hits his stepfather's Babe Ruth signed baseball into a mean ol’ neighbor’s yard, the kids battle to get it back from a devil dog called the Beast. Childhood hijinks ensue. I know a lot of you probably love this movie because you saw it as a kid and because it spawned the memorable “You're killing me, Smalls!” quote. However, it just didn’t resonate with me. Go ahead. Give it to me: “You're killing me, CeeBee!”
- Little Big League (1994) Billy Heywood is a Little Leaguer whose grandfather (Jason Robards) owns the last-place Minnesota Twins. Grandpa dies and leaves the team to Billy, who thinks he can run the team. The team's manager (the awesome Dennis Farina) says “I ain’t working for no kid” and walks. Billy names himself manager and the Twins go on a hot streak after “making baseball fun again”. Cameos by many real-life major leaguers such as Ken Griffey Jr., Lou Piniella, Ivan Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and former Bama great Dave Magadan.
- Rookie of the Year (1993) Thomas Ian Nicholas of the American Pie movies plays a little kid who has a freak accident and a freak surgery that gives him a freak pitching arm. The last-place Chicago Cubs sign him and rally behind their new ace. Gary Busey and Dan Hedaya also star to hilariously weird effect. Neil Flynn ("Scrubs", "The Middle") and Ian Gomez (“Felicity”, “Drew Carey Show”, “Cougar Town”) make film debuts in smaller parts. Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Pedro Guerrero cameo.
- 42 (2013) Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I wasn’t crazy about this film because it felt like it was more about making a hero out of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford at his hammiest worst) who was really more about making money off Robinson. Additionally, I just cannot get past the overabundance of historical inaccuracies. Co-starring Bama fan Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, and Birmingham's Rickwood Field standing in for Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.
- Moneyball (2011) Strangled by low budgets, real-life Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) still manages to find success by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire players on the cheap. An interesting film but I just wanted to punch Jonah Hill (a fictional compilation of real people) right in his fat face. Chris Pratt plays A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Philip Seymour Hoffman as manager Art Howe. Fun Fact: the book on which this film is loosely based prominently features former Bama catcher Jeremy Brown, who most teams project to be a 15th round draft pick but Beane takes him in the first. There is a small clip of the real-life Brown in the film. He played in 5 games for the A’s, Godblessim.
- Mr. Baseball (1992) Tom Selleck plays an egotistical major league slugger who gets lost in translation in the Japan League. Dennis Haysbert co-stars.
- Mr 3000 (2004) An aging baseball star (Bernie Mac) finds out many years after retirement that he didn't quite reach the 3,000 hits that gave him his nickname. Now at age 47 he's making a comeback to try and reach that goal. With Angela Bassett. Keegan-Michael Key has a small role as a reporter.
- The Bad News Bears and all it’s incarnations portrays bratty cheatin’ little leaguers and their drunk bum of a coach.
- Angels in the Outfield (1951 and 1994) Actual angels help the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates (1951)/California Angels (1994) win the pennant. Nails on a chalkboard for me. Early roles for Matthew McConaughey, Adrien Brody, and 12-year old Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
- Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) Robert De Niro is a blue-collar catcher with a terminal illness. Michael Moriarty is the star player who befriends him.
- The Scout (1994) A story that is a bit on the ridiculous side about a scout (Albert Brooks) who discovers a neurotic childlike phenom (Brendan Fraser) who, when focused, is an unhittable pitching machine. But he is rarely focused.
- Fear Strikes Out (1957) Anthony Perkins (better known as Norman Bates from "Psycho") plays Jimmy Piersall, who overcomes mental illness to play 17 seasons in the majors. I haven’t seen this flick since I was a kid, so I can’t speak on it’s quality. The real Piersall was demoted to the Birmingham Barons due to his unruly behavior. It is there where he was ejected four times in less than three weeks, infamously climbing on the grandstand roof to heckle a home plate umpire who gave him the heave-ho.
- Summer Catch (2001) A terrible movie about the Cape Cod League but that sweet girl from the wholesome “7th Heaven” TV show done grown up!
- The Babe (1992) John Goodman as Babe Ruth.
- Cobb (1994) Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb.
The Bronx Is Burning (2007) A fun TV mini-series about the volatile yet championship season of the 1977 Yankees. It’s an all-out ego-war between manager Billy Martin (John Turturro), slugger Reggie Jackson (Daniel Sunjata), and owner George Steinbrenner (Oliver Platt). Meanwhile, New York City is plagued by sweltering heat, blackouts, riots, apartment fires, and the Son of Sam serial killer.
Charlie Sheen - A star pitcher and shortstop, he turned down a scholarship offer from University of Kansas to pursue acting.
Billy Bob Thornton - Also a skilled high school pitcher, who once tried out for the Kansas City Royals, but was released after an injury.
Kurt Russell - Played a few years of minor league baseball in the early 1970s. An injury made him return to his @fallback career@.
George Clooney - A multi-sport high school athlete who once tried out for the Cincinnati Reds.
Kevin Costner - Never played beyond high school but probably could have.
Billy Crystal - Earned a baseball scholarship to Marshall but the program was soon canceled, forcing Crystal to return to New York and show business aspirations.
Scott Patterson ("Gilmore Girls", “Little Big League”, and several “Saw” movies) Drafted by the Braves, traded to the Yankees for Bob Watson and made it as high as AAA.