erik lundegaard

Baseball posts

Tuesday April 23, 2013

Rank the Baseball Movies!

Baseball fans! And movie fans! And fans of baseball movies!

As I promised yesterday, you can now rank your favorite and least-favorite baseball movies with our new interactive feature. Just several easy steps:

  1. Drag the movies you haven't seen into the box in the lower right.
  2. Drag your favorite movies into the first column and your least-favorite into the last column.
  3. Organize.
  4. Share.

Once you hit the “Share your rankings” button you can send them to me. Or you can simply cut-and-paste your list and share it with friends.

I'll probably post a few of the lists, as I did with the best-picture Oscar rankings, particularly if there's a good comment attached.

I've made several baseball-movie lists over the years (2004, 2011, 2013), but testing our interactive feature yesterday made me realize, yet again, some of the sad truths of baseball movies.

The greater the player, the worse the movie. At the bottom of my pile, you'll find these titles: The Babe Ruth Story (1948), The Babe (1992), Cobb (1994), The Jackie Robinson Story (1950). I.e., The greatest players to play the game. Apparently we make our worst movies about them. Which is the best baseball biopic about a great star? Probably Billy Crystal's “61*,” about Mantle and Maris and the 1961 season. “42,” mostly about the '47 season, is second. Stick to seasons, kids.

The best baseball movies are about losing: “Bull Durham,” “Moneyball,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Catching Hell,” “Sugar.” Read your Roger Angell: “You may glory in a team triumphant but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” It's a lesson Hollywood never seems to learn.

Don't incude the word “Mr.” in the title. Both “Mr. Baseball” (with Tom Selleck) and “Mr. 3000” (with Bernie Mac) are sad, obvious stories about egotistical assholes who learn the value of teammwork in middle age, and who, on the last day of the season, with self-aggrandizement on the line, sacrifice-bunt their team to victory. Spoiler alert.

Keep the kids away from the Majors. Movies about a kid coaching a big-league team (“Angels in the Outfield”), owning a big-league team (“Little Big League”) or playing for a big-league team (“Rookie of the Year”), are just godawful. Kids should be with kids (“The Sandlot”). Even better if you make them foul-mouthed (“The Bad News Bears” (1976)). Even better if you include Walter Matthau. And best? “Hey Yankees! You can take your apology and your trophy and shove it straight up your ass!” Tanner Boyle for Hall of Fame.

Finally...

Keep the Bad News Bears in Van Nuys, Calif. If you send them to Texas, or, worse, Japan, or even into 2005, you do so at your own risk. But if you have to go somewhere with them, make sure you take your Josh Wilker with you.

Now rank ball!

The Bad News Bears team picture, North Valley League, 1976

The Bad News Bears, North Valley League, 1976

Posted at 07:49 AM on Apr 23, 2013 in category Baseball
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Monday April 22, 2013

Why Do IMDb Users Dislike 'Bull Durham'?

I posted my rankings for the best (and worst) baseball movies the other day, and shortly you'll have a chance to do so yourself, but in the meantime I thought I'd list how baseball movies fare on IMDb.com.

I know i've done this kind of thing before, mostly with best-picture winners, but what caught my eye this time was the IMDb rating for Ron Shelton's “Bull Durham”—regarded by baseball fans as the best baseball movie ever made.

On IMDb it's got a 7.0 rating. Which isn't great. Here's how it ranks among baseball movies:

