MLB Opening Day 2022 is finally here so here are a few baseball movies to help you celebrate the day arriving on the calendar.
When the lockout started in December, nobody knew if the day would ever arrive. As weeks gave way to months, we didn’t know if we would get a full season or not. Finally, everybody came to an agreement and spring training got underway. And now, it’s April 7, 2022 so we can finally shout: Play Ball!
No list of baseball movies is complete without Field of Dreams. It is the quintessential baseball movies and one in which I am legally obligated to watch whenever I notice it on TV. Kevin Costner has been featured in a number of baseball movies over the years but Field of Dreams is among the very best.
Field of Dreams takes its basis from perhaps one of the most far-fetched ideas out there. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice one night while he’s out in the cornfield. Unbeknownst to him, neither his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), nor their daughter, Karin (Gaby Hoffman), hears the voice. Following a vision, Ray turns their cornfield into a baseball field. It’s a crazy idea but Annie goes along with it. Ray believes that if he builds a baseball field, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) will come back. When Shoeless Joe does finally arrive onto the scene, other players from the 1919 Black Sox soon follow.
To buy into the film, you have to suspend disbelief. No matter how many times I watch the film, I can’t take my eyes off of the screen. Every single time that I flip through the listing and see Field of Dreams playing on MLB Network, I’m legally obligated to turn it on and I own the movie! Field of Dreams is baseball perfection.
One year before the release of Field of Dreams, Costner teamed up with Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. The film stars Costner as veteran bullpen catcher “Crash” Davis. It’s on Davis to teach Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) about the game. Meanwhile, there’s a love story involving one of the team’s groupies, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). Ron Shelton writes and directs the film from his own experiences as a baseball player. He earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay.
While going on a monologue, Crash Davis delivers the following line: ” I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”
Moneyball is one of the select baseball movies to garner Oscar nominations. The film stars Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Bennett Miller directs from a script written by Aaron Sorkin and based on the Michael Lewis book.
The 2002 Oakland Athletics didn’t have the best start to their season. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) decides to make some changes to the roster and they didn’t play well for manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Working with assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), the duo would make some changes to the roster. Again, what they were doing was not seen as the traditional way to build a team. The Yale-educated Brand used his economic background in bringing a different approach than the old-school baseball scouts. If it works, it works, right?
Yet for all the good in the film, there’s still some issues with the storytelling. They may be minor or major depending on one’s point of view. Outside of Chad Bradford, the film ignores the Athletics core pitching trio of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder. Zito would go on to take home the AL Cy Young for 2002! Baseball fans would also know that Jeremy Giambi was acquired earlier. Even with Bradford, he was traded to the As in 2000 so clearly there’s something going on here. In the long-term, it doesn’t distract too much from the main story.
Moneyball isn’t a traditional baseball film but it doesn’t need to be. In utilizing the old school vs. new school approach, Moneyball manages to become one of the best baseball movies ever.
Chadwick Boseman delivers a strong performance as Jackie Robinson’s story comes to the screen in biopic form in 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.
There are some biographical errors in 42 but I’m willing to let it slide because of how important this story is. Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. In doing so, he became a hero to many people. Even watching the film in 2021, there’s still that heroic quality to discussing Robinson. Who better to play the Hall of Fame ballplayer than Chadwick Boseman? Boseman died over a year ago following a quiet battle with cancer but he displays the grace of a hero on screen. Mind you, this film is before he took up the Black Panther mantle as T’challa. In watching the film last November, it’s a sad reminder of just how much talent we lost with his tragic death in 2020. If you own the film on Blu-ray, watch the bonus features to see the work that Boseman puts into the performance.
Harrison Ford makes the complete transition into then-Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. It’s a heck of a transition and the film wouldn’t work without Ford going 100% in the role. Ford delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the Hall of Fame executive. Personally, I’d have given the fifth Oscars slot to Ford and not Jared Leto. Next to Boseman himself, Ford’s work in the film is one of the best things about it.
