I have not done a Baseball Movie themed post in years. I’ve thought about it … since we’ve had a couple of random baseball movies released since the origins of this blog 10+ years ago and i’ve seen some baseball-movie themed blog posts here and there, but never pulled the trigger.
But today, lo and behold, in my inbox from MLB was a link to vote in a crowd-sourced baseball movie bracket, and I just had to post it, and turn it into a blog post since i’m on a deathly conference call that I only have to pay attention to for a few minutes…
I’m going to play through the entire bracket, talk about movie snubs, and arrive at the best baseball movie.
First off, here’s the baseball movies of note that I’m aware of from the pantheon that did not make the top 16:
- 61*: Billy Crystal‘s tribute to the 1961 season and Roger Maris‘ pursuit of Babe Ruth‘s record. Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane as Maris and Mickey Mantle are great, and the movie is well done.
- Cobb: Tommy Lee Jones plays a great turn-of-the-century racist bastard of a player in a movie that wasn’t really that re-watchable.
- Mr. Baseball: a movie that wouldn’t be made today, Tom Selleck faces culture shock playing in Japan. has not aged well, nor did Selleck’s baseball playing ability.
- Mr. 3000: Bernie Mac as a showman attempting a comeback with an unbelievable plot of a showy retired slugger having exactly one career hit over turned, leaving him with just 2,999 for his career.
- Pride of the Yankees, with Gary Cooper playing Lou Gehrig. Probably more famous for its depiction of his retirement than of his playing ability, since reportedly Cooper was so unathletic they couldn’t even show him playing the sport.
- Damn Yankees: well, if you wanted to see a musical about Baseball, with balding middle aged actors singing in the locker room instead of playing the sport, this is your movie.
- Bang the Drum Slowly: Great movie, not exactly rewatchable as a story about a catcher slowly dying, but full of significant, Oscar-pedigree actors.
- The Babe: Do you remember John Goodman‘s depiction of Babe Ruth fondly? I don’t.
- The Scout: Brendan Frasier was not terribly believable as a baseball player in a forgettable movie.
- Hustle: did you even know they made a movie about Pete Rose? I’ve never seen it.
- Soul of the Game: Despite its topic, i’ve never seen it. But it does not fare well with the critics, which is too bad b/c a great movie about the Negro Leagues would be awesome to re-watch.
- Fever Pitch, Summer Catch: just no.
- Little Big League, Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch: formulaic Disney kids movies, barely behind the other formulaic Disney kids movies that did make the cut below.
- The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings: little known Baseball comedies that do not rate and that i’ve never seen.
- Major League II, Major League III, Bad News Bears sequels?: sequels never work, but Major League III was an abomination.
- The Benchwarmers, Hardball: awful, awful and more awful.
I’m sure i’m missing some; feel free to comment and tell me what baseball movies i’ve missed.
Of the above, I’d have probably replaced several of the below with the top movies from above … but nobody alive today is really rewatching Pride of the Yankees or any of the others listed, so maybe the snubs aren’t really snubs.
Ok lets get to it.
Methodology: I have none. What makes for a “great baseball movie?” Is it great baseball action? Is it the movie itself, whether or not the baseball scenes work? Is it a believable plotline? Is it rewatchability? For me, its some nebulous combination of all of the above, which is why I knock out the movie with the most Oscar nominations in the first round. Everything below is IMHO, your opinions may vary.
Here’s the MLB Movie knockout round of 16 with my comments.
- #1 Field of Dreams vs #16 Angels in the Outfield: #1 v #16 seed is never going to be an upset, though Angels in the Outfield (despite some of Danny Glover‘s best work outside of the Lethal Weapon franchise) was never going to press it. Field of Dreams is solid, but has its flaws; we’ll be getting to them soon, but it moves on here. Winner: Field of Dreams.
- #9 The Natural vs #8 For the Love of the Game: See, right away we get a heavy weight matchup, and what more would you expect form the #8 vs #9 seed. For me, despite Kevin Costner‘s really amazing athletic performance as an aging MLB pitcher in For the Love of the Game, the movie is absolutely crippled by the crap “love story” that keeps interrupting the baseball story. Every scene with Kelly Preston is fast-forward material. Oh, and John C. Reilly as the catcher is so completely unbelievable that it distracts even from Costner’s performance. Meanwhile, there’s nothing more iconic than Roy Hobbs, and the Natural was never going to lose here. Winner: The Natural.
