Our Picks for Baseball Flicks

Favorite Baseball Movies

As the last snows in the northeastern part of the country melt away, it’s clear that Spring is (finally) here. Need more proof? This week marks the start of the 2014 baseball season (yes, there were two Dodgers-Diamondbacks games played in Australia last month, but few on this side of the Pacific stayed up late enough to watch them).That being said, we thought we’d pass the time by throwing out a selection of great and near-great baseball flicks available on DVD, some of which you may be familiar with, some of which you may have missed.

The Pride Of The Yankees (1942)

Still the gold standard for cinematic baseball bios after all these years, as it wedded the role of a legendary player to a performer of equal stature. Gary Cooper provided his signature integrity as Murderer’s Row mainstay Lou Gehrig, from his college days to the sad circumstances that brought his career and life to untimely ends. Teresa Wright offers capable support as Eleanor Gehrig, and the one and only Babe Ruth appears as himelf.

IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRINGIt Happens Every Spring (1949)

Classic baseball farce starring Ray Milland as a college chemistry professor in search of enough money to enable him to propose to sweetheart Jean Peters. He invents a solution that repels wood and uses it to become a pitching phenomenon, striking out scores of batters with his unhittable “screwball.” Paul Douglas, Ed Begley, Alan Hale, Jr. co-star.

The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

While last year’s Robinson bio 42 (see below) earning popular and critical acclaim, this low-budget quickie from back in the day (in which Jackie played himself) remains  strikingly blunt and surprisingly effective in conveying the burdens that Robinson had to shoulder during his groundbreaking debut in the majors. Look for a young Ruby Dee as Mrs. Rachel Robinson.

Angels In The Outfield (1951)

No less a baseball fan than president Dwight Eisenhower once called this his favorite film. Heavenly baseball comedy stars Paul Douglas as a brash, sailor-mouthed manager who mends his ways after some divine intervention lifts his Pittsburgh Pirates team out of the cellar. When a little girl claims to see the angels on the diamond, reporter Janet Leigh turns the story into a national sensation.

The Winning Team (1952)

Ronald Reagan is Phillies and Cardinals pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander in this powerful biography which traces his Hall of Fame career and his problems with alcoholism and epilepsy. Doris Day plays Alexander’s long-suffering wife; Frank Lovejoy, Eve Miller, and Russ Tamblyn co-star.

Fear Strikes Out (1957)

If you’re willing to overlook his shortcomings regarding the more physical aspects of the role, Anthony Perkins is more than capable in this adaptation of outfielder Jimmy Piersall’s memoir concerning his mental collapse and road to recovery. Karl Malden also excels as Piersall’s overbearing father.

BANG THE DRUM SLOWLYBang The Drum Slowly (1973)

This story of the final season for a slow-witted farmboy catcher (Robert De Niro) who has solely shared the truth about his terminal illness with the cocky staff ace (Michael Moriarty) remains movingly told. The film boasts estimable early performances by the two leads, as well as by Vincent Gardenia as the team’s profane skipper.

The Natural (1984)

Barry Levinson might have cast aside the more cynical elements of Bernard Malamud’s first novel, but there’s no denying the appeal in this fable of a young prospect (Robert Redford) whose career gets tragically sidetracked, and finds himself in his middle years as a season-saving pickup for a struggling team. Superb supporting performances from Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth, and that Randy Newman score that lives on in every fourth “coming soon” trailer out of Hollywood.

Eight Men Out (1988)

Director John Sayles delivered an engrossing adaptation of Eliot Asinof’s chronicle concerning one of the most devastating scandals in the sport’s history, when members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to throw the World Series. Strong stuff even for those who’ve lived through Pete Rose, the 1994 strike, and the steroid era; the great ensemble cast includes John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, David Strathairn, Michael Rooker and John Mahoney.

A League Of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall worked up an entertaining rumination on a long-ignored aspect of baseball history, the short-lived women’s professional league that emerged while most of the majors’ leading lights were off fighting the Second World War. Engaging work from Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks as washed-up star turned manager Jimmy Dugan (who may or may not have been based on Hall-of-Famer Jimmie Foxx).

Cobb (1994)

Too often relegated behind Bull Durham and the other sports-oriented film fare served up by Baltimore Orioles farmhand-turned-screenwriter/director Ron Shelton (who also gave us Bull Durham), this underrated effort is lifted by a compelling title performance by Tommy Lee Jones as the man who was arguably both the greatest player and worst human being the sport ever knew.

*61 (2001)

Billy Crystal’s heartfelt, made-for-HBO homage to the summer of 1961, when Yankee teammates Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) made their storied run at Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. Noteworthy for its more contemporary candor about the then-idealized athletes, and the striking work from Jane and from Pepper, whose physical resemblance to the real Maris is borderline spooky.

The Rookie (2002)

Effectively told feel-good tale with Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, the Texas high school coach and washed-out major league pitching prospect who promised his charges a comeback attempt in exchange for their success and ultimately received a call-up (at age 35) from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Rachel Griffiths, Brian Cox co-star.

