Monday October 24, 2011
The Best (and Worst) Baseball Movies of All Time: Ranked!
The other day I posted a 2004 MSN piece ranking baseball movies into four categories: 1) Hall of Fame, 2) Majors, 3) Minors, and 4) Not Fit to Carry Kevin Costner's Jockstrap. Made me wonder how I would actually rank these suckers. What's my favorite baseball movie? Least favorite? How do you factor in documentaries?
Only one way to find out...
- Bull Durham (1988): Still the smartest. Still the sexiest. Oh my.
- 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.
- 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.
- 61* (2001): Isn't it time for Billy Crystal to make his great Mickey Mantle documentary?
- 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.
- 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 maybe five years but for some reason I have fond feelings for it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Catching Hell (2011): Alex Gibney has directed docs on torture (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) and total failure (“Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room”), so it's only natural that he turns his attention to the Chicago Cubs--in the person of Steve Bartman, the unluckiest fan of the unluckiest franchise.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A League of their Own (1992): Geena Davis can't play. Rosie O'Donnell can.
- Pastime (1990): I saw this in the mid-1990s, liked it, and now remember nothing about it. Racial stuff, right?
- 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” because his grandfather was a Major League umpire in the 1930s.
- Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010): Suffers in comparsion to “Greenberg.” But it means well.
- 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.
- 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?????
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949): Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra sing and dance and pretend to play.
- Mr. Baseball (1992): Tom Selleck is an American asshole who must learn to be a team player in Japan. Doesn't suck.
- The Sandlot (1993): And you thought “The Wonder Years” was nostalgic. For people who like sugar. (Not “Sugar.”)
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.”
- Rookie of the Year (1993): Magic arm, annoying kid.
- Mr. 3000 (2004): Bernie Mac, you are missed, but not for this.
- Angels in the Outfield (1994): A clear violation of the 25-man roster.
- Cobb (1994): A hagiography would've felt like less of a lie.
- 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.
- The Babe (1992): At least Goodman has the charisma of the Babe.
- The Scout (1994): I don't think I even made it through this one.
- BASEketball (1998): Overwhelming juvenile. Whatever happened to these guys anyway?
- Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998): Is there a sadder title?
- The Babe Ruth Story (1948): The greatest player of all time in one of the worst movies of all time.
- Hard Ball (2001): This one's particularly egregious since the book on which it's based, “Hardball: A Season in the Projects,” written by Daniel Coyle, is fantastic.
- 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.
- The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978): But Josh, don't push your luck.
They starred in two of the worst baseball movies ever made but got to hang with the original Charlie's Angels. I'd make that trade.
ADDENDUM: Upon another viewing, “Cobb” has been downgraded from 24 to 35.