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iowa field of dreamsThings are about to get crazy around here. Starting with a coverage-palooza of the draft in two weeks and followed shortly by obsessive draft signing watches and an expected swift increase in all things connected to trade rumors, Bleacher Nation is about to become a rapidly updated clearinghouse of more Cub related information than you can shake a stick at. [Brett: You ain't kiddin'.]

This is the waiting time, the calm before that frenzy of activity arrives. And I can’t think a better way to fill some waiting hours than with a great book or movie. So for today’s This Week In The Minors we’ll take a relaxing survey of some of the best baseball novels and movies ever published. Next week we’ll kick off the draft coverage by checking in on the progress of the 2012 Cubs draft class, but today we’ll take it easy and wallow in some great pieces of fiction.

After we check in on each of the four active farm teams, of course. Starting with an Iowa team that has suddenly gotten surprisingly hot.

Iowa Cubs : 21-25

Here come the Cubs. This week Iowa took four of five from Las Vegas and to date have snagged the first two in their series against Oklahoma City. Suddenly Iowa is just four games under .500 and is within five games of first. Their home record is now a strong 14-8, but the home stand ends on Monday. If the Cubs can keep winning when they hit the road in Nashville, though, then every team in organization could be in positive territory a week from now.

Tennessee Smokies : 24-23

This was a rockier week for Smokies, but getting out of Chattanooga with a split is no small accomplishment these days. They dropped two of the first three against Huntsville at home, but there is still time to win that series. After that the Smokies hit the road for Birmingham, the team that leads the division by 5.5 games over the Smokies. Now would be a great time for this team to get hot.

Daytona Cubs : 24-23

And now the Cubs are in third and just 3.5 out of first. Daytona is 7-3 over their last ten, and some of the credit for that goes to the marked turn around of Javier Baez. Now that he is no longer striking out at a truly horrifying rate he is frequently contributing to a line up that has been able to post some large run totals. Suddenly Jorge Soler and Dustin Geiger have someone to help with the heavy lifting, and it is paying off with more Cub wins.

Kane County Cougars : 23-24

A seven game road trip did not go well for the Chiefs, but after Pierce Johnson pitched them to a huge win in Peoria on Friday night, Kane County was able to carry that momentum into a sweep of a doubleheader on Saturday. That left their record for the week at 3-4 and the season record just a game under .500. Unfortunately they remain a hefty seven games out of first. If Kane County is going to compete for the first half title, and they have the talent to do it, they are running of time in which to make a run.

The Best of Baseball Fiction

Bang The Drum Slowly by Mark Harris. Movie released in 1973.

I have no idea how this movie continues to fly under the radar in discussions baseball movies, but that seems to be the case. It is easily the best baseball movie ever made.

This piece marks one of the rare cases in which a movie is almost as good as the novel (thanks in no small part to the acting of a youngish Robert De Niro). However, before you dive into either the book or the film for the first time, I highly recommend you pick up and read The Southpaw. This prequel to “Bang The Drum Slowly” is a good read in it’s own right, but it provides the backstory to the main character that makes that second book and the movie even better. I should also mention that, if you like those two books, Mark Harris penned two more baseball novels in that series.

But if you dive straight into the movie without waiting to read any of those books you are still going to find a highly enjoyable and under-appreciated piece of cinema.

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. The movie was released in 1989 as Field of Dreams.

The movie is a classic, and deserved so. The book is much, much better. However, this is one of the rare cases in which I think you are better off watching the move first. James Earl Jones is so iconic in this movie (probably his most famous roll outside of full body armor and a breathing mask) that his voice will echo in your head as you read the novel.

And the novel is dripping with Cub connections. The World’s Oldest Chicago Cub features prominently in the novel, as does the now famous tale of Moonlight Graham and his uncanny similarities to former Cub Adam Greenberg. Many baseball fans have watched the movie, but every fan should read the book.

For The Love Of The Game by Michael Shaara. Movie released in 1999.

This one is almost not fair. Perfect games are such highly emotional and absorbing events for any baseball fan that a film about paint drying could make this list if it was mixed in with scenes from a perfect game. And, in fact, other than the baseball scenes this movie is a little on the forgettable side.

I confess I have not yet read the novel. To be honest, I did not know it originated as a novel until I was doing my homework for this article. The movie, for me anyway, is the perfect one to play in the dead of winter. It has just enough baseball in it to make the endless wait for spring a bit more bearable. Given that Michael Shaara is a very good writer, I suspect the novel will be rapidly earning a place on my regular reading shelf just as soon as I get it ordered.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Movie released in 1984.

As baseball movies go this one has some terrible baseball. It doesn’t look accurate at all. But for non-baseball fans, though, it might be second only to “Bang The Drum Slowly” in terms of watchability.

Really, though, the baseball is secondary in both the book and the movie. It is the canvass on which is painted the imagery and pageantry that makes this story what it is. That said, if pageantry is what you’re in the mood for, it is tough to beat the home run that shatters the lights. And if you’re in the mood to dislike sportswriters, this movie provided you with a great target to hate on.

