Welcome to the DRaysBay Ultimate Baseball Movie Challenge, wherein you, our faithful readers, help decide which baseball movie is the Greatest Of All Time. If you missed the post on movies that missed the cut, you can check it out here.
Note: Some of the clips below contain adult language (sometimes from the mouths of children). So you've been warned.
Now, onward to victory!
Baseball Comedy Division
This is where the big boys play. Any one of these movies could win it all. Let’s get to the match-ups.
(1) Bull Durham (1988) vs. (4) The Bad News Bears (1976)
Bull Durham is not just a great baseball movie, it’s a great movie. Period. It has star power, with almost-not-wooden Kevin Costner as career minor league catcher “Crash” Davis, a young Tim Robbins as the phenom pitcher “Nuke” Laloosh placed under Crash’s tutelage, and Susan Sarandon as baseball groupie Annie Savoy. Yes, some of the baseball is not great (especially from Robbins), but it’s romantic and funny and loaded with memorable lines. It won an Academy Award for best original screen play. It will be tough to beat.
The Bad News Bears are used to being underdogs. They weren’t even supposed to be in this bracket. This was a kids movie when it came out, for Pete’s sake. If you plopped your six-year-old in front of this movie and walked away today, someone would call child services on you. But what can I say? It was the ‘70s, times were different. We still had lead in our gasoline then. And, sometimes, chocolate on our baseballs.
As I said, times were different. But no matter what time it is, Walter Matthau is a comedy god. Rotten Tomatoes scores this as 96% Fresh, Matthau won a BAFTA award for it, and Bill Lancaster won a Writer’s Guild of America award for the screenplay. And I didn’t even mention adolescent Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earl Haley. Don’t sleep on the Bears.
(2) Major League (1989) vs (3) A League of Their Own (1992)
Major League might be the most quotable film in the tourney. From Harry Doyle’s (Bob Uecker) “Juuuust a bit outside” to Pedro Cerrano’s (Dennis Haysbert) “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball,” it’s the Anchorman of baseball movies. If you live under a rock and haven’t seen it, it’s the story of a ragtag Cleveland Indians team that rises through the standings to spite their owner, who is intent on moving the club to Miami. It’s funny, the baseball (with the exception of Chelcie Ross as Eddie Harris) is very well done, and the crowd scenes are top notch.
But there are parts that are, shall be say... problematic. The sexism of Major League doesn’t wear well, and the racial stereotypes seem more at home in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. For what it’s worth, the original ending was a twist where owner Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) admitted to her manager that the Miami move was a ruse, and that she would fire him if he ever told anyone. That ending was apparently scrapped because it did not test well with audiences.
Still, for all it’s faults, Major League is a major crowd pleaser.
A League of Their Own is the anti-Major League. It’s smart instead of crude, and it has Tom Hanks and Geena Davis instead of Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger. Don’t think that this fictional story of the very real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League isn’t still damn funny and quotable.
“There’s no crying in baseball!”
It was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Significant, I say!
Baseball History Division
Welcome to “Movies for smart people.”
(1) Moneyball (2011) vs (4) Eight Men Out (1988)
Moneyball is based on the 2003 non-fiction book of the same name authored by Michael Lewis, which recounts the rise of the Oakland A’s through the use of sabermetrics and other analytics. My god, that sounds so boring. But it’s really not!
I guess it helps if you bring in Brad Pitt to play Billy Beane. It didn’t win any Oscars, but was nominated for six, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Pitt), and Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill).
The film does play some games with history, and has issues with accuracy. Then-A’s Manager Art Howe hated it. But the critics and audiences loved it.
Eight Men Out is based on Eliot Asinof's 1963 book “Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series.” The book is better, but the movie is pretty good, and the actors all play solid old-timey baseball.
It didn’t win any awards, but the movie features a wonderful ensemble cast, including John Cusack as the stoic Buck Weaver, and Clifton James doing a wonderful turn as the villain Charlie Comiskey, whose cheapskatery made the entire throwing of the World Series a plausible thing for these players.
(2) 42 (2013) vs (3) 61* (2001)
42 is a film about Jackie Robinson breaking the major league baseball color line. It stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Reviewers generally seem to think this is a good, if unexceptional movie. I think these reviewers didn’t watch the same movie I did. Boseman wears the dignity of Robinson easily, and Ford — who I really didn’t expect to buy as Rickey — is wonderful. It scores a 79% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, averaging 6.8/10 on 178 reviews.
61* tells the story of Roger Maris as he and Mickey Mantle chase down the legendary Babe Ruth’s home run record. Starring Barry Pepper as Maris and Thomas Jane as Mantle, it chronicles the toll the 1961 season took on the pair, especially Maris. The baseball in this movie is beautiful, though the melodrama is a bit, well... melodramatic.