- #5 The Sandlot vs #12 The Perfect Game: legendary baseball film versus a feel-good story starring the same guy who was made famous for smoking Ganga on film; how do you choose here? The Sandlot transcends culture, with its famous lines like “You’re killing me Smalls” and its legendary scenes. Perhaps a movie starting Cheech will age better, but the Sandlot has to move on. Winner: The Sandlot.
- #4 The Bad News Bears vs #13 Rookie of the Year: I see what they’re doing here: all the little leaguers are in one quadrant, to ensure that a movie about kids is in the semis. Ok, fair enough. So, despite the Bad News Bears (which I HAVE to believe refers to the Walter Matthau version and not the 1995 remake with Billy Bob Thornton) not really aging that well (some of it is absolutely cringe worthy today), Rookie of the Year is awful. I mean … ok, suspend disbelief about the plot involving a kid who can suddenly throw 110mph for a bit; the ending is ridiculous. Bears move on. Winner: Bad News Bears
- #3 League of their Own vs #14 The Rookie: tough matchup here; Lets just say from the get-go that League is going to be tough to beat. I’ll give props to Dennis Quaid for his believable performance as Jim Morris (here’s his baseball-reference page, btw, MLB debut at 35), but the movie itself was typical Disney fluff (it was rated G). We’ll cover League in a moment; it clearly moves on here. Winner: League of their Own.
- #6 Eight Men Out vs #11 42: tough one here; I can see some people arguing with me. Eight Men Out was not only a fantastic baseball movie with well done baseball action scenes, it was a fabulous period piece about the 1919 Black Sox and the culture that led to their scandal. Technically “42” was also a period piece … a throwback to a transitional time in baseball’s history, and the actors involved reportedly struggled greatly to curse at Chadwick Boseman (who was amazing as a young Jackie Robinson before he became the superstar actor he eventually became). I’ll never forget the one scene in Cincinnati, where Pee Wee Reese comes up to Robinson and puts his arm around him… but Harrison Ford‘s awful acting performance and the lack of real rewatch ability (it is really difficult to watch a movie where they so freely use the n-word over and over) crushes “42” for me in the end. Winner: Eight Men Out
- #7 Major League vs #10 Trouble with the Curve: this is a blowout for me: Trouble with the Curve was an awful movie full of bad cliches and unbelievable scenes related to the way scouting and drafting occurs. It depended on hit-you-over-the-head racist tropes related to the discounting of the Latino hurler at the end. Amy Adams‘ performance was annoying throughout. Winner: Major League.
- #2 Moneyball vs #15 Bull Durham: I’m sorry, but this seeding is whack. This is a semi-final caliber matchup between two movies that are attempting to accomplish two drastically different things. You just cannot compare a legendary comedy versus a well-executed drama. That being said … despite Moneyball getting six Oscar nominations … it’s story (as written by author Michael Lewis) was a flawed retelling of the famous 2002 Oakland Athletics (baseball reference link here: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/OAK/2002.shtml), spending almost zero time on the fact that the Athletics had three ace starters that year in Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito (who won the Cy Young), nor that the team’s lineup was anchored by Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada (who won the MVP). Not to mention, the entire Jonah Hill character was made up, thanks to Paul DePodesta not wanting to appear in the film. Oh, and making Art Howe look like a stiff (both in the book and in the movie) was ridiculous. Moneyball may be the better “movie,” but baseball fans know it focuses on the wrong things that made the 2002 Oakland team winners. Winner: Bull Durham.
