Baseball has long been a staple of Hollywood, and some of the movies it makes are both true to the game as well as entertaining.
Amazon has a full roster of flicks glorifying “the horsehide and the ash” (the ball and bat for those not well-versed in overworked sportswriting cliches). You can stream some of the best from recent years and find a few true gems from seasons past. Most stream for just $2.99.
The Starting Lineup:
Bull Durham: Even folks who don’t like Kevin Costner have to agree that this is a great movie and possibly Costner’s best (Yes, it is better than The Untouchables!). He’s an almost washed-up catcher in the very minor leagues and Tim Robbins is a hotshot pitcher Costner is supposed to make ready for the big leagues. Susan Saraden is the baseball groupie with a heart of gold who falls for both of them. Funny. Touching. Profane. Hey, it’s a home run.
Field of Dreams: Another Costner gem, this movie is based on the truly wonderful W.P. Kinsella book, Shoeless Joe. This is the sentimental story that gave us the now tired catch phrase, “If you build it they will come.” Also stars James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster in his final screen role. Fathers. Sons. Faith. Hope. Sweetness. Baseball and Iowa.
A League of Their Own: First and foremost, Tom Hanks as manager Jimmy “There’s no crying in baseball!” Dugan is superb. He reluctantly runs the Rockford Peaches of the All American Girls Baseball League that actually sprang up during World War II to help entertain folks on the home front. Also stars Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, John Lovitz and Garry Marshall.
Major League: This baseball comedy about the bad old days of the Cleveland Indians comes right up to the edge of slapstick and veers off just in time to become comic genius. A truly inspired cast includes Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Renee Russo, Bob Uecker and James Gammon, underrated as manager Lou Brown.
Mr. Baseball: Tom Selleck is the fish out of water as a veteran American slugger who winds up being traded by the New York Yankees to the Chunichi Dragons in the far different baseball world of Japan. Selleck as Jack Elliot struggles but finds not just acceptance on the Dragons and by their fans, and also — no surprise here — romance. No Oscar nominations for sure, but a whole lot of grand slam fun.
Overlooked All Stars:
The Natural: Call this the baseball movie that both Robert Redford fans and English lit professors can love. Based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud, Redford is Roy Hobbs, a naive farm boy with a major league fastball. On his way to the big leagues, he forsakes his gal back home and gets shot by the mysterious Harriet Bird, who then kills herself. Hobbs then toils in the bush leagues until getting a shot at the big time. Of course, he wins the big game and reclaims his lost love. Glen Close is beatific. Photography is beautiful. Music is by Randy Newman.
Moneyball: In 2002 Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) met a Yale economics grad (played by Jonah Hill) and together pioneered a new way of assessing baseball talent. The film is based on the true story of Beane. Pitt and the movie won major critical praise. A true rarity: a baseball movie that makes you think.
Bang The Drum Slowly: Robert De Niro is Bruce Pearson, the somewhat slow-witted and marginally-skilled catcher for the fictional New York Monarchs. Michael Moriarity in easily his best role is Henry Wiggen, a pitcher and author who befriends and eventually cares for Pearson when he is stricken with Hodgkin’s Disease. Based on the novel by Mark Harris.
Eight Men Out: The story behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal is well told in this 1988 John Sayles film with an expansive cast. This is an in depth look at how one of the greatest teams ever assembled threw the World Series because they were so poorly paid by a penny-pinching owner. John Cusack is Buck Weaver, D.B. Sweeney is Shoeless Joe Jackson, Charlie Sheen is Happy Felsch and John Mahoney is Kid Gleason.
Hall of Famers:
Fear Strikes Out: Made in 1957, this is the true story of Jimmy Piersall, an outfielder for five major league clubs who suffered from “nervous exhaustion,” but what today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Anthony Perkins stars as Piersall, who got in several on-field fights and once shot home plate with a water pistol before being institutionalized briefly.
Angels in the Outfield: You can see the original 1951 version of this film about Heavenly intervention during a dreadful season by the Pittsburgh Pirates and their nasty manager Guffy McGovern played by Paul Douglas. This classic feel-good flick also stars Janet Leigh as the reporter Jennifer Paige covering the story of a young fan who says she sees angels helping out the otherwise hapless Pirates. Or, you can see the updated 1994 remake with Danny Glover, Tony Danza and Christopher Lloyd. Like so many things in life, stick with the original.
It Happens Every Spring: You have to love a movie in which science meets sports. A college professor accidentally discovers a fluid that repels wood; put some on a baseball and no bat can touch it. (Good thing this was made in 1949 before anyone imagine aluminum bats!) Ray Milland is the professor who winds up as a major league pitcher thanks to his special chemical assistant. Also stars Jean Peters and Paul Douglas.
The Pride of the Yankees: Long in the tooth but still a true classic, this is the truly heroic story of New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig. This 1942 movie details not just his heroics on the field as part of the Yankees of the 1920s and ’30s, but also his physical collapse under the weight of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which would come to be knows as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Gary Cooper truly comes across as “… the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”