Thursday, September 22, 2011

Power Rankings: Baseball Movies

In honor of the highly-anticipated upcoming baseball movie Moneyball, I decided to do a rundown of the best baseball movies of all time. Baseball movies, other than perhaps boxing movies, are the most likely sports films to garner acclaim and awards. Why is this? Maybe it is just because the sport has been around forever. The stars are bigger and brighter than the other sports. The pastime is as storied and interesting as history itself. Baseball movies are the most common sports film, and they normally are the best films overall. Here are what I think are the all time greatest.

Note: I have not seen acclaimed films The Pride of the Yankees, For the Love of the Game, Ken Burns Baseball, or The Bronx is Burning. Oh, and The Natural is not included because it is not a good movie. Just so you know…

Others receiving votes: The Bad News Bears (both versions)

10. Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams is definitely one of the mass audience favorites in the category. The Best Picture-nominated fantasy film featuring Shoeless Joe Jackson and other classic players is definitely a movie-lovers baseball movie. It is not one of my elite picks, but it is hard not to love this movie and get caught up in the emotion of it all. Great performances all around, and just a beautiful story that is well told.

9. Major League (1989)

Major League is basically the Slap Shot of baseball movies. It is a ridiculous underdog tale that sort of made a star out of Charlie Sheen in his classic “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn role. This is another film that you do not really need to like baseball to like the movie, mainly because the movie doesn’t know much about baseball itself. It is more of a mainstream comedy (a successful one) than a true baseball comedy. It is terrific entertainment nonetheless.

8. The Sandlot (1993)

If there is a baseball movie that can appeal to any age group of any generation, it is The Sandlot. It is the story of a neighborhood baseball team who get themselves in a pickle when the new kid unwittingly blasts a ball into the backyard of a notorious loner who they are all scared of. Oh, and the ball was signed by Babe Ruth and belonged to his stepdad. It is such a fun movie that is hilarious when watched as a child and nostalgic when watched as an adult. I love it.

7. A League of Their Own (1992)

A League of Their Own might very well be the best baseball-lovers baseball movie other than Bull Durham. It is the story of the All American Women’s Baseball League during World War II, and it is both funny and sometimes quite dramatic. It has the most memorable and most quotable baseball quote of all time (“There’s no crying in baseball!”), and it is just a really realistic and charming take on a story that is very seldom told. I love the movie, but I know Terry will claim that this is far too low on the list.

6. Fear Strikes Out (1957)

The wrenching story of Jimmy Piersall, a former Red Sox star with mental illness is told with unflinching honesty in the brilliant film Fear Strikes Out. This movie may be centered on the baseball player, but this movie could have been told about anybody and been just as effective. Anthony Perkins gives one of his best performances in this, really embodying Piersall and forcing the audience to get emotionally-involved in the story. It really is not about baseball or success, but more about fathers and sons, the drive to make your father proud, and the toll it takes on both parties.

5. Sugar (2009)

I was surprised at how much I ended up loving Sugar. It is the best dose of reality of any sports movie that is not a true story. It is centered on a Dominican baseball player who is discovered and recruited to play in the Minor Leagues. It is an extremely accurate portrayal of what it is like to be in the minors and traveling by bus across the country in hopes that someday the player will get the call to play on the big club. This movie is a really dramatic and beautiful story that does not wind up where the audience expects it to. It does not follow any of the rules of the typical baseball movie, and that originality is what sets it apart. It is a brilliant little film.

4. 61* (2001)

I was always skeptical of watching 61*, but I could not have been more satisfied after I finally did. It is the superb story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and their chase of Babe Ruth’s record 60 home runs in a single season. The media hated the soft-spoken and shy Maris, who was taking the spotlight away from the league’s most popular superstar Mantle. Maris was the bad guy, and Mantle was the one that everyone was rooting for. Their rivalry and friendship is the focus of the movie, but the pressure to succeed and the toll of unwarranted criticism is vital to the story as well.

3. Bull Durham (1988)

I always loved what Roger Ebert said about Bull Durham, which was that the reason why it works so well is that it knows so much about baseball and so little about love. That is the best way to describe this movie, the best baseball comedy of all time. It is a hilarious baseball movie, a good-hearted romantic comedy, and just an overall smart and witty film. The relationships portrayed are believable, the performances are top notch, and the baseball conversations are as finely-tuned as any sports conversations in movies. I love every bit of this movie, and it is probably the film I revisit most often when it is on television.

2. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Stated as being the baseball version of Brian’s Song, Bang the Drum Slowly is the most gut-wrenching baseball movie ever made. This movie perhaps more than any other on this list is more about relationships and drama than about baseball. It centers on a star pitcher and lonely catcher dealing with the latter’s terminal illness throughout the season. Surprisingly, the movie is not overly melodramatic or weepy. It is more of an unsettling drama that earns the tears of its audience. The movie explores baseball from all angles, and it is rather poetic in structure. It is just a brilliant film.

1. Eight Men Out (1988)

The best baseball movie I have ever come across is Eight Men Out. This movie tells perhaps the most important story in the in the history of the sport: the Black Sox Scandal. It does not let anyone off the hook. For someone who is unfamiliar with the story, this film is as eye-opening as you could imagine. As a big baseball fan, it was a brilliant retelling of the scandalous story. It plays like a conspiracy drama, but it has the backdrop of the golden days of baseball, making it even more intriguing. It is the most perfect baseball movie there is, and ranks with the top 10 or so sports films ever made.

So, with Moneyball coming out this weekend and taking into account initial critical reviews, it is clear that it will probably warrant placement somewhere on this list. It tells such an unlikely story, but one that has crossed over to other sports and other areas of business. I cannot wait to see it.

So, what do you think? What baseball movies did I miss? What does your list look like? Let me know.


  1. You're right. A League of Their Own is too low on the list.

    Also, you left out other nostalgic films like Little Big League and Rookie of the Year. Not necessarily saying they belong on the list, but are a step below The Sandlot in the nostalgia category.

    Most obvious snub: Where is the instant classic of a baseball film Mr. 3000? Such a shame . . .

  2. I was actually kind of stretching it putting A League of Their Own at #7. It really should have been below The Sandlot too. But those two are basically equal. I love them both.

    I sort of stayed away from the family movies like those two and The Rookie. They just aren't as real, funny, or effective. But there honestly aren't too many more that I have seen, so they would be in the top 15-20 for sure.

    Yeah Mr. could I forget.

  3. Nice call on "Fear Strikes Out." Where are the Sam Wood pictures, such as "The Pride of the Yankees" or "The Stratton Story"?


  4. Yeah, I have not seen those or "Damn Yankees" or some of the other films like "The Jackie Robinson Story". I still have some catching up to do in terms of the classic ones.