61*. Movie released in 2001.

Despite being about the Yankees, this one makes the list. As baseball movies go this one might have the most accurate baseball as well as the truest portrayal of live off the diamond, and I like it in part for that accuracy. I always wonder, when watching this, about the other pressures that exist in baseball. If chasing Babe Ruth‘s record can have that profound of an effect, what must the pressure on an entire organization be like as it runs down a championship a century in the making? Watching 61* always leaves me thinking about the Cubs and that long drought. Maybe that’s why I don’t watch it very often.

Honorable Mention:

It Happens Every Spring. Movie released in 1949.

Probably the best baseball comedy I have ever seen. Good luck finding a copy of it, though. To call this movie obscure would be a profound understatement. The movie is based on a short story by Shriley W. Smith (also credited on the movie), but that is about as hard to find.

How to describe this… imagine “Back to the Future” had a baby with “The Natural”, but it was raised by “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, went to high school with Ferris Bueller, and joined Delta Tau Chi in college after which it settled down and got a job at “Dowton Abbey”. Oh, and it’s in black and white and filmed in that style that only existed as movie transitioned from stage to pure silver screen. Equal parts weird and sober with an underlying current of outright absurdity that is masked behind the unyielding gentlemanliness of the era, this is one of the most brainless and fun baseball movies I have ever stumbled across.

There are many omissions from this list. Some (such as 42) are because I have not seen them. Others (such as Bull Durham) I left off because they’re as terrible as the ’62 Mets.

So kick back, relax, grab a book or pop in a movie, and enjoy the holiday weekend.

  • SenorGato

    Id recommend Lefty’s Legacy, a Sandy Koufax bio by Jane Levy. There’s also a ton of great baseball books.on the Yankees under Steinbrenner including Dammed Yankees by Bill Madden.

    Soler and Almora are proving me a little right so far. Soler is.my top prospect.in the system while Almora is laying waste to.the lower minors. I would really really like see Almora catch up to Baez. I smell sitcom with those two.

    A little disappointed that Candelario went back into a mini-slump.

    • davidalanu

      Agreed re: books on the Steinbrenner Yankees. I have read a number of them about the Bronx Zoo years in the 1970s. The titles are escaping me now, but I’ve read books by Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, Billy Martin, Sparky Lyle, and Reggie Jackson, and it’s fascinating to read their different takes on the same situations.

  • chrisfchi

    Maybe ill dust off The Sandlot or Field of Dreams after work. good idea.

  • jamie

    I have to disagree with you on Bull Durham. I loved that movie. I thought it was very funny

    • DarthHater

      If you have to watch a baseball movie with your wife or girlfriend (and you want to get lucky later), then Bull Durham is a good choice.

  • Rich H

    I like a more current that should at least make the honorable mention list ” Trouble with the Curve” with Clint Eastwood is a good telling of an old scout and the new metrics in baseball. Justin Timberlake as a has been phenom trying to earn his spurs as a scout is actually pretty good as well.

  • Oswego chris

    The Big Bam…awesome book about Babe Ruth…have read it numerous times…

    As far as “42″ goes, it was just okay for me…I have read a ton of books about Jackie and while the film was accurate in many ways, it was a bit too sanitized and left out some of the more interesting stuff…

    -baseball was actually Jackie’s fourth best sport
    -Jackie dropped out of college his Senior year because he saw that his older brother, who had a degree from Oregon, could only get a job as a janitor…
    -Jackie died young of a heart attack, most likely from the tremendous stress he endured

    I recommend watching the ESPN Sports Century on Jackie

  • DarthHater

    Turner Classic Movies occasionally shows “It Happens Every Spring.”

  • Willrust

    The Stratton Story is worth a watch.

    Gotta ask, where is Major League???

    • Jp3

      I agree, the original was far fetched for sure but a very entertaining movie. Harry Doyle is priceless in that one, unless you’re watching it on ABC in the afternoon then he kind of –*+%# (edit).

  • Willrust

    Guessing that Moneyball was an oversight as well.

  • Saving Grace

    Some pretty good baseball movies left off
    Pride of the Yankees. A classic
    Major league
    Eight men out. Good telling of the black sox
    A league of their own
    Themontystrattonstory. Stewartisgreat astheonearmed pitcher for the white sox
    Fear strikes out. The jimmy piersall story. Another whitesox
    Thebronxisburning. Good movie. About ny in turmoil in 77and the Yankees bring hope
    The prideofSt. Louis. Thedizzydean story. Very good movie

    Fun readforcubs fans. The69Cubs. By Rick Talley

    • King Jeff

      All good suggestions, besides, you know, the one about the Cardinals.

  • OCCubFan

    For a different kind of baseball story, try “Almost Perfect” by Lawrence Block. It is a short story available electronically on Amazon or as part of the collection “Enough Rope.”

  • @cubsfantroy

    Bull Durham and Major League should be on the list. Although, Field of Dreams > all other baseball movies. And in my opinion, one of the best movies ever made, period.

  • walterj

    it happens every spring can be found on ebay on vhs .

