CNN recently invited its I-reporters to opine on the greatest baseball movie of all time to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of “Field of Dreams” and “Major League.” At least one of those two is a must for your DVD collection.
To me, baseball is such a great game already, so if you get to put baseball into a movie, it had better be something-close-to-perfect. It should inspire us! We should walk out of there feeling more uplifted about life and be somehow committed to giving a better effort tomorrow than we did today.
Here’s my list of the Ten Greatest (read: Inspiring) Baseball Movies of All-Time, in countdown order. Post your own favorites below, especially if you have a different view. I’ve got as many James Earl Jones movies as Costner flicks, but no “Bull Durham.” In my view, it was a better love story than a baseball movie, but hey, that’s just me. Here ya go:
10. “Eight Men Out” (1988): John Cusack, Charlie Sheen and D.B. Sweeney led the Chicago “Black Sox,” telling us an important historic story with empathy, nostalgia, and an alternative perspective of who were the real cheaters in the series.
9. “The Bad News Bears” (1976): You can’t have a Top Ten list without something about little leaguers, and this one featured the crotchety Walter Matthau, a female pitcher, and great kids. From the mouths of babes came some really inspiring stuff!
8. “Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings” (1976): Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones star in a comedy/drama that illustrates both the tragedy of what we all missed as well as the personal triumphs by the players of that age. It also dealt with the spiritual theme of overcoming oppression.
7. “Angels in the Outfield” (1994): Danny Glover and Christopher Lloyd were terrific in this! Glover was humble yet believable and confident as a major league manager in this farcical comedy. Lloyd’s cheery disposition and realism made it seem less farcical and gave the Disney flick the believability it needed. And the kids were great! Great spiritual themes of faith, miracles and adoption.
6. “For Love of the Game (1999): Costner fans usually rate “Bull Durham” ahead of this one, but I saw it as far superior, showing the human side of both superstar and friends, girlfriend and fans. The construction of the movie between perfect game and flashbacks was brilliantly done, and the ending really leaves you feeling as most of us do after a great ball game–wishing it had gone extra innings. Vin Scully and Yankee Stadium made it even more realistic, too.
5. “The Rookie” (2002): Ok, this one bends the hokiness meter, except that it was based on a true story. Who hasn’t had real dreams of not being too old to still get a shot at the majors? And before Quaid gets his major league shot, there’s a wonderful under-remembered story of a gifted coach who motivates and underperforming team into a Cinderella story. Coaches like that need to be celebrated, even more so today.
4. “Pride of the Yankees” (1942): Back in the days when you only saw a movie once, this may have been #1. But it’s tough to watch again and again on DVD, so it settles into the #4 spot on the list. Gary Cooper plays Lou Gherig in a story that’s as inspiring as it is true. It’s a hard movie to watch, though interesting in that Babe Ruth makes a cameo appearance.
3. “A League of Their Own” (1992): Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Bill Pullman, Garry Marshall, Lori Petty and an ingenious Jon Lovitz gave this one of the most surprisingly deep and enduring casts of any movie of its time. It’s full of challenge and comedy, hope and happiness, and realistic pain and struggle. This was a beautiful trip around the bases.
2. “Field of Dreams” (1989): This should have won the Oscar, but it was almost bigger than Oscar in some ways. The magic story of a ’60s couple, their farm, their field, their reduced corn crop, the ghost, the legend, the famous writer, the doc from the past, and the dad from the painful past all come together for a unique movie event that’s still makes it worth traveling to real life Iowa, to see the field.
1. “The Natural” (1984): Unbelievablly underrated in its release year, “The Natural” has stood the test of time and is the best baseball movie ever made. Critics decried the ending as too corny, but what great baseball game doesn’t include heroics at the end? Robert Redford was so dang famous that his performance was focused on by critics who missed the fact that he shared the screen so handsomely with the likes of Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, Robert Prosky, Joe Don Baker, John Finnegan, Michael Madsen, and an un-credited Darren McGavin. This was good vs. evil, money vs. purity, hope vs. logic and most importantly the great game of baseball as a metaphor for the purposefulness we were each created for.