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Laramie Movie Scope:
Best baseball movies

It's spring, when thoughts turn to ... baseball

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 15, 2007 -- Its spring, time to fill out tax forms, the spring semester at colleges is almost over. Summer's coming, school will soon be over. Major league baseball has just started its regular season. Since the season is young, all baseball fans can at least pretend that their own team might possibly win the world series, no matter how bad it might be. It is a great time to watch a few baseball movies. Here are a few of my personal favorites. There are a few other films not on this list that are quite good, such as “Fear Strikes Out” and “Bang the Drum Slowly.” These are good films, but are very serious. I think films this time of the season should be lighter in tone and should be more of a celebration of baseball itself. Other films like “The Babe Ruth Story,” and the original “Angels in the Outfield” (1951) may be good enough to be on the list, but I haven't seen them. Batter up! Here is the list.

10. The Natural.

Robert Redford stars as the enigmatic Roy Cobb, a preternaturally-gifted athlete cut down at the beginning of a promising career by an assassin's bullet. The entire sequence of this mysterious shooting is just plain weird. It is one of the things about the movie I don't like. The part I like is where Hobbs survives. Still carrying the scars of the shooting, he makes an attempt at a comeback as a very old rookie, his background unknown to the world. The comeback concludes with a heroic, homeric performance against the odds. This climactic scene was mirrored by a real life event, Kirk Gibson's amazing home run against the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. Gibson, barely able to walk, and not expected to play, was inserted into the game as a desperation measure by the Dodgers, who were being beaten by the Athletics. After making a couple of pathetically weak swings, Gibson somehow turned on an inside pitch and hit an amazingly improbable home run. This event seemed even more improbable than Hobbs' fictional feat. The film isn't really about baseball so much as it is about integrity. You aren't going to learn much about the game watching this film. It is more of a fable than a story about real, believable people.


9. The Pride of the Yankees

This is a dated, but emotionally powerful film about the career of the legendary Yankee player Lou Gehrig, starring the legendary Hollywood star Gary Cooper. The baseball scenes aren't convincing, but the romance and drama are. The guy who plays Babe Ruth in the film is the real Babe Ruth! How cool is that? Gehrig's classic “luckiest man alive” speech at Yankee Stadium is the stuff that heroes are made of. This movie is not a downer and it closes on a bit of an upbeat note. This film is about a classy guy who handled fame, fortune and tragedy with equal grace. I'm not a Yankee fan, but this film won me over.

8. Sandlot.

This is an enjoyable film about kids growing up and playing baseball in a city. They learn some lessons about life while trying to recover a valuable baseball from a yard protected by a much-feared dog. Beautifully filmed and told from the perspective of a child. It is full of imagination and heart. A wonderful family movie.

7. The Rookie.

This recent film is about another very improbable comeback for a player whose career was thought to be over by nearly everyone. Unlike “The Natural” this film is based on a true story. The film starts out with a strange story about an oil well discovery in Texas. I don't think the oil well analogy works all that well. What does work is the depiction of small-town life in the film. There are some great characters both on and off the baseball diamond in this small Texas town. It is a great story and the acting is solid by the whole cast, including Dennis Quaid as the main character.

6. For Love of the Game.

Kevin Kostner is very good making and starring in two kinds of movies, westerns and baseball movies. You'll find three Kostner films on this particular baseball list. This film, in which Kostner plays big league pitcher, Billy Chapel, who is nearing the end of his successful career, is about the way that free agency and bean counters have changed the game. It is also about the cost Chapel's pursuit of perfection has had on his personal life. As the pitcher works his way through a game at the end of a season, he thinks back on the events in his life that have brought him to this pivotal point. There are a lot of flashbacks, and the story is a bit slow-moving, but it is well-written and well-acted by all, especially Kostner, and by the fine character actor John C. Reilly, who plays Chapel's catcher, Gus Osinski. Reilly may not have been a player, but he looks and acts every bit the part of a catcher. You'll also recognize the broadcast announcer for the game. It is none other than the renowned baseball announcer Vin Scully. What a wonderful touch that is. There is a lot of stuff about life in this movie, but a lot of stuff about baseball too, not that the two subjects are mutually exclusive. Oh, if you happen to be a Yankee fan, you might not care for this film. It portrays some Yankee fans very negatively.

5. A League of Their Own.

This is an enjoyable movie based on a true story about a national league of women baseball players. Great acting by Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz. The most recognizable line from the film is delivered by Hanks (a women's team coach) who says, “There's no crying in baseball!” A good-natured film with plenty of heart and comedy.

4. Fever Pitch.

This light romantic comedy, starring Drew Barrymore, captures the essence of what it is to be a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan. Since I am a Red Sox fan, this film resonates with me. Part of it was filmed in the fall of 2004 when the Sox, after an 84-year drought, finally won the World Series. It was sheer luck that this happened during the making of this film. The screen writers certainly didn't write that ending to the Red Sox season. If they had, no one would have believed it. In fact, they had to hastily re-write and reshoot the film's ending to coincide with the historic playoff run of the Red Sox. The film is actually based on an English film about soccer fans, but Red Sox fans have similar levels of fanaticism. The film is also a good romantic comedy about growing up and moving on. The sports fanatic in the film, Ben Wrightman (played by “Saturday Night Live” star Jimmy Fallon) must discover on his own that love and family are more important than his devotion to his beloved Red Sox.

3. Moneyball[4 stars]

This drama is based on the real life experiences of former Major League player and baseball executive Billy Beane. It not only gives us a look into Major League baseball management, but also about the life of the players who play the game. It is smart, funny, dramatic and suspenseful. The relationship between Beane (Brad Pitt) and his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) is especially touching. The working relationship between Beane and his baseball statistics guru, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) is central to the story, since it is essentially these two against the whole baseball establishment. Everyone else thinks these two are crazy, but it turns out they are right about a new way of evaluating baseball talent.

2. Field of Dreams.

This rather silly movie, again, starring Kevin Kostner, is a strange fantasy about a farmer inspired to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop. Long dead players from the past magically appear to play there. It works mainly because of great performances by Kostner, Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta. It also works because of the almost mystical power of baseball. It has to do with love, family, justice and the choices we make in our lives and a particular relationship between a father and his son. It has to do with finding some solace for the wronged Shoeless Joe Jackson, a second chance for an old country doctor and a second chance to say good bye to an old man. This is a film about traditional American values and the 1960s too. This is the movie that said, “Build it and they will come.” A truly magical film experience.

1. Bull Durham.

This is the best baseball movie ever and one of the best movies about any sport. The only trouble with it is that it is loaded with profanity and sex, so it is not suitable for young children. It is probably the only film with an R rating in this list. If you (or your kids) are too young for this, or it offends you, most of the other films on this list are fairly tame. Probably the best film for kids on this list is “Sandlot.” Another good baseball film for kids is “Rookie of the Year.” Beware cheap rip-offs of “Bull Durham” like the film “Major League,” which steals many ideas from “Bull Durham,” but is a vastly inferior movie. “Bull Durham” is a love story about a minor league catcher Crash Davis (Kostner) and a sort of baseball groupie played by Susan Sarandon. It is loaded with clever dialogue, including some hilarious uses of sports clichés and an unforgettable discussion among players at the pitching mound during a game. The acting is also terrific. The film has great respect for baseball and some real insight into the game itself. More importantly, it is also about growing up beyond the protracted adolescence of athletics and taking the emotional risk of loving someone. By the way, my favorite football movie, “North Dallas Forty,” has a very similar theme.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent these movies in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics, theater tickets and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2007 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)