- #1 Field of Dreams vs #9 The Natural. I’m already going for the upset here. Field of Dreams was a solid movie, which makes me cry at the end every time when Kevin Costner gets a catch with his dad. But the movie has huge plot issues, not the least of which is the fact that the amount of corn he plows over to make the field absolutely will not send his farm under. A baseball field takes somewhere between 3-5 acres to make, and one acre of corn fields produces less than 200 bushels of corn a year, and corn sells for about $5 a bushel. Do the math. Corn farmers in Iowa have thousands of acres, have million-dollar harvesters … and losing a couple of acres of land directly next to the house isn’t making that big of a difference. The story is fine, the period piece baseball is great, but the whole hidden voice as the plot driver makes no sense based on where the Costner character goes and ends up. Oh, and by the way, the James Earl Jones character is absolutely reacting if he’s sitting in Fenway Park and hears a damn voice. Winner: The Natural
- #5 The Sandlot vs #4 The Bad News Bears. Even though Bears has not aged well, I recently re-watched The Sandlot, and, well, it just isn’t that good. Its a fun piece about a bunch of neighborhood friends that’s less about baseball and more about just growing up and getting into hijinks. They barely play any actual baseball, and the step-dad’s actions are completely unbelievable (if you’re a baseball fan, and your non-athletic kid asks to play catch … that’s every dad’s DREAM; you drop what you’re doing and help, you don’t hem-and-haw about how you have a bunch of work). Oh, and some random neighbor just happens to have a baseball signed by the entire 1927 Yankees team sitting around and is willing to give it up to some punk kid who broke into his property?? Even in 1962, that would have been a priceless piece of memorabilia, let alone what its value would be now. Yeah right. Winner: Bad news Bears
- #3 League of their Own vs #6 Eight Men Out: two period pieces, one of which is pretty unique in sports history, that being the AAGPBL. Bill Simmons just did a rewatchable deep dive into this movie on his podcast called, fittingly, The Rewatchables, and its hard to find too much fault here. Eight Men Out, despite its excellent baseball scenes and reenactment of the 1919 scandal, does not match up and drags at times. Its an important movie of course, and D.B. Sweeney‘s baseball prowess is pretty impressive (he learned how to hit left-handed and look believable in order to play Shoeless Joe Jackson). Winner: League of their Own
- #7 Major League vs #15 Bull Durham: You see, again, this is a semi-finals matchup of quality. And, I see again what they’re doing here; putting all the major baseball comedies into one quadrant so that the final four basically has just one comedy. Fair enough. As much as I love both of these movies, there’s parts of Bull Durham that detract from the re-watchability. Its hard to watch some of the dramatic scenes that they put in between the baseball scenes. Tim Robbins is pretty darn good, as is Costner of course. But, Major League all-in-all is funnier. It’s a raunchier watch, more laugh out loud moments, and the first 30 minutes are just absolute gold, one liner after one liner. Winner: Major League
- #9 The Natural versus #4 The Bad News Bears: This is no contest; the acting, the storyline, and the baseball performances in the Natural, especially out of Robert Redford as an aging slugger, are second to none. There’s some weird plot holes, and I struggle with the ending just a little bit (they couldn’t find a kid to play his son who couldn’t throw the ball like an actual baseball player??), but the run of aging-poorly scenes and themes from the 1976 Bad News Bears causes its demise. Coach freely cursing in front of his team? Sharing his beer with a minor? Kids Smoking cigarettes? A father slapping his son across the face in broad daylight? Yeah; just one of a few of the things that make this “kids movie” unshowable to your, you know, actual kids. Winner: The Natural
- #3 League of their Own vs #7 Major League. wow. Tough on here. I like both movies. I have yet to comment on Tom Hanks‘ amazing rendition of Jimmy Foxx in this movie, nor the great one-liners he gets in that transcend culture (“There’s no crying in baseball.”). Nor have we talked about the pretty solid performances of Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna and Lori Petty and especially Geena Davis as players. From a comedy perspective though, it can’t hold a candle to the raw in-your-face antics of Major League. League is a better ‘story’ and has as good of baseball action as they could muster, given that actresses don’t actually play baseball at any point in their lives. But Major League wins. Winner: Major League
#9 The Natural v #7 Major League. In some ways, this is impossible to gauge, because we’re talking about the best ever baseball Drama versus the best ever baseball comedy. But we’ll try:
- The Natural pros: great baseball action, great story, easily weaves in a number of solid dramatic actors with a completely believable set of baseball players. Amazing, transcendent ending, with the filmmaking to go with it.
- The Natural cons: Hobbs would have healed from his wound in a couple years tops; where the heck has he been for a decade and a half? And the girlfriend never went looking for him, ever? Even when she had his kid all those years? Really? He struck out Babe Ruth in front of a leading sportswriter for a national paper … and then nothing ever came of it? The Hollywood ending differs from the book; does that matter?
- Major League pros: Charlie Sheen could actually throw in the mid 80s. The baseball players were mostly believable. Pedro Ceranno‘s lines are amazing, as are the quotes from this movie (“that ball wouldn’t have been out of a lot of ball parks…”). As I’ve said before, the premise of the movie is hilarious and the first part of the movie, from the recruitment of players to spring training, is just gold.
- Major League cons: Tom Berenger is the lead, and he’s not a good actor, and he’s not a believable baseball player. Explain to me again why his ex-gf dumps her fiancee and her new life to return to him? What exactly did he do to win her back?
The Natural, at the end of the day, is the best combination of Movie and Baseball; it’s the winner.
Winner: The Natural