Title IMDb Rating IMDb Rank My Rank Difference
Ken Burns’ Baseball (1994) 8.6 1 2 -1
42 (2013) 7.8 2 15 -13
Catching Hell (2011) 7.8 3 8 -5
61* (2001) 7.7 4 3 1
The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 7.7 4 23 -19
Moneyball (2011) 7.6 6 4 2
The Sandlot (1993) 7.6 6 30 -24
Field of Dreams (1989) 7.5 8 14 -6
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010) 7.4 9 18 -9
Long Gone (1987) 7.4 9 n/a
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998) 7.4 9 5 4
The Natural (1984) 7.4 9 7 2
Eight Men Out (1988) 7.2 13 9 4
Sugar (2008) 7.1 14 10 4
The Bad News Bears (1976) 7.1 14 6 8
A League of Their Own (1992) 7.0 16 13 3
Bull Durham (1988) 7.0 16 1 15
Damn Yankees! (1958) 7.0 16 21 -5
Major League (1989) 7.0 16 11 5
The Stratton Story (1948) 7.0 16 24 -8
Angels in the Outfield (1951) 6.9 21 26 -5
Fear Strikes Out (1957) 6.9 21 33 -12
It Happens Every Spring (1949) 6.9 21 n/a
Pastime (1990) 6.9 21 16 5
The Rookie (2002) 6.9 21 12 9
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) 6.8 26 17 9
Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) 6.7 27 27 0
Trouble with the Curve (2012) 6.7 27 40 -13
The Perfect Game (2009) 6.6 29 n/a
Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) 6.5 30 22 8
The Pride of St. Louis (1952) 6.5 30 n/a  
American Pastime (2007) 6.4 32 n/a
BASEketball (1998) 6.4 32 42 -10
The Final Season (2007) 6.4 32 n/a
Cobb (1994) 6.3 35 37 -2
For Love of the Game (1999) 6.3 35 19 16
The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) 6.3 35 38 -3
Fever Pitch (2005) 6.1 38 20 18
Hard Ball (2001) 6.1 38 45 -7
The House of Steinbrenner (2010) 6.1 38 28 10
It Happened in Flatbush (1942) 6.0 41 n/a
Bad News Bears (2005) 5.8 42 n/a
Game 6 (2005) 5.8 42 25 17
Little Big League (1994) 5.8 42 31 11
Angels in the Outfield (1994) 5.7 45 36 9
Talent for the Game (1991) 5.7 45 n/a
The Babe (1992) 5.7 45 39 6
Calvin Marshall (2010) 5.6 48 n/a  
Mr. Baseball (1992) 5.6 48 29 19
Rookie of the Year (1993) 5.6 48 34 14
Mr. 3000 (2004) 5.5 51 35 16
The Babe Ruth Story (1948) 5.5 51 44 7
Major League II (1994) 5.2 53 32 21
The Scout (1994) 5.2 53 41 12
The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) 5.1 55 47 8
Safe at Home! (1962) 5.0 56 n/a
Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998) 4.2 57 43 14
The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) 3.1 58 46 12

To be fair, most of the movies above it are good (“61*”) or considered to be good (“Pride of the Yankees”).

Even so: Tied for 16th? With “The Stratton Story”? Six points behind “The Sandlot”?

I get most of the early discrepancies between myself and the general IMDb user. “42” is still riding its newness; “Pride of the Yankees” was long-considered the best baseball movie ever made and still has its fans, who apparently vote; and “The Sandlot” gets a big push from the youngsters, who most assuredly vote. The younger you are, the more you like “The Sandlot.”

But whither “Bull Durham”? Thoughts?

Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in the bathrub in "Bull Durham" (1988)

Talkin' baseball/ Wrigley and Camden
Talkin' baseball/ Costner and Sarandon

Posted at 06:48 AM on Apr 22, 2013 in category Baseball
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Wednesday April 17, 2013

Ranking the Best and Worst Baseball Movies of All-Time

I first posted this a year and a half ago. Here's the update. “42,” “Trouble with the Curve” and “The House of Steinbrenner” have been added and a few movies rejiggered. A lot of the rejiggering is based upon whether I want to watch the movie again now. You can tinker with this stuff all day if you're not careful.

Comments, feel free.