It’s also weird looking at this movie through the other end of the steroid era lens. When this was made in 2001, Big Mac and Sammy had just “saved baseball” with their homerun derby a few years earlier, and in weird way, Maris had finally gotten his due instead of an asterisk for breaking Babe’s record in the first place. And now, all those guys who passed Maris have asterisks of their own.
Family Fare Division
Do we even need to do this one?
(1) The Sandlot (1993) vs (4) Angels in the Outfield (1994)
The Sandlot is Stand By Me meets The Bad News Bears. It’s a monster in this category. With a young Dennis Leary, a blind James Earl Jones, and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, nobody is beating The Sandlot this round.
Angels in the Outfield is an automatic qualifier out of the Big Sky Conference. They’re just happy to be here.
(2) Rookie of the Year (1993) vs (3) Little Big League (1994)
Believe it or not, Rookie of the Year only scores a 39% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t know why. This is a classic, if cheesy kids fantasy fulfillment flick. 12 year old Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm only to have the tendons heal “a little too tight,” giving him a wicked fastball. He ends up pitching for the Chicago Cubs. It also stars Gary Busey, Dan Hedaya, the hidden ball trick, and hot ice.
Little Big League is another kid fantasy fulfillment. This time, 12-year-old Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards) becomes the owner and then the manager of the Minnesota Twins. Because of course he does.
It disappointed at the box office, and only rates 33% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Even if it does knock off Rookie of the Year, it’s going to get crushed by The Sandlot.
Baseball Drama Division
Here be dragons.
(1) Field of Dreams (1989) vs (4) Sugar (2008)
Field of Dreams is the heavy favorite, not just in this round or bracket, but probably the whole tourney. It’s “everybody’s” favorite baseball movie, what with the magic and the whispering cornfield and the middle America Iowa-ness of it. Based on the W.P. Kinsella novel of the same name (which you should read), it tells the story of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) who plows under his cornfield and builds a ballpark at the urging of a disembodied voice so Shoeless Joe Jackson can play baseball again. That sounds perfectly reasonable, why do you ask?
It also stars baseball movie vet James Earl Jones as a J.D. Salinger stand-in named Terrance Mann, who is crusty and wonderful, and Amy Madigan as every man’s dream of a wife, provided that man’s dream is a harebrained idea that will probably destroy their livelihood. The movie was a Best Picture nominee. Who could possible hate Field of Dreams?
Yes, everybody loves Field of Dreams. Especially people who don't watch a lot of baseball.
But for those of us who know that Shoeless Joe hit left-handed, dammit, and Moonlight Graham played his one inning in 1905, not 1922? It’s annoying. It’s also trite and over-the-top-sugary-sweet with a lot of the acting, and that score. Yes, Field of Dreams is a baseball movie powerhouse, and rightfully so. But it’s a flawed one. It can be beaten.
Is Sugar up to the task, though? This 2008 indie treasure stars Algenis Perez Soto as real-life ballplayer Miguel Santos as he tries to climb his way out of poverty in the Dominican Republic to the big leagues. His dream hits several walls along the way.
This is not a cream puff. Rotten Tomatoes scores the film as 92% Fresh, averaging 7.8/10 on 132 reviews. If nothing else, you should see this movie if you haven’t already.
(2) The Natural (1984) vs (3) Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
People forget, but The Natural was everybody’s favorite baseball flick for the five years between the year it came out and the year Kevin Costner heard voices. Based on Bernard Malamud’s 1952 book of the same name, it tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a uniquely gifted ballplayer, and his struggles. It stars Robert Redford — who is late-peak Robert Redford-y in the role, with all the goodness that comes with that — along with Glenn Close and Robert Duvall. The baseball scenes are solid, and the magical scenes are captivating without being too corny.
In addition to a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Close, it garnered three more Academy Award noms for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Music. This is a beautiful movie that has aged pretty well, much like Robert Redford.
Our last contender is Bang the Drum Slowly. Based on Mark Harris’s 1956 novel by the same name, it tells the story of the friendship between a brainy pitcher and a catcher of limited intellect who also has a terminal illness they both attempt to hide. It stars Michael Moriarty as the pitcher, Henry Wiggen, and a then-unknown Robert DeNiro as his dying catcher-friend, Bruce Pearson.
Along with Mean Streets, which came out almost at the same time, this is the movie that put DeNiro on the map. Vincent Gardenia also received a Best Support Actor nomination for his role as the manager, Dutch. It’s a movie that tugs at your heartstrings. Yes, it’s depressing as hell, but every baseball fan should see it once.
AND THAT’S IT
Leave your best arguments for your favorite movies in the comments so I can steal your ideas and not have to work so hard next round.