No Moneyball Here: Ranking the top ten baseball movies of all-timeby B.J. Martin August 27, 2019 0 comments
Personal connections are key to being among the greatest movies about baseball.
Baseball fans are passionate about their game. Baseball is America’s Pastime for a reason. It’s so evident in the way Hollywood has embraced the sport for the past century. Motion pictures have celebrated the game with so many great and some not-so-great stories (“Air Bud” or “Ed”) over the years, so much so that you would be hard-pressed to find as many movie classics involving the other Big Three sports combined.
I identified over thirty great baseball movies that most sports fans would consider classics. However, I narrowed this list down to the ten best films ever from the baseball genre.
I created this list based on the film’s universal public appeal, popular cultural impact, and, of course, quality. This list has excluded films like “Naked Gun,” “Dazed and Confused,” and many others that feature baseball but where the game is not the primary theme of the film.
While many great baseball movies couldn’t break the top ten, here’s the list.
The Natural (1984)
Barry Levinson’s adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel brought the tale of Roy Hobbs to the silver screen. Robert Redford’s portrayal of the legendary Hobbs is captivating as he goes from playing a teenage flame-thrower to the veteran slugger version of the character. The story borrows clichés from so many legendary tales from the first century of baseball’s history and delivers them with perfection. The film is fabulous, from the young Roy Hobbs striking out the Babe Ruth-inspired-Whammer to the older Hobbs literally hitting the cover off the baseball. The Wonderboy, the Knights, and Bump Bailey are now as synonymous with true historical baseball lore as their fictional reality. One of the keys to The Natural’s greatness lives within Randy Newman’s incredible score. One of the finest scores in the history of cinema.
Memorable Quote: “And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in the game.”
Major League (1989)
While the ’80s was a strong decade for baseball classics, it was a very rough decade for the Cleveland Indians and their fans. Major League was a hysterical look at a version of the struggling franchise under an owner looking to lose their way into a re-location to Florida. Of course, this all misfires when the ragtag team of misfits begins to over-achieve and turn the losing franchise around. Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) spawned many real-life MLB nicknames in the years to follow while Harry Doyle’s (Bob Uecker) play-by-play one-liners have become a part of today’s baseball dialect. Rick Taylor (Tom Berenger), Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), and Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) in addition to Vaughn have inspired generations of custom Indians jerseys at Progressive Field. A must in every baseball movie library.
Memorable Quote: “Juuuuust a bit outside.”
Bull Durham (1988)
A veteran minor league catcher, a young cocky hurler, and a seductress fan make the most unorthodox love triangle in baseball history. Set amidst the backdrop of old Durham Athletic Park in North Carolina, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is handed the impossible chore of preparing Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) for the majors. Meanwhile, Annie (Susan Sarandon) struggles with the desire to fix Nuke herself while falling for Crash. Crash struggles with the reality of aging out of the game that all former players can relate to personally. The comedy depicts many of the silly traditions of Single-A baseball while still containing the passion of fans, veterans, and prospects alike.
Memorable Quote: “Well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift.”
Field of Dreams (1989)
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) finds himself in the midst of a supernatural mid-life crisis when “the voice” from his Iowa cornfield convinces him to build a baseball field. This film examines Ray’s past regrets, the connection between baseball and his deceased father, and many dreams unfulfilled that most people can relate to some degree. Field of Dreams is a story of mystical second chances and beautifully orchestrated by the essence of what makes the game of baseball so great. Relationships between fathers and sons. The importance of family and friends in our everyday lives. The simple beauty and love that can be shared in having “a catch” with your dad or child. All this happening not in Heaven, but Iowa.
Memorable Quote: “If you build it, he will come.”
A League of Their Own (1992)
Penny Marshall’s journey through the World War Two era of the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League shares this relatively lost piece of American history with a new generation of fans Centered around two sisters Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty), this movie demonstrates sibling rivalry in the shadow of wartime America. The struggle for women to be viewed as more than just sex objects or comedic fodder but as athletes is successfully crafted by Marshall. A wonderful representation of women and their significant role in baseball history. The burned-out, retired baseball great Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) reluctantly managing the Rockford Peaches leads to one of the most memorable lines in baseball movie history.
Memorable Quote: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
The Sandlot (1993)
Every kid’s worse nightmare is moving to a new city and having to find new friends. The Sandlot puts young Scotty Smalls in the predicament of trying to fit in with a new group of kids while also learning to play the game of baseball. He struggles with developing a relationship with his stepfather and ultimately risks that relationship by unknowingly losing his treasured autographed Babe Ruth baseball. For those that grew up playing pick-up games in their neighborhoods, The Sandlot is a nostalgic look at those memories we create and hold on to for the rest of our lives.
Memorable Quote: “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
While the more recently released “42” was a great film on its own, the original Jackie Robinson biographical picture of 1950 starring the thirty-year-old Robinson as himself is the classic film treasure. Watching Robinson re-enact his life experience to an American audience in the beginning stages of the Civil Rights Movement is incredible. While Robinson was not a professional actor, his performance is solid, genuine, and gives baseball fans of future generations a deeper look at the character of this great man.
Memorable Quote: “I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
The Pride of The Yankees (1942)
The story of Lou Gehrig is one that captivates baseball fans almost 100 years after his playing career. Gehrig (Gary Cooper) was the son of German immigrants at the turn-of-the-century and developed into one of the greatest athletes of his generation. Gehrig’s performance, integrity, and rugged endurance were the trademarks for his career. Unfortunately, the untimely illness that curtailed his playing games streak and life became a large portion of his legacy. This is a film I would love to see re-made by a modern film-maker but, until then, Gary Cooper’s portrayal of the Iron Man is a baseball treasure.
Memorable Quote: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Eight Men Out (1988)
While this film was lost by many in the same two-year span that delivered “Major League,” “Bull Durham,” and “Field of Dreams,” it depicts the story of the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal: the tale of eight Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series for gambler’s payola. The movie does a very good job of portraying the early era of baseball in America and features a cast of great actors who have some playing ability, which is always a plus when it comes to baseball movies. John Cusack’s exceptional portrayal of Buck Weaver and Michael Rooker’s depiction of Chick Gandil are two of the most under-rated aspects of this movie. Great story-telling by John Sayles. This film pulls me in every time it’s on the tube.
Memorable Quotes: “Say it ain’t so Joe. Say it ain’t so.”
The 1961 Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris home run chase is one of the greatest baseball stories of the past 60 years. So, it would make sense that lifelong Yankee fan Billy Crystal’s movie on the subject would hit the mark. Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and his unlikely roommate Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) battle two very different demons on their quest for Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Mantle battles his challenges with alcoholism and infidelity while Maris struggles with playing in the shadow of Ruth (and Mantle) and the unfriendly New York media.
Memorable Quotes: “You did it, you son of a b—-. Nobody can ever take that away from you. No matter what bulls— they try to tell you. That record’s yours. You’re a good man, Roger.”
Tough to leave off the list are those that just missed out: Sugar, The Bad News Bears, Moneyball, Cobb, and 42.