Before anyone gets bent out of shape for me not including their favorite baseball flick, my lifetime started in 1983. There have been countless movies with a baseball theme in the last 30 years but a few of them have had a lasting impression on me for one reason or another. Some are simply great films and others were just fun to watch as a child and were an extension of my imagination. Typically when you start ranking movies there are no two lists alike. So feel free to make your own list as you read through mine and we’ll see where we agree and where we would argue to the death in defense of our choices.
Rookie of the Year
In this film the dream of every 12-year-old baseball fan comes true when young Henry Rowengartner earns a spot on a big league team. After injuring his arm at school a tendon in Henry’s arm heals too tightly, allowing him to throw a baseball over 100 mph. The Chicago Cubs discover his talent and sign him to a Major League contract. Throughout the film Henry reignites the Cubs fan base, befriends fellow pitcher and teammate Chet Steadman (played by Gary Busey) and leads the Cubs to the National League Championship Series. If you don’t recall, then you’ll have to watch to see what happens next after Henry loses his rocket arm ability during the big game. This family film was directed by Daniel Stern of Wet Bandits fame and has stood the test of time when it comes to family sports films.
Scotty Smalls is the new kid on the block in this cult classic about a group of kids who love to play ball. Throughout the film the boys dream of the companionship of the local lifeguard, fear the neighborhood baseball-eating K-9 as if it were in fact The Beast they refer to him as and experiment with chewing tobacco at the local fair. The boys have a blast and get in a little trouble just like we all did during those summers of adolescence. Released in 1993, the kids from the lot are all grown up but managed to get together for a reunion last year to mark the 20th anniversary of the film’s release. If you haven’t seen the film or haven’t seen it recently I strongly recommend watching it. It’s well worth the laughs you’ll enjoy throughout.
Starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes, this is another cult classic. Full of quotable one-liners and memorable scenes this film shows what Charlie Sheen would be like if he were actually on a Major League team. As ridiculous as things get at times, the team perseveres to thwart the team owner’s plans to field the worst team in baseball so she can move the ball club to a warmer climate. Real life Milwaukee Brewer’s announcer Bob Uecker is the play-by-play man for the misfit team and provides some of the best laughs throughout the movie.
Almost my favorite baseball movie of all time, this film tells the realistic story of a career minor league catcher brought to the Durham Bulls AAA squad to help a talented young pitcher reach the next level. Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins star as the three get mixed up in a frustrated love triangle. Costner, the veteran catcher, makes quick work of the young pitcher’s cocky attitude and proves to have the wisdom and knowledge needed to reign in the youngster’s potential. This film was directed by a former minor league ball player and it shows. There is a lot of humor and not a lot of movie fillers. This is a true baseball movie that stays on topic and provides unique conversations and perspectives about the game. Thought-provoking and entertaining, it’s a must own for any baseball fan.
Field of Dreams
Released in 1989, Field of Dreams is the pinnacle of all baseball movies. The film is based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella and it tells the story of an Iowa corn farmer who hears voices in various settings that cause him to do very unorthodox things. The voices and the farmer’s interpretation of them result in the digging up of part of the corn field, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s return to baseball and a trip to Boston to meet writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones and based on real life author JD Salinger). The film is brilliantly acted with powerful performances from Coster, Jones and a small but equally powerful performance by Burt Lancaster. All of the farmer’s efforts culminate in a tear-jerking reunion between the farmer and his late father in which the farmer’s past regrets from their relationship were all forgiven. The film takes place in the heartland of America and features a deeply rooted love of the game of baseball. One of the greatest speeches in American cinematic history takes place when James Earl Jones convinces Costner that he should keep the cornfield ball field despite the looming financial implications. Now excuse me while I go watch this great film.