“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” —Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams
Thanks to all of you who particpated in the Readers Poll for Favorite Baseball Movies. Although I sensed a minor conspiracy amongst women voters, the final results were pretty close to other published baseball movie lists. I won’t name names, but the most creative write-in votes were for The Untouchables – noting the scene where Al Capone makes use of a Louisville Slugger, and Touching Home – a vote based, I believe, solely on the blue eyes of Ed Harris.
1. THE NATURAL
2. FIELD OF DREAMS
3. (tie) BULL DURHAM
(tie) A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
5. MAJOR LEAGUE
One can’t go wrong with any of the Top 5 as they are all quite entertaining. On the list are a few laugh out loud moments, some high baseball drama, a touch of historical significance, and a heavy shot (or two) of melodrama.
One of the frustrating things about baseball (and most sports) movies is that no matter how talented an actor might be, it’s very difficult to look like you can play the game if you really can’t. Still, it’s the game, and the memories it creates that have such a grip on us. Whether playing a pick-up game with our buddies (The Sandlot), watching our team play that magical season (Angels in the Outfield) or simply playing catch with dad (Field of Dreams), most of us carry a connection to the game of baseball and a corresponding special memory. That’s why there are more movies about baseball than football, basketball, hockey, golf and tennis combined. It truly is the great game.
If you are interested in going a little deeper into the baseball vault, allow me to recommend a few that often get overlooked.
IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949) – comedy about a scientist who discovers a substance that makes baseballs repel wood. It stars Ray Milland and Jean Peters (who became Mrs. Howard Hughes)
THE WINNING TEAM (1952) – the comeback story of Grover Cleveland Alexander, starring Doris Day and Ronald Reagan. Yes, the same Mr. Reagan who would go on to become Governor of California and President of the United States.
THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS and MOTOR KINGS (1976) – comedy about a barnstorming Negro League team from the 1930’s featuring Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and directed by John Badham
EIGHT MEN OUT (1988) – the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox (Black Sox) scandal. It features a couple of then 22 year-olds named Charlie Sheen and John Cusack, and is directed by the great John Sayles.
THE SANDLOT (1993) – a story about kids being kids and the role baseball can play in family, friendship and growing up
KEN BURNS’ BASEBALL (1994) – if you have seen Mr. Burns’ documentary work on The Civil War or Jazz, then you have some sense of the detail and level of research that went into his multi-volume history of baseball
SUGAR (2008) – following the story of a talented Dominican minor league pitcher who dreams of the major leagues.
Thanks again to all who voted. Pass this along to any baseball and/or movie lovers you know. The final pitch is two more quotes:
“It’s a great day for a ball game, let’s play two!” — Ernie Banks
“I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” — Annie (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham