Winter is coming. Or, more accurately, it’s here. Although there were no major power outages reported, the weather affected every avenue of commerce, industry, and education from Thursday into Sunday. Grocers were short on supply. Schools closed. Businesses closed. And with every passing hour, God’s vengeance rained in the form of gentle, white, frozen flakes of wrath.
For those of you who were comatose the last five days, or for those of you who have neglected to look outside in that same time span, let me get you up to speed: It was balls cold. It snowed a lot. And it’s going to happen again. But this time, we see see it coming: We can imagine what to expect, because we literally just unburied ourselves from it. And with this, comes greater preparation. Food, water, blah blah what are you going to watch? You’re good friend has got you covered. But, if you don’t care for their advice, might I suggest the nine best baseball movies ever made? Well, here they are:
9. Eight Men Out
Like the Crime of the Century, it is hard for us to imagine just how much the nation latched on to every word regarding the Black Sox scandal. Although I feel like the film takes some severe liberties with the facts (particularly in how they handle Shoeless Joe Jackson), it does a very good job of humanizing the individuals who participated and benefited from the fixing scheme.
8. Bull Durham
I might get staunchly rebuffed for having this one so low. But, to be honest, it just doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe it’s Tim Robbins. Or Robert Wuhl. Or that I don’t believe for a second that Kevin Costner, at his size, would be a catcher. It does have its brilliance and insight, though. And as a portrait of the minor league system, it is peerless (although Sugar does an excellent job in showing how kids, especially young Latin and Dominican players, can get eaten up by the system).
7. The Sandlot
Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Squints, Yeah-Yeah, and the rest of the gang litter this slightly hammy piece of Americana set in the summer of 1962, but there wasn’t a better expression of the sort of youthful ties and bonds that can be formed on a neighborhood team, in a recreation league, or on those long summer hauls on traveling teams. The fact that I can still name every guy who played on my little league team growing up is a testament to that.
Much like Eight Men Out, I think there are some liberties taken with the factual history in order to promote a better story, but really, the saga of Roger Maris in the summer of 1961 is an amazing and prescient story of media sensationalism and distortion, as well as one man’s seemingly reluctant journey to overtake a milestone. Although it was made for HBO at the turn of the millennium, it boasts a fine cast (Barry Pepper, Thomas Jane, Anthony Michael Hall) and was directed from the overly-detailed and Yankee-loving perspective of Billy Crystal.
5. Bad News Bears
Come on. Anyone who has spent time coaching anything can relate to Walter Matthau’s Buttermaker. And anyone who has ever spent time as a child playing on a team of any kind can immediately recognize the various persona and personalities at play among the kids. Not only that, but it holds well as a capsule of a different time and place (specifically, the mid-70’s) while maintaining a sense of relevance regarding parent/adolescent psychology.
4. Major League
It’s the funniest movie about baseball that will ever be made. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of star power (for the time) that made it into the picture: Sheen, Snipes, Berenger, Bernsen, Haysbert. It even touches on themes commonly expressed in the modern scope of team management that many Royals fans should be intrigued by: clubhouse chemistry, fickle ownership who seems to want the team to fail, a clubhouse diva whose price tag and reputation far exceed his talent level, etc.
3. Field of Dreams
I can recall four great baseball speeches from cinema: this movie contains two of them. The first, an aged Moonlight Graham, discusses his wish to play just one more time. The second, and perhaps the most popular baseball speech in film history, comes from Terrance Mann, discussing baseball’s place in America’s (and the World’s) past, present, and future.
2. A League of Their Own
This is the kind of baseball movie that has everything. Humor, sincerity, historical and cultural perspectives, a sibling rivalry dynamic, and Jon Lovitz being generally, well, Jon Lovitz-y. I gravitated to this film as a child mainly due to the perceived similarities between myself and Kit; living in the shadow of the perception of a sibling who is better than you at something you greatly desire to excel in. It doesn’t hurt that Tom Hanks has another one of those Hanksian performances he was so famous for in the 1990s. It also happens to have perhaps my favorite line in the history of baseball cinema:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard, is what makes it great.”
1. The Natural
Altered ending and all, I don’t think there is a movie that has ever been made that captures the whole of baseball better than The Natural did. Redford’s performance is pitch-perfect, the weight and gravity of the game and life expressed eloquently on his every word and deed. The lowly Knights represent so much of what was wrong with baseball, its politics, and the way it treated its players. But, at its heart, there is a deep admiration, respect, and love for the game itself that seeps into every inch of the screen. It truly is a remarkable film.