Every spring, I fly down to Florida and enjoy several spring-training games with my brother, Paul at George Steinbrenner Field watching my New York Yankees play. Last year, I learned something for the very first time; that spring training games can end in a tie.
At the end of the ninth inning, the score between New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates was 3-3. I was fully expecting the game to go into extra innings, and my brother Paul said, "Well, that's it. Let's start walking to the car to beat the crowds." I was astonished. Hockey games. Soccer games. Little League baseball Games with kids under seven years old. Those are the games that end in a tie. But not real baseball with adults who are paid millions of dollars to play the game. Anyway, I got over my disappointment.
This year, however, because of the coronavirus pandemic I did not fly down and enjoy any Yankee games. The baseball season is delayed because of the pandemic, and nobody knows when the schedule will be resurrected.
So, since the Major League season is delayed, we share our list of the Top Ten Baseball Movies of all time. We've also added a few extra just in case this pandemic goes into extra innings. All of these films are available on any one of the streaming services that you may rent at home. Sit back, buy some peanuts and Crackerjack, and enjoy a good baseball movie at home with your family.
10. It Happens Every Spring (1949)
This comedy stars legendary actor Ray Milland as Vernon Simpson, a chemist who accidentally develops a substance which repels wood----the perfect stuff to coat a baseball in an era when only wooden bats were used. The professor joins a down-and-out baseball team in St. Louis as their star pitcher, King Kelly. Features some great character actors (Ed Begley Sr., Alan Hale Jr., and Paul Douglas as gruff catcher, Monk Lanigan.
9. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Before The Godfather (Part II), before Goodfellas and even way before the Meet the Parents comedy series, a young Robert De Niro played a slow-witted catcher who finds that he is stricken with a terminal illness. The team star pitcher, played by Michael Moriarty, takes him under his wing in an attempt to make his last days more comfortable and fulfilling. If you’re a fan of De Niro’s film work as a tough guy, this is a must-see film.
8. 42 (2013)
This is the definitive story of the player who broke the baseball color barrier, Jackie Robinson. In post-WWII America, there existed two worlds because of segregation. Separate bathrooms, separate sections on busses, movie theaters, and segregated cities. Before Rosa Parks refused to get out of her seat in the front of a bus, before the civil disobedience at luncheon counters in the South, and before Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, two men took it upon themselves to take a giant step forward. Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed 28-year-old Jackie Robinson to take the field at first base in 1947. Starring Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman.
7. Moneyball (2011)
When I was growing up, my dad shared all of his knowledge of baseball statistics, always quizzing me and my brothers. “Who holds the record for the most home runs ever?” “Which team has the greatest win record of all time?” “Which pitcher won the most World Series games?” The fact that all the answers seem to reflect on the greatness of the Yankees is beside the point---i learned that baseball was a game of numbers, statistics, and data. Moneyball is all about the new math of baseball (sabermetrics) and stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as the odd couple who put together a great team of undervalued players for the Oakland Athletics. Script written by Aaron Sorkin, nominated for an Oscar.
6. A League of Their Own (1992)
The true story of the short-lived All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, an all-female league that ran for a few seasons during WWII. This film has a phenomenal cast: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Jon Lovitz and Tom Hanks as the team manager of Rockford Peaches, who reminds us that “There’s no crying in baseball!”. There is a great exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame in tribute to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
5. The Natural (1984)
Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs who simply wanted to be baseball’s “the best there ever was”. It is a fabled tale about baseball before television brought the game right into our living rooms. When baseball players were heroes, and a ninth-inning blast over the wall for the home team brought everyone cheering in their seats. Stereotypical baseball characters played with passion: Wilford Brimley as the manager of the downtrodden New York Knights, Robert Duvall as sportswriter Max Mercy, and Richard Farnsworth as the Knights’ coach.
4. Eight Men Out (1988)
The true story of the “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919---when the spectacular Chicago White Sox were bribed by gambling racketeers to throw the World Series. The eight ballplayers were found legally innocent in court but banned for life by the first baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Starring John Cusack, Michael Lerner, David Strathairn and D. B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Baseball would not regain credibility with fans until Babe Ruth started hitting home runs.
3. Bull Durham (1988)
Kevin Costner made three baseball-themed films, two of which appear on this list. The best baseball film made about the minor leagues, that combines a love story with true reverence for the finer points of baseball. From the conversations on the mound to the tips from the catcher who was in The Show (the Major Leagues) for just a brief shining moment to the complete overconfidence of the young star pitcher. An all-star cast of Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.
2. Field of Dreams (1989)
Plenty of you reading this column might think that Field of Dreams belongs in the Number One spot. And you would not get too much of an argument from me. Based on a book by W. P. Kinsella, I dare anyone who’s ever had a catch with their dad to not be in tears at the end. I had the privilege of visiting the actual Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa ---getting a personal tour by the town mayor (a long story for another time). “If you build it, they will come”. Starring Costner, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster, in one of his last major film roles.
1. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
From reading my opening paragraph, you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out which baseball film would be Number One on my list. Ever since my dad took me to my first Yankee game when I was seven, and I saw the green of the grass, the brown dirt, and the blue sky at the House That Ruth Built, I was hooked. The Pride of the Yankees tells the story of revered baseball player Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), who died at the of age 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The film features actual New York Yankee Babe Ruth playing himself. And the Farewell Speech made by Gehrig (“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”)----my dad was at that game at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939.
Honorable Mentions (If the quarantine goes into extra innings)
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
Damn Yankees (1955)
Major League (1989)
The Bad News Bears (1976)
The Rookie (2002)
Fear Strikes Out (1957)