It’s April and to me that means the start of baseball season. I am a passionate fan of baseball history and have loved the sport since I was a kid. One great thing about baseball is the wonderful amount of stellar literature, history and films that have been set around it. Here are my five favorites.
5/ Major League (1989). This is a ribald comedy of a bunch of losers and castoffs that play for the woeful Cleveland Indians. There are has beens, guys off prison teams, a player who has turned to witchery and voodoo, old guys, etc, all of which band together to attempt to get back at the team owner who wants them to lose. James Gammon plays the crusty manager and he’s one of my favorite actors of all time. Gammon cursing while wearing a baseball uniform is a great sight to see. Thankfully this was R rated as a PG-13 version would have stripped it of some of its funnier moments. Woeful sequels followed but this first Major League is a great fun place to start if you want to see some baseball movies.
4/ The Natural (1984). Robert Redford’s version (directed by Barry Levinson) of Bernard Malamud’s novel is a meditation of heroes via the baseball diamond. Redford is Roy Hobbs, who arrives out of nowhere in the 1930s and turns the New York Knights around despite being in his 40s. The film has a magical quality to it—which is hammered home with slow motions, exploding lights, and beautiful, golden tinted photography. Redford’s version is very different than Malamud’s if you’ve ever read the book.
3/ Field of Dreams (1989). Another loving tribute to baseball as a subject that is bigger than just the game of baseball. This is baseball as savior; baseball as healer; baseball as something so important and pure it might have magical powers. A man hears voices in a cornfield and his life is turned upside down. Based on W.P. Kinsella’s terrific novel (called Shoeless Joe), Field of Dreams is so lost in the possibilities of fantasy and of dreams that it just hits me in the heart every time I see it. I actually drove to Dyersville, Iowa in the mid ‘90s just to see those lovely cornfields.
2/ Bull Durham (1988). Another Kevin Costner film. Hey, he’s been in two great baseball films. Bull Durham is a comedy/drama that follows minor-league team as a veteran mentors a phenom. Both of them want to get with Susan Sarandon’s lusty supporter of the team. Bull Durham probably has the best dialogue, the most accurate depiction of the sport and is the smartest script of any baseball related film. It just nails pretty much everything about the allure of the game in funny ways. Plus, it has a damn good romantic triangle between Costner/Sarandon and Tim Robbins. This will never age.
1/ The Bad News Bears (1976). This to me is not only the best baseball films it is one of the best films of all time regardless the genre. It’s perfectly cast, as Walter Matthau is a pool-cleaning drunk who takes over the Bears for drinking money and every single kid in this is believable. The team, self-described by Tanner as a “bunch of booger-eatin’ morons,” is the laughing stock of the little league. But with a couple of ringers, some beer in the dugout and a lot of attitude the Bears might shock the league. The Bad News Bears was made during the ‘70s and revels in its non-PC world (thank you!). The Bears have grit, spunk and fight and the story was completely ruined in 2005 when Hollywood decided to give it a soulless, dull, watered down remake. The original version has a chip on its shoulder from start to finish and is my favorite baseball movie of all time.