It's that time of year again-the grass is green, birds are chirping, and the smell of a fresh season of baseball has arrived. While the on-field play marks the time and represents the DNA of a fan's summer song, it is also a time of year where the baseball cinema classics are broken back out for the latest viewing. In order to truly celebrate this time of the season, I reached out to an eclectic group-one with sound opinions, fierce stances, and a true taste for film.
What happens when you put a baseball writer, hockey writer, university worker, school teacher, Hollywood screenwriter, and a film critic together?
Kyle Reis, Redbird Daily baseball writer-
Major League - 1989
I'm a really dumb person, and I love really dumb movies. I am also the youngest of four boys in my family, and my older brothers were going through adolescence and their teenage years as baseball fanatics when the movie came out. Of course, as the baby who idolized his three brothers, their love for this off beat and politically incorrect flick is the basis for my love of Major League.
But that's not to take away from the movie. The movie is perfectly cast, especially for that time period. I've never been in a professional locker room on a daily basis but, as a guy who works with males almost exclusively, I have to believe that this is as close as a movie can get to what it's really like to be in there regularly.
The movie does a great job of describing what it's like to be a helpless sports fan of a hopeless team, and what it's like when a group of individuals come together to form something greater. And there is even a little romance in there, too!
Jeff Jones, St. Louis Game Time hockey writer and radio voice of Gametime A.M.-
There are some kitschy answers that avoid the obvious conclusion, and I suppose there are some die hard Susan Sarandon fans, but the best baseball movie of all time will always be Major League.
Major League was Anchorman before Anchorman was Anchorman. The universe is vibrant, alive, and absurd. There’s a hysterical quote from almost every scene that can make anyone laugh in any context. To wit: “Hey Taylor, how’s your wife and my kids?” See? Who knew former Cardinal Pete Vuckovich could be a beloved comic actor?
Bob Uecker adds an air of authenticity that makes the action scenes come alive. Other movies have been forced to use musical cues to signal the audience as to the flow of play for non-sports fans, but Uecker’s Harry Doyle carries it here. And it’s amazing.
Honestly, I love Major League so much that I even love the Bakula-McGinley direct to video sequel. It’s unparalleled.
Best baseball movie, non-Major League division? Ed, with Matt LeBlanc and a fake monkey. Don’t @ me.
Ken Wolfe, Kirkwood school teacher
I must admit it. I’m not a baseball fan. I like the game enough, I understand the intermittent drama, and I can appreciate the skill it takes for a player to make that occasional thrilling play.
Regardless, that hook just doesn’t have a barb for me. So when I consider the best of baseball movies, I don’t bring the life-long yearning for the diamond and the touted “love of The Game” that may draw another to films set in the major leagues. My eye is drawn to The Bad News Bears every time.
The Bad News Bears carries all the major themes that baseball films do, but without the underlying surety of skill that girds them. These kids have nothing but desire to play, and even that wavers. Conversely, Buttermaker-their coach and former minor league player-has all the experience and skill necessary to coach the kids, but the drive is gone. His first line in the film is an annoyed, “You got my check?”
The exchange of each party’s strength is the core of the film, added to which are various characters’ paths to redemption, the longing for restored relationship, the personal cost of unchecked ambition, a continuous blooper reel, and the full emotional spectrum of Little League play. Ritchie’s filming is closely framed and relaxed, putting the viewer within the smell of Buttermaker’s beer cans and the pungency of the kids’ failure-soaked uniforms. The dusty southern California suburban playing fields could be anywhere in America, its cast of kids from any school yard. They are us. And they are losers.
When they lose the league championship, every kid in the theater feels their gut twist at the victors’ “2! 4! 6! 8!” cheer, and their eyes narrow at the thought of revenge only a few practices away. Therein lies the love of the game. There’s no magical final pitch or heroic wall climb to catch the last out causing the lace-gloved love interest in the stands to cry. The Bad News Bears is a grass-stained study in human flaws sewn up with humor and optimism for next season. And that’s life.
