As any red-blooded American male who lives in the frozen north will tell you, the best part about April is baseball’s opening day. It is the first sign that winter is finally coming to an end. It won’t be long before the days get longer and we begin to thaw.
With the boys of summer back in the swing, get your head back in the game with nine great flicks about our national pastime. Break out of the doldrums of winter, put on your favorite jersey, cook up some hot dogs, get a bag of peanuts and crack a cold one. It’s time.
9) 42 (2013): The Jackie Robinson story is definitely one of true courage. 42 shows how the first black player in Major League Baseball made it through that first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became a legendary Hall of Fame player. It’s a good primer for those not as familiar with baseball’s (and America’s) racist past. The film beautifully recreates the late 1940s, even if Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Robinson lacks a little of the spark and fire of the daring ballplayer’s attitude on the diamond.
8) The Bad News Bears (1976): Walter Matthau as a cigar-smoking, beer-drinking Little League coach is still a riot. It also reflects a bit of how I learned about baseball. It isn’t a kids’ game; it’s an adult’s game. The ballpark is a place grown men go to swill some brews, cuss out the umps and root for their team. I distinctly remember going to my first game at age 6 and being stunned by my dad making a mess with the peanuts and the guy behind him unleashing a string of obscenities at the umpire. My dad didn’t turn around and tell the guy to watch his mouth, he smiled at me and said something to the effect of “What happens at Wrigley, stays a Wrigley. Now throw your shells on the floor, and let me hear how loudly you can tell the ump he’s blind. This is a guy thing, we don’t need to tell Mom.” It’s nice to touch base with my roots with this flick.
7) Moneyball (2011): “Sabermetrics” forever changed the sport, as player statistics became a focal point around which teams are now created. This Brad Pitt hit is a great movie based on the team-building tactics of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and Michael Lewis’ book of the same title.
6) Trouble with the Curve (2012): Clint Eastwood fires back at Moneyball with an ode to baseball scouts and good coaching. Centered around an aging scout and his troubled relationship with his fiery, baseball-loving daughter (played by Amy Adams), this is a feel-good flick that will help rekindle your love of the game.
5) Field of Dreams (1989): The only movie guaranteed to make at least 90% of all American men cry, Kevin Costner plays a farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his fields at the suggestion of ghostly voices. It is a story about baseball, trust, love and father-son redemption like no other. “If you build it, they will come.”
4) Fever Pitch (2005): Need a little buy-in from your girlfriend or wife to carry on with your baseball movie marathon? Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon are incredible in this romantic comedy about the challenges of loving a curse-stricken, die-hard Boston Red Sox fan…made just as the real Sox’ were breaking the Curse of the Bambino.
3) A League of Their Own (1992): Great writing, crisp dialogue, incredible acting and the right dose of nostalgia make this story about the short-lived All-American Girls Professional Baseball League one of the best baseball movies of all time. Tom Hanks and Geena Davis are phenomenal. “There’s no crying in baseball.”
2) The Natural (1984): Robert Redford stars as an aging rookie—with a dark past—on a losing team desperate for one last shot at redemption. Beautifully filmed in a nostalgic golden light, it romanticizes just about everything fans love about the game, a talented player with integrity, and a powerfully hit longball.
1) Bull Durham (1988): It doesn’t get any hotter than a film loaded with baseball and sex. Kevin Costner is a gifted catcher with lots of baseball smarts who’s been kicked around the minors too long. His job is to fast-track a hot pitching prospect (Tim Robbins), a job also voluntarily taken on by a seductive Susan Sarandon. And while she’s helping the pitcher with his…uhhh…fastball, she’s falling for the aging catcher. Life’s wisdom is meted out through this passionate baseball comedy, and it is an annual must for me.
I know, I know. Where’s Major League? Eh, it’s funny, but it is a straight parody of Bull Durham, coming out exactly one year later. Yes, it stands on its own, but it takes a lot of its jokes from Bull Durham. It’s fun, but it isn’t in my Top Nine. However, I will grant that Bob Uecker’s character makes for the best radio announcer in the movies.
Also, no Yankees or Mets! Seriously, it is remarkable I even mentioned those foul words in such a clean post. As a lifelong Cub fan raised by a lifelong Red Sox fan, I think all baseball fans will understand where I’m coming from…even if they don’t agree.
Nathaniel Cerf saw his first baseball game at the age of 6 in Wrigley Field. The Cubs played the Phillies, and he and his dad sat 3 rows behind home plate. Pete Rose was his big hero at the time. Cerf spent the first six innings shouting and waving, “Mr. Rose! Mr. Rose! Pete! Pete!” whenever the legend came to bat. Finally, Pete Rose looked at young Cerf and winked. A few minutes later Rose drilled a triple into the right field corner. How do you not become addicted to the game after a moment like that? You can reach Nathaniel at Nathaniel.Cerf@aent.com.