“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes … it rains.”
Back in February, I promised to watch 20 baseball movies by the end of Spring Training. “Baseball Sunday,” I called the endeavor, reviving a tradition my friends and I started back in college.
More specifically, I planned to watch 20 baseball movies, in chronological order, before ranking each of them, calculating how much time is actually spent playing the sport in each and, ultimately, sharing that one piece of baseball wisdom that just about every sports movie is so eager to offer.
This is part of that promise.
Before we get to the rankings, I’ll walk you through the list five movies at a time, with some of my own thoughts and opinions mixed in. These movies are listed in chronological order, as well as the order in which I watched them. I’d take the “Time Spent Playing Baseball” with a grain of salt, though. It isn’t exactly a science. I’m pretty positive I left the clock running
at least once more than once.
Bang The Drum Slowly – 1973
Robert DeNiro was in a baseball movie, and I didn’t know it. Shame on me. DeNiro plays a terminally ill, less-than-bright catcher, making his way through a Major League season. He befriends the star pitcher on the team, and the two become friends as they navigate the murky waters in increasingly creative ways.
I especially enjoyed the discussion of personal catchers and special contract clauses in this movie – the details are what make it stand out. Bang the Drum Slowly was an excellent movie and definitely deserves its 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (even if it was light on the baseball content).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88% Critics, 62% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 14 minutes, 45 seconds
Baseball Lesson: “Keep a book” – A player needs to pay special attention to the way a pitcher attacks him.
The Bad News Bears – 1976
If you haven’t yet seen this movie, you’re missing out. No, it isn’t the best on the list, but it is absolutely hilarious and dates itself in the most adorably racist way. In Bad News Bears, a washed up ex-minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits and screw-ups from worst to first – the classic sports movie story.
The comedy is spot on – even if you’ll find yourself laughing at it, more than with it – and the baseball side is pretty good, too – the use of defensive shifts was well ahead of its time! So, if you want to see a group of 9-year-olds swear, smoke, ride bikes and drink beer while playing baseball, this is the movie for you.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% Critics, 80% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 40 minutes
Baseball Lesson: Block the ball with your body! That way, if the grounder gets past your glove, you’ll still knock it down.
The Natural – 1984
Another classic with extremely famous, talented actors (Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glen Close). In this one, a small town prospect makes a bat out of a tree in his backyard and, after losing his father, makes it to the Major Leagues. Before he can truly show off his talent, though, he is (near fatally) injured and steps away from baseball for 16 years. But when he finally gets back to the show, he absolutely carves up the Major Leagues.
The Natural also produced one of the most iconic moments in sports movie history, when our protagonist, Roy Hobbs (Redford), uses a bat made by the team’s bat boy to crush a home run into the outfield lights (he also breaks Wrigley Fields center field scoreboard clock – he’s very destructive).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81% Critics, 88% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 36 minutes
Baseball Lesson: Talent isn’t enough. You have to constantly adapt and develop yourself.
Eight Men Out – 1988
Another 80s baseball movie full of movie stars. This time we get John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Clifton James, Christopher Lloyd and many, many more, telling the story of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.
Although it falls into many of the same baseball tropes we’ve seen before, this movie shines due to its true-to-life, but scandalous story. Unfortunately, it’s handled with a great degree of levity, which I thought could have been avoided. However, the hilarious and slightly embarrassing portrayal of Charles Comiskey pleases me. This movie falls short on life or baseball lessons, but has an excellent overall story. It earned an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85% Critics, 80% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 28 min 30 seconds
Baseball Lesson: Oh man, I don’t know … don’t bet on the game? Always try to win? Not a lot of lessons here.
Bull Durham – 1988
Although Kevin Costner was just beginning his career as the go-t0 baseball movie actor, he plays a journeyman minor leaguer near the end of his baseball career in Bull Durham. Sent down to the A-Ball Durham Bulls (in the Carolina League!), Crash Davis (Costner) is tasked with maturing a young fireballer (Tim Robbins) to get him ready for the Major Leagues.
When you throw Susan Sarandon into the cast as the baseball-bright, but very quirky female lead and love interest, things get interesting, but in a slightly different way than I’m used to seeing. Bull Durham is very progressive (well not baseball-wise: RBIs and pitcher wins abound) and largely avoids the love triangle that seems so obvious. I especially enjoyed Bull Durham because it shows the less glamorous side of baseball – the minor leagues. From crappy busses to learning the “generic interview responses,” this movie is smart, slightly unpredictable and entirely enjoyable from start to finish.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97% Critics, 83% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 26 min 30 seconds
Baseball Lesson: There were so many lessons in this one, but I think the famous one speaks for itself: “Don’t think, it’ll only hurt the ball club.”
All photos above have come from www.IMDB.com