Janelle M. Brimer, University worker-
My favorite baseball movie is The Sandlot. In truth, there are a dozen other baseball movies I could have chosen, but none, in my opinion, have the simplicity of The Sandlot. It refers to baseball in the purest form: love of the game, its players, and how it brings friends from every walk of life together. The more adult baseball movies use baseball as a backstory and focus on corruption, politics, and fighting.
The Sandlot’s main setting is the good old-fashioned yard ball diamond. Adults are few and far between heard from or seen, so all one is left with is the kids’ view of the game, wonderfully uncomplicated. No pitch counts, million dollar contracts, trade deadlines, or the latest technology…just a group of boys living and celebrating the game stripped of all the noise. So others can have their big boy baseball movies, I’ll take The Sandlot FOR-EH-VER.
Michael D. Fuller, Hollywood screenwriter (Cinemax's Quarry)-
The Sandlot - Being asked to pick one favorite “baseball movie” is no easy task; it’s essentially a genre unto itself with as stacked a lineup as you’ll find. For me, however, it’s hard for anything to top the combination of nostalgia, wonder, and unadulterated joy for the game that The Sandlot brings to such vibrant life. Perfectly capturing a universal adolescent experience created by loving and playing the game with close friends, the film is a love letter to not just the sport itself but to the period in all of our lives where baseball was the only thing that mattered (well, that and maybe getting to catch a glimpse of Wendy Peffercorn).
It’s impossible to watch this movie and not feel a yearning for a summer gone-by where the days were long, the sun was hot, and the only thing that mattered was getting out on a dusty, overgrown field with your friends to swing a bat and play some catch. (And while it was probably definitely ripped off from Stand By Me, the boys’ individual postscripts as they fade from the field are bittersweet and heartbreaking, a wistful reminder of the fleeting bonds of youth and the divergent nature of life itself.) Other baseball films may be more dramatic, or funny, or realistic, but none are as effective at capturing why we love the sport to begin with.
And at last, what is my favorite baseball movie? The answer comes to mind as easy as a fastball lands on Crash Davis' bat. Yes, that's right, my favorite baseball flick is Bull Durham, Ron Shelton's soulful and hilarious ode to the rigorous life of a minor league baseball player. A movie that spends a few weeks with the Durham Bulls (a real life minor league team) does so many things for the viewer, but signifies nothing more poignantly than the tiny gap between the minors and the majors. The imparting of wisdom from seasoned catcher Crash Davis (played by the sports film Jesus, Kevin Costner) to clueless young pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) marks some of the best moments of this 1988 film that still resonates today.
Few sports films blend comedy, drama, and real life plight together better than Bull Durham, and it also gave Costner the stage to create one of the best cinematic characters to ever touch a playing field. Part philosopher, part poet, part slugger, and all around old school artist, Crash battles Nuke for the affection of Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy while nurturing the man in the fine arts of pitching. Their battle of wills and final interaction in the film is a special thing to witness. Anyone who thinks Susan Sarandon's legs, while lovely, are the driving force behind this film have got it all wrong.
What's wrong with a little romance in a baseball film? I'd like to think Bull Durham was the minor league version of 1989's Major League. I'm not calling David S. Ward a thief, but you have a romance between an over the hill catcher and a former flame and the parallels between the red slip of death and the thrill of a game winning hit. Each film blends together wild eyed hilarity and quiet moments of sports soul; it's too bad only one has Costner. I'd be lying to you if I said any other element of Bull Durham was the make or break factor. I could have watched Crash Davis: The early years and the later years. Shelton knew what he was doing when he put the Michael Jordan of baseball films in his movie. You could show Crash's speech to Annie and Nuke in the beginning of the movie and have a lot of other films beat. Who else can put Lee Harvey Oswald and the sweet spot of a bat in the same speech?
But I'd be lying if I didn't give a shoutout to the late yet great Trey Wilson (manager Skip, died shortly after the release) and Robert Wuhl, who form the best coaching duo in sports film history. "Lollygagging" still exists.
It's not easy picking a favorite baseball movie. Field of Dreams, The Natural, Major League, The Sandlot, and Cobb all have a juicy element, but Bull Durham has the best script, doesn't adhere to the rules (Nuke's windup is supposed to be preposterous), and holds up the best. To think differently would be as foolish as not knowing the difference between a .250 and .300 batting average.