Moneyball (2011)

The true story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s attempt to field a successful baseball team after a 2001 playoff loss to the Yankees is chronicled in this sports drama, based on the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.” With a limited budget, Beane (Brad Pitt) enlists the aid of an economics whiz (Jonah Hill) with a mathematical approach to scouting players, encountering opposition from the A’s’ more traditional manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

4242 (2013)

Chadwick Boseman stars as diamond pioneer Jackie Robinson, and Harrison Ford is Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, in this moving drama which focuses on Jackie’s 1947 rookie season with the Dodgers. Offered a spot on the squad after playing  in Montreal the year before, Robinson was forced to endure racial prejudice and animosity from fans, managers, and fellow players. Co-stars Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni.

Do you have a favorite diamond film not our list? Add your comment below and let us know.

  • Ethan the Searcher

    The Sandlot! Simply the best Baseball movie ever.

  • Jim V

    How could you leave off “Field of Dreams” from the baseball list?

  • Gord Jackson

    “Damn Yankees.” A real baseball movie? Maybe not, but what it does brilliantly get across is its subtext – the challenges, the loneliness of being away from home – an virtual outsider – a lifestyle of near alienation. Three songs sum it up – “Six Months Out of Every Year”, “There’s Something About an Empty Chair” and the brilliant production number “Two Lost Souls on the Highway of Life.” A personal favourite, I am going to be playing a few selections from the film’s soundtrack on May 3rd on my radio show.

  • Steve in Sacramento

    How about THE BAD NEWS BEARS (the original from 1976)? Also, SUGAR from 2008!

  • Tony Caruana

    DAMN YANKEES

    • rob

      Among baseball musicals the best along with “Take me out to the Ballgame”

  • Meme

    Bull Durham

  • Masterofoneinchpunch

    Cobb: based on the Cobb book by Al Stump is unfortunately like many movies fraudulent on the facts when dealing with non-fiction nor as you know one of the few “biographies” which take liberties with facts. Unfortunately too many writers have used that book as a source of “facts” (and still to this day) when it has been proven to be full of falsehoods. The best short read on this is “The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller” by William R. Cobb. But he is not the only one who has tried to help right some of the wrongs that Al Stump did to Cobb’s reputation. Al Stump was also found to have forged many documents and memorabilia. Do not forget that the famous forged diary that was in the Hall of Fame until it was found out to be fake. I can give many more examples.

    Cobb was indeed a difficult person, but there are so many stories that were just not true and many of them are included in that film. He is certainly not the worst human being or even close the sport has ever known. Do not fall into the trap of bad information.

    • rob

      Should have read your comment before I made mine. Spot on.

  • Dirty Gertrude

    Bad News Bears is vulgar and beautiful.The Yankees can take their apology and their trophy and shove em straight up their ass!

  • John M

    It’s pretty hard to top the 72 year old movie “Pride of the Yankees” that is a well balanced biographical film, lending drama and comedy along with the main theme of baseball. Both Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright are perfectly cast as the main stars, but also the supporting cast is outstanding helping portray the feelings of people dealing with family situations, failure and success and eventually an unfortunate tragic outcome.

  • Kevin

    My all-time favorite is still Field of Dreams, followed by Eight Men Out, Bang the Drum Slowly, Pride of the Yankees, and 61*. I’d give honorable mention to A League of Their, The Natural, 42, Bad News Bears (the original from the ’70′s). I also liked a little known baseball movie from the late 80′s or early 90′s called Long Gone with William Peterson, Dermet Mulroney, and Virginia Madsen. Never could get into Bull Durham like most people could.

  • Tom K.

    ” Trouble with the Curve “, one of Clint Eastwood’s ” senior series ” movies is quite enjoyable.

  • Ruptured Duck

    A couple of others that I like are “The Kid from Left Field” and the movie about Dizzy Dean
    both starring Dan Dailey. Also Joe E. Brown made a couple of baseball flicks that were
    goofy but entertaining.

  • Cara

    One of these has got to go because Bull Durham must be included as one of the most authentic baseball movies ever. Good is in the details. I like The Natural, but Robert Redford was too old for the role, and the film was flawed. Or maybe you could reverently move aside one of the earnest bio movies.

  • rob

    The Stratton Story with Jimmy Stewart should be on the list along with Pride of St. Louis with Dan Dailey. Most of the recent stuff you can dump as far as I’m concerned with the exception of The Natural. And by the way, the women’s league was actually around into the mid fifties, not just during the war and while Cobb clearly had bad qualities, many of his contemporaries did not regard him as lowly as Hollywood wanted to portray him.

  • rob

    I did also skip Field of Dreams as listed by others below. Really a great homage to the baseball dream. Funny thing is I run a baseball league now in an old 4000 seat stadium for kids and I frequently describe it as the real field of dreams for them, and they all have no idea what I’m talking about. We’re even doing old time uniforms and wood bats this year.

  • Capoman

    Damn Yankees, I used to see it every summer on The Million Dollar Movie Channel 9 in Los Angeles.

  • saul rosen

    Fever Pitch – Red Sox in 2004 – four straight against the Yankees!

  • rgordon7

    Well, as much as I agree with most of the listed films (especially, “Pride of the Yankees”, “It Happens Every Spring” and “61*”) someone has to mention “Major League”, so I guess it falls to me… “Major League” (“Just a bit outside…” ;-) )

  • Tom

    I was rather surprised not to see “Damn Yankees” mentioned.

  • Vann Morrison

    The Sandlot. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I lived that movie.

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