“Billy, we’re a small market team, and you’re a small market GM. I’m asking you to be okay not spending money that I don’t have!”
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 – which will be released by the end of the Spring (Hey, I could have meant the actual season, not just the time spent in Arizona) – 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.
Before reading about movies 16-20, you can check out movies 1-5 here, movies 6-10 here, and movies 11-15 here. So far, we’ve discussed Bang the Drum Slowly, The Bad News Bears, The Natural, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, the Major League trilogy, Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield, For Love of the Game and Hardball. Today, we’ll get into 61*, The Rookie, Fever Pitch and a couple of recent ones that were pretty popular.
After this, I’ll release my overall rankings for all the movies and consolidate some other information, so keep an eye out for that.
61* – 2001
61* is an excellent baseball movie following Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as they race to overcome Babe Ruth’s single season home run record (60) in 1961. There aren’t a ton of celebrities in this one (as HBO movies tend not to), but it was directed by Billy Crystal and he really did an excellent job.
It’s funny, most people have grown up hearing names like Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle (or even Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, etc.) without really knowing too much about them as individuals or (really) even as ball players. In that regard, I *really* enjoyed 61*. For example, I didn’t know this story too well, and was unaware that both teammates approached the record in the very same season. Additionally, it’s odd to see the New York fans be far more supportive of the more personable, lighthearted Mantle than the less popular, more serious Maris. Moreover, the added layer of breaking the record in exactly 162 games (as opposed to the 154 that it took Babe Ruth) keeps this story suspenseful and exciting the entire time. That Rotten Tomatoes score is no joke – 61* is very enjoyable movie.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80% Critics, 90% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: Whoops x2 … accidentally cleared the clock again. There is no void of baseball in this one, certainly over 20 minutes.
Baseball Lesson: You have to take care of yourself off the field if you want to play well on the field.
The Rookie – 2002
The Rookie stars Dennis Quad (and some other familiar faces from the early 2000s) and follows the unusual, real-life career of relief pitcher Jim Morris. As a failed prospect in a former life, a (now) high school physics teacher/baseball coach agrees to try out for the majors one more time if his team makes it to the playoffs. Of course they do, he does, and Morris signs a minor league deal with Tampa Bay Devil Rays (as a 35-year-old reliever). After a few stops in the minors … well, I won’t spoil the rest.
I tend to drift toward two kinds of baseball movies: ones that show players in the minors and true stories. With nearly 34 minutes of baseball, The Rookie satisfies both criteria perfectly. However, I will say that the 2+ hour run time, overly generic off-field drama, and overall predictability definitely hurt the movie. At the end of the day, it won’t be at the top of the list, but it shouldn’t be last either.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83% Critics, 70% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 33 minutes 52 seconds
Baseball Lesson: Just let your stuff do the talking.
Fever Pitch – 2005
Fever Pitch is romantic comedy set in Boston, staring Jimmy Fallon (remember when he was still trying to be an actor) and Drew Barrymore as an ideal couple whose relationship is shaken up by Ben’s (Fallon) passionate adoration of the Boston Red Sox. Set against the backdrop of the Sox first World Series season since 1918, Fever Pitch is a movie that should hit home with most Cubs fans, who previously shared a kinship with the Sox and their search to win the last game of the season.
I originally saw this movie in theaters back in 2005, and I liked it then as much as I like it now. Sure, there is very little baseball in this one (it’s more of a movie that has baseball, as opposed to a baseball movie), but because the plot revolves around being a fan, the baseball stuff feels more familiar. My favorite fact: they had to reshoot the ending of this movie, because the Red Sox won the World Series the year they filmed – that fact itself, as well as the upbeat ending, make Fever Pitch that much more enjoyable.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65% Critics, 60% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 7 minutes, 56 seconds
Baseball Lesson: It’s never over ’til its over.
Moneyball – 2011
Moneyball stars a collection of excellent, excellent actors including Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It is but another example of the weird relationship between big name celebrities and baseball movies. Moneyball (based on the book), follows A’s GM Billy Beane as he tries to uncover some competitive advantages in baseball, while navigating the tricky waters of a traditional point of view.
As a movie, Moneyball is probably the best overall movie on the list, as evidenced by its six Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In fact, if you haven’t seen any of the movies on this list, this one should take some serious priority. The unique thing about Moneyball is not how it depicts the new age of advanced analytics, but rather how much it shows about front office operations. We all wish we can sit in on trade calls in real life, and this may be as close as we get.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94% Critics, 86% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 21 minutes 43 seconds
Baseball Lesson: There are SO many baseball lessons in this one. Instead of picking just one of the unusual ones, I’ll pick the most famous one: Get. On. Base.
42 – 2013
42 is the real life story of Jackie Robinson, starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. I also saw this one in theaters (and again for this article), and it remains a very solid movie. More specifically, the film follows Jackie Robinson from when he first signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 until his color-barrier-breaking rookie season in 1947.
Although movies that cover such serious, important topics can sometimes come off as a little heavy-handed (The Pianist), 42 remains as fun and exciting as it gets. As the most recent movie on the list, too, the movie carries a modern cadence and balances the drama with the action quite well. I often find it difficult to rank movies like 42, because it was just plain good. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, the movie was exactly what it was supposed to be, and sometimes that’s just fine.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79% Critics, 86% Users
Time Spent Playing Baseball: 30 min 54 seconds
Baseball Lesson: Forget about the runners, focus on the batters.
All photos above have come from www.IMDB.com