  • Die hard

    Bang The Drum Slowly

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    Until around the 90s, actors playing baseball players looked like actors. For example, Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander threw like a girl. William Bendix and John Goodman as The Babe were tubs of lard. And don’t get me started on Tony Perkins as Jimmy Piersall.

    WP Kinsella’s baseball books are awesome. Be sure to read “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” and the short story “The Last Pennant Before Armageddon.” Lots of Cubs content.

    • They’re Alouing

      The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is a great read

  • Dynastyin2017

    In the Bio genre, you have to watch “Pride of the Yankees”. For pure fun (and it just be evry fans fantasy, you can’t miss “Damn Yankees” Remember folks, whatever Lola wants, Lola gets!

  • Rob

    The Great American Novel by Philip Roth is the best baseball book I’ve read and a wonderful satire about McCarthyism. A homeless baseball team, an ex-con first baseman, little people turned pitchers, communist witch hunts, and more outlandish, funny situations and characters populate it. I can’t recommend it enough.

    • college_of_coaches

      Thanks Rob, I’m going to add this to my summer reading list!

  • Polar Bear

    Several years ago I read a book called ” Crazy 08″. It was about the last time the Cubs won the World Series. I forget the author, but I picked it up at B&N. Pretty good read, in my opinion.

    • swaz46

      Cait Murphy is the author

  • Mark

    I saw Albert Almora play on Saturday at Kane County. He looks like the real deal. He played center field very well. He has hit the ball very well.

  • Mark

    I also saw Rock Shoulders. He should be considered a prospect as well. He already has 12 or 13 home runs. I has pretty good power and he is hitting for a good average too.

    • Jp3

      He’s good at hitting a baseball

  • Aaron

    It’s newer (and pretty short) but I really enjoyed Calico Joe by John Grisham. It’s obvious the author loves the game and the story is heartfelt and compelling.

    • nkniacc13

      I agree a good book

  • ruby2626

    Mark, did you see both games at K.C. At the start of the first game there were maybe 500 people in the stands, didn’t start to fill out til the start of the regularly scheduled game. A.A. was spectacular in the first game, 2 doubles and a great catch in center where he not only dove but rolled over and threw a guy out at home plate. He also led off the winning rally with a hit and went to third on Vog’s double. BTW forget the Prince comparisons, John Kruk is much more dead on. Really like both of their body language, they look like there is nothing more they would rather be doing than playing ball, great to see.

    I have to add one comment that my 8 year old said about Almora while he was leading off 2nd base. Said he looked like Tony Campana, ouch. While AA likely never be a 30 home run guy, definitely wouldn’t hurt to add some muscle. While not the largest guy he had some screaming line drives into the gap. He’s a player.

    • Jp3

      AA will definitely put on some muscle, he’s had the wrist bone issue the last year and he’s only 18 or 19. He may not hit more than 20 HRs but he’ll get bigger

  • JoeyCollins

    Amazon makes it way too easy to spend money. Took me all of 30 seconds to buy 3 books, but i now have my summer reading all filled up. Field of Dreams is still my favorite baseball movie, i watch it every time it is on. I grew up about an hour and half from Dyersville (site of the farm and field), and remember visiting it a couple times as a kid, it was always a good day trip in the summer. We would watch the movie the night before then head up to the field the next morning and usually spend the afternoon shopping in Galena (the Illinois town where they filmed Costner meeting Doc Graham on the street). On one of these trips i found an old black and white 9×11 photo of shoeless joe in an antique shop. That photo still hangs in my old room at my parents house.

  • Jacob

    Luke, will Pierce Johnson throw again Wed vs the QC River bandits?

  • Andy Katznelson

    Great read, If I never get back, Movie the Natural

  • LEO R.

    Luke,

    Always enjoy your updates on the Cubs minor leagues. I’m glad to hear Pierce Johnson is pitching well. I haven’t heard much on the Cubs next two picks Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood. Are they in Arizona? Are they perhaps going to Boise? Hope to hear they doing well and will join Johnson and Maples soon as future pitching prospects. Thanks.

  • BleedCubbieBlue

    Have we heard anything on Juan Carlos Paniagua? I think he is going to be one to watch as he comes up throughthe system. Where will he start? With Paniagua, Johnson, Vizcaino, Maples and whichever college arm we draft this year (Appel or Gray), we will have some good pitchers to watch and keep a close eye on.

  • swaz46

    A couple of additions to the reading lists:

    Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry
    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
    One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard

    Can’t recommend those three enough.

  • Carew

    Bull Durham is one of my favorites. I love the scene when they’re all on the mound “dealing with a lot of shit”

    • Bill

      My brother played baseball at the Univ of Iowa. He said the “meeting at the mound” scene, was the most realistic scene in the movie. More than once, did he and teammates go to the mound, to settle a pitcher down, and they’d talk about what party or bar they were going to that night. He also said they had a asst coach who talked like the asst coach in the movie (he talked a mile a minute, where you couldn’t understand most of what he was saying in the dugout).

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