  1. Bull Durham (1988): Still the smartest. Still the sexiest. Oh my.
  2. Ken Burns' Baseball (2004): It's nearly a day long (22+ hours) and I think I've watched it four or five times. That's nearly a week of my life. Burns includes too many New Yorkers, not enough Pittsburghers (see 1960), and Stan Musial gets short shrift while Harmon Killebrew isn't even mentioned. It's the official baseball history now, which makes these ommissions more glaring.
  3.  +1 61* (2001): Isn't it time for Billy Crystal to make his great Mickey Mantle documentary?  
  4. +1 Moneyball (2011): I was turned off by the falsehoods but was won over by the poignancy. And if you want to read more, well, 3,500 words await.
  5. -2  The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998): An unabashed paean and a joy to watch. Should be required viewing for all modern athletes who disregard their role-model status.
  6. The Bad News Bears (1976): Should this movie have been in the Hall of Fame seven years ago? Should it be now? Haven't watched it in five years but I have fond feelings for it. Maybe I was the right age when it came out.
  7. The Natural (1984): It's tough to transfer Bernard Malamud's Old Testament morality onto a Hollywood screen and give it a Hollywood ending, but Barry Levinson and Robert Redford (appearing in his first movie in four years) managed it in 1984. With caveats. Many caveats. Still, that homerun in the middle of the movie that stops time at Wrigley Field? Stops me every time.
  8. +2 Catching Hell (2011): Alex Gibney has directed docs on torture (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) and failure (“Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room”), so it's only natural that he turns his attention to the Chicago Cub—in the person of Steve Bartman, the unluckiest fan of the unluckiest franchise. Bartman is the Chicago Cubs of Cub fans. In the end, that's pretty impressive.
  9. -1 Eight Men Out (1988): “The written rules were rigid and righteous, while the real rules were often wide open and dirty.” That's from the book by Eliot Asinof on which the movie is based, and to which the movie pales. So is this: “America expected higher morals from ballplayers than they expected from businessmen.” Am I giving John Sayles and the movie too hard a time? Maybe I need to see it again. Maybe it's better than I remember.
  10. -1 Sugar (2008): The Dominican players who saw this all said, “Yep. That's the way it is.” Always enlightening seeing our country through the eyes of others.
  11. Major League (1989): The bottom-of-the-ninth-inning bunt to win the championship has since been stolen by enough movies (“Mr. Baseball”; “Mr. 3000”) that it's become as much a cliche as the bottom-of-the-ninth-inning home run to win the championship. But all-around dopey fun.
  12. The Rookie (2002): In 1999, when I first read on ESPN.com about Jim Morris, a high school teacher in Texas who improbably made the bigs at the age of 35+, I said aloud to my Microsoft officemates, “Wonder how long before it's a movie?” But I assumed made-for-TV. Hollywood did better. Too much estranged father crap, of course, but otherwise a fairly straightforward narrative.
  13. +1 A League of their Own (1992): Geena Davis can't play. Rosie O'Donnell can.
  14. -1 Field of Dreams (1989): Speaking of estranged father crap... Most fans would put this top 10 or 5 or 3, but too much magic realism for me. In the original story, “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, the author retrieved from New England and taken to Fenway Park is ... J.D. Salinger. That's one way the movie improved upon the source material.
  15. NEW! 42 (2013): Better than “The Jackie Robinson Story” but not as good as Jackie, or we, deserve. It's fairly accurate, but when writer-director Brian Helgeland tends to take dramatic license he does so undramatically. He takes undramatic license. Great Ben Chapman scene, though.
  16. Pastime (1990): I saw this in the mid-1990s, liked it, and now remember nothing about it. Racial stuff, right?
  17. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): The second appearance in the countdown by Michael Moriarty. He was also a talking head in “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” since his grandfather was a Major League umpire in the 1930s.
  18. Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010): Suffers in comparsion to “Greenberg.” But it means well.
  19. For Love of the Game (1999): A fading pitcher thinks about his imperfect life between innings of the last game of the year ... then gradually realizes he's pitching a perfect game. Overlong, but I think the reaction against it was a reaction against Costner, which I'm tired of.
  20. Fever Pitch (2005): How could Major League Baseball allow Drew and Jimmy on the field for the final out of the 2004 World Series?? How?????
  21. Damn Yankees! (1958): Not much a baseball movie, more of a 1950s Broadway musical, but Ray Walston as the Devil livens things up. It's also the best titled baseball movie ever. Yankee haters everywhere unite!
  22. Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976): Oh, the movie this might have been. There’s incredible talent here (Billy Dee, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Stan Shaw), there’s a budget, there’s direction from John Badham. But the tensions within the film are puerile. The evil is overwhelmingly evil; the good is happy-go-lucky. The story meanders and then tucks its tail between its legs and heads home. Shame. Great title, though.
  23. The Pride of the Yankees (1942): When I was a kid in the 1970s, this was regularly cited as the greatest baseball movie ever made. How far we've come. How far it's fallen.
  24. -3 The Stratton Story (1948): I'm not sure why this made it into my “Majors” section in the MSN piece. When I think of it now, I think of it with slight distaste.
  25. Game 6 (2005): The title game refers to the 1986 World Series. But there's no “going to see about a girl” for Michael Keaton.
  26. Angels in the Outfield (1951): When the remake was released in '94 I didn't even know there'd been an original--and with the Pirates of all teams. Not a bad baseball movie for the period.
  27. Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949): Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra sing and dance and pretend to play.
  28. NEW! The House of Steinbrenner (2010): Even the effin' NY Yankees deserve a better documentary than this.
  29. Mr. Baseball (1992): Tom Selleck is an American asshole who must learn to be a team player in Japan. Doesn't suck.
  30. The Sandlot (1993): And you thought “The Wonder Years” was nostalgic. For people who like sugar. (Not “Sugar.”)
  31. Little Big League (1994): Kid becomes owner of the Minnesota Twins and makes the moves that put them in contention for the pennant. Ah, but the big, bad Seattle Mariners—with guest appearances by Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson!—block their way...
  32. Major League II (1994): I don't remember much about this one (and I didn't see the third), but, hey, gang's getting back together. Except for Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes. He's doing too well so they pull a Darrin-from-Bewitched on him and replace him with Omar Epps. Would be lower if not for Bob Ueker.
  33. Fear Strikes Out (1957): I'll quote my father: “If Tony Perkins had handled a knife the way he handled a baseball bat, Janet Leigh would still be alive.”
  34. Rookie of the Year (1993): Magic arm, annoying kid.
  35. Mr. 3000 (2004): You are missed, Bernie Mac, but not for this.
  36. Angels in the Outfield (1994): A clear violation of the 25-man roster.
  37. -11 Cobb (1994): A hagiography would've felt like less of a lie.
  38. The Jackie Robinson Story (1950): Dreary baseball shots accompanied by heavy-handed pronouncements about equal opportunity. The movie reveals how far we've come by showing us the inanities that passed for racial enlightenment in 1950.
  39. The Babe (1992): At least Goodman has the charisma of the Babe. That's what makes it better than the other.
  40. NEW! Trouble with the Curve (2012): My worst movie of 2012 isn't even in the bottom five? Yeesh. That's how bad baseball movies generally are.
  41. The Scout (1994): I don't think I even made it through this one.
  42. BASEketball (1998): Overwhelming juvenile. Whatever happened to these guys anyway?
  43. Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998): Is there a sadder title?
  44. The Babe Ruth Story (1948): The greatest player of all time in one of the worst movies of all time. Thanks, Hollywood.
  45. Hard Ball (2001): This one's so low because the book on which it's based, “Hardball: A Season in the Projects,” written by Daniel Coyle, is fantastic.
  46. The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977): Josh Wilker has written an entire book out about this movie? Which he loves? Or something? Well, he made poetry out of Rudy Meoli popping up so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I'll probably even buy it. (I did: It's short and great.)
  47. The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978): But Josh, don't push your luck.