Baseball needed Jackie Robinson in order to make progress in the game. His breaking the barrier was a moment that baseball needed. If it weren’t Branch Rickey making the decision, it would probably have been another GM. Robinson wasn’t just playing baseball for the Dodgers. If Robinson failed, it meant that Rickey would have failed. Without Robinson, we wouldn’t have the likes of Hank Aron, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, etc. The list of players honestly goes on and on. There may be other members living in baseball immortality at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown but only Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired in all of baseball. Nobody will ever wear the number again except for Jackie Robinson Day.
42 is more than just a baseball movie but the story of a hero.
The Sandlot is a film that became an instant classic! The film is about a group of school kids playing sandlot baseball in a random field. When one of their new recruits volunteers to bring a baseball from home, the ball ends up being hit over the fence as a home run. It just so happens that the ball is signed by Babe Ruth. The neighbor’s dog, Hercules, is somewhat vicious so they go through all sorts of trouble in getting it back. It also features a very different James Earl Jones performance than Field of Dreams. Funny story: I first came to know the veteran actor through these films than voicing Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise.
Little Big League
Little Big League is a much different film. It stars Luke Edwards, Timothy Busfield, and Dennis Farina. Billy Heywood’s (Luke Edwards) grandfather, Thomas Heywood (Jason Robards), owns the Minnesota Twins. When he suddenly dies, he leaves the team to his grandson. It’s one of those films in which the storytelling is seemingly impossible. But when you see this movie as a kid, you fall in love with it. It’s developed something of a cult following over the years with how many times it is aired on MLB Network.
The entire premise of the film is not realistic at all but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying it. Plus, it’s the film where I learned the punchline to the joke: “If a guy rides into town on Monday, stays three days, and leaves on Friday, how does he do it?” I’m going off of memory here but if you haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil the punchline.
The Pride of the Yankees, despite its flaws, makes for appropriate viewing on Lou Gehrig Day, which is now celebrated in baseball on the anniversary of his passing.
Gehrig passed away in June 1941. He never did live to see the film, which earned 11 Oscar nominations and winning one for editing. The editing is certainly well deserved given that Gary Cooper never played baseball before signing onto the film. This is what the reports say. Many reports say that the Yankee uniform was flipped for scenes in which Cooper was seen throwing and hitting the ball. These reports might actually be false. But in any event, it took viewing the Yankee Stadium speech producer Samuel Goldwyn to produce the film. For what it’s worth, the film changes up Gehrig’s speech for more dramatic impact.
The biggest thing and perhaps one of the biggest flaws about The Pride of the Yankees is that it stretches far too many years in Gehrig’s life. I mean, it’s one thing for a prologue as a child before cutting away to Gehrig as an adult. But it’s another to have Gary Cooper portray Gehrig even as a young man. Rudolph Maté’s cinematography might help with trucker but it can only do so much.
There’s no denying that The Pride of the Yankees is a classic sports film but it suffers like so many biopics in covering too much time in just over two hours.
A League of Their Own is a beloved comedy which not only celebrates women in baseball but continues to serve as an inspiration to women today.
Book-ended by a new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit opening in 1988, the film quickly flashbacks to 1943. This is where we see Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty) just before they are recruited by Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz) in Oregon. Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) is the league’s general manager. Dottie and Kit soon join eight others on the Rockford Peaches roster including Mae “All the Way Mae” Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell). A former Cubs slugger, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), manages the team.
The story doesn’t end when the film comes to an end after some two hours. No, you can see more of the story in A Secret Love on Netflix. I say this because the film is inspired by real events and lesbians did play in the league. Granted they remained closeted at the time.
The film also helped to put the league back on the map in terms of public consciousness. When the film opened in 1992, the digital era had not really come into existence. The only way anyone could learn the history was really by way of books.
While Cobb is a film that gets regular airplay on the MLB Network, I cannot recommend watching it. Much of this is because of accusations surrounding the book that it adapts and its truthfulness. Other MLB Network regulars include Eight Men Out, The Babe, and Trouble with the Curve. The latter film, starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, and Justin Timberlake, celebrates ten years in September. Suffice it to say that, despite its cast, the film didn’t have the same magic as Moneyball a year earlier.
For more movie ideas, consider checking out Baseball Goes to the Movies by Ron Backer. There’s no shortage of movies to watch.