Now feel free to rank your own.

best baseball movies ever made

Three of my top-10 baseball movies were never theatrically released.

Posted at 08:03 AM on Apr 17, 2013 in category Baseball
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Tuesday April 16, 2013

Catch of the Day: Ben Revere

Yesterday I heard Ben Revere made a great catch and I went to MLB.com to check it out. My search led to this catch, screen-captured below, which is a great catch but it's not yesterday's catch. The one below took place during a spring training game in March. The ads on the outfield wall should've been a giveaway.

Ben Revere makes the catch in Philadelphia

I think MLB.com needs to work on its search queries.

No, yesterday's catch was more spectacular—aided by the reaction it got from Cliff Lee and the doubling of the dude off first. Here's a .gif of the catch:

That Ben Revere catch

Not sure why the Minnesota Twins traded Ben Revere in December. His numbers last year were certainly respectable, he was young and cheap, and he kept making great catches in center field. Seriously, there's nothing like a great catch in center field.

Posted at 01:55 PM on Apr 16, 2013 in category Baseball
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Thursday April 04, 2013

Q&A with Aviva Kempner about Hank Greenberg – Part III

In March 2000, in a hotel lobby in downtown Seattle, I interviewed director Aviva Kempner, who was visiting Seattle to promote her documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” which was showing at the Jewish Film Festival of Seattle.

This month, Ms. Kempner will be appearing with a friend, John Rosengren, author of “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes,” at events in Washington, D.C. on April 4; in New York April 25; at the Yogi Berra Museum on April 26; and at the Jewish Community Center in New York on the evening of April 26. John’s full schedule can be found here. Here’s a link to his book. Here’s a link to her DVD. And here’s my review of the documentary from back 2000.

This is part III of my interview with Ms. Kempner. You can read part I and part II here.


How was the film funded?
A charitable foundation made the film. I think it’s how Dominici used to fund the great statues.

The Life and Times of Hank GreenbergI could have made this entire film in three years. [But] it is ten years of fundraising. It’s just what it is. Because I wanted to make it my way. I’m still raising money for the music rights. I’m raising money for the P and A. I’m … You don’t want to know. I’m married to Hank.

My form of fundraising is based on a line from “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I depend upon the kindness of strangers.” It was really wonderful people who thought the world of Hank, and some state humanities boards, that helped me. But I recently re-saw the movie version of “Streetcar Named Desire.” You know when Blanche says that line? At the end of the film. Carted off to the looney bin. So I keep telling my friends, “I hope that’s not going to happen to me.”

You made “Partisans of Vilna” with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Why not again? I mean I would’ve think you’d established your credentials.
It’s called timing. When I was applying for the National Endowment for the Humanities on my Hank Greenberg film, which I would argue had some real humanities issues in it, there was a man named Ken Burns applying for his baseball movie. Need I say more? To this day I’ve never seen [Burns’ baseball documentary].

Was it a help or hindrance, the fact that he made it?
I think it’s two-pronged. I think I was the single filmmaker in the country most affected, funding wise, by Ken Burns. Because NEH went for him. When it went to PBS, they said, “Why do we need any more on baseball?”

On the other hand, I think he helped open up the door that, you know, baseball is a wonderful, glorious, American pastime, and there’s enough material there to make credible documentaries.

How did you get Walter Matthau?
Walter Matthau joined the Beverly Hills tennis club just to meet Hank Greenberg—is that great?

I had once seen a Walter Matthau movie, where, in the middle of the end credits, they have him in the bathtub. Funniest scene I ever saw. I thought, “I’m going to do that too.”

Then I realized the theme was what Hank still meant to these people: the kids, Arn Tellem, Maury Povitch, who comes out of nowhere...

And who screws up the history.
Oh, he got it all wrong! But that’s what’s so great. The three things Jews most say to me about Hank is: 1) he didn’t play on Yom Kippur; 2) they didn’t give him good balls [to hit when challenging Babe Ruth’s HR record] because he’s Jewish; and 3) he married a Gimbel. I try to give both sides.

Do you think they didn’t pitch to him that final week in ‘38?
Ira [Berkow] has done the math. It isn’t that way in terms of … I mean, maybe there was one pitcher … Actually, what hurt him most was the rain in Cleveland. And Bob Feller. Oh, who knows? But Jews totally believe it.

I come from a family that emphasized the arts and working hard. It was my awakening 20 years ago to first do a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis and then do a film about Hank. And sort of my M.O. with my foundation is to counter negative stereotypes against Jews. I just feel like that’s what I’ve been put on earth to do. Don’t ever underestimate how important it is, the kind of childhoods we grew up with. My mother’s an artist, my stepfather’s a professor and my Dad was very political. And it formulated me. Where did you grow up?

Minneapolis.
Minnesota Twins? You stole them from my city! Did you see my dedication in the film? Dedicated to the return of Major League Baseball to Washington.

Well, you got another team right away. Then you lost them to Texas.
We can’t vote in Congress, we don’t have a baseball team. We’re a colony! I live in a colony. I’m third world.

You know, Camden Yards is just a train ride away.
Oh, don’t give me that.

What surprised you the most while making the doc?
Probably what a good person [Hank] is. I get criticized for making a love letter, so called, or that I don’t have any dirt or scandal? Guess what? There isn’t a lot of scandal. The worst things you can say about Hank is that in his managing years he’s really tough. But if fate gives me a story where Hank meets Jackie Robinson at the end of his career, you think I’m going to go beyond that? That’s the greatest ending. It’s what fate gave me.

Documentaries have beginnnings and middles and ends. I have this really dear friend who just saw the film in LA, and he comes out and says, “Act one was this, Act Two was this and Act Three was this,” and I just ate it up, because that’s what we were trying to do, my editor and I. Him being a theater person, he got it.

The other thing that gripes me: Where is it written that every documentary has to give a balanced report? Mine is a flaming love letter that’s humorous and makes you cry and that’s what I wanted to do. People loved Hank, there was a lot to love, and I want to make fun of it but I also want to tribute it. Exposes? Go watch “20/20.”

I was talking with Ken Holtzman who was with me last Saturday …

Ken Holtzman, the pitcher?
Here. Because you know baseball. The night before I opened in New York I’m with Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. Want me to tell you a Yogi Berra story? Yogi’s sitting there watching the film and I’m waiting for him to say something. I thought, “God, this great line I’m going to have from Yogi Berra! I’ll be able to quote it for days.” He gets up, and he says to Dave Kaplan, who runs the Yogi Berra Museum, “Boy, those seats are hard.” Doesn’t say one thing to me about the movie.

What did Yogi think of your film? The seats were hard. I mean, did you ever?

Hank Greenberg, from "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg"

Posted at 08:27 AM on Apr 04, 2013 in category Baseball
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