I watch a lot of baseball movies. It’s a natural byproduct of being a huge baseball fan, because often these movies sneak into theaters when there are no games being played, and you feel compelled to see them because any baseball is better than no baseball.
There has been a ton of debate about which are the best baseball movies, or which “best” movies are overrated (I see you, Field of Dreams) but one thing we don’t tend to discuss much is how many truly dreadful baseball movies are out there.
I can’t possibly touch on all of them, having not seen everything, but here’s a starter list of terrible flicks you can probably avoid the next time you do a baseball movie marathon.
The premise: Friends star Matt LeBlanc should have fired his agent for suggesting this kiddie-comedy about a talented pitcher who is buddies with the team’s mascot/teammate: a chimpanzee.
The problems: Obviously this is purely designed as a family friendly romp to bring your kids to, but as far as baseball movies go, it’s genuinely absurd. The chimp isn’t only a mascot, he actually plays baseball (which even in the minor leagues is insane), he’s best friends with a literal farm hand who becomes a player, and somehow manages to play matchmaker for LeBlanc’s character while also being a trusted babysitter to a small child?
It’s really hard to be mad at this movie though, since the premise is so over-the-top, the audience is obviously meant to skew very young, and studios have been trying with mixed results to make successful animal-themed comedies since Bringing Up Baby.
Ultimately Ed isn’t the worst of the bunch, but it’s not going to hold up long-term for modern audiences, even young ones. Stick to The Sandlot or Rookie of the Year if you want to share baseball movies with your kids.
How Do You Know?
The premise: Reese Witherspoon plays a talented by aging softball player who is left off the Team USA roster, shaking her confidence and self-esteem. She meets and becomes involved with a pitcher from the Washington Nationals who is played by Owen Wilson. There’s a white-collar crime side-story that involves Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson. This movie has the general pieces to be great.
The problems: The major issue with How Do You Know? is that it wants very badly to rely on Reese Witherspoon’s rom-com credentials, but it is neither romantic, nor comedic. The incredible premise of a softball star regaining her confidence while dating a major league player could have been a great movie, but the baseball aspects are buried under a mind-numbing plot about corporate malfeasance involving Paul Rudd and his father.
Own Wilson’s character is a charming Lothario with commitment issues who doesn’t want to settle down, Rudd’s character claims to love Witherspoon’s but also uses her as a ploy to stay out of prison, and generally no one here is compelling, believable, or interesting enough to root for.
It’s boring, and you’ll immediately forget baseball was ever involved by the time the credits roll. Jack Nicholson has not made a feature film since this, and I choose to believe it’s because this one was so bad.
For Love of the Game
The premise: The third film in Kevin Costner’s unofficial baseball trilogy (following Bull Durham and Field of Dreams) sees him playing an aging ace pitcher whose career is nearing its ends and whose relationship with his partner (Kelly Preston) is also ending as she is moving to London for a job opportunity. Ahead of the game Costner’s Billy Chapel is informed by the Detroit Tigers’ owner that the team has been sold and Chapel will be traded to the Giants, ending his lengthy tenure with Detroit. With all this on his mind and an increasingly troubling pain in his shoulder, Chapel goes on to pitch a perfect game for the Tigers.
The problems: “But Ashley,” you might be thinking. “It’s about the Detroit Tigers, how could you hate it?”
Kevin Costner is very clearly a fan of baseball, otherwise he wouldn’t have done so many iconic baseball movies. But the problem with For Love of the Game along with many others on this list, is that it’s just not fun to watch. Billy is mired in self-reflection, relationship-related misery, physical pain, and the knowledge that everything he has worked for personally and professionally over twenty years is about to end. While his achievement in the film is good (and is narrated by Vin Scully, no less), the movie is not a heartwarming, uplifting ode to sporting triumph. The perfect game doesn’t win the season for the Tigers — who have only won 63 games until then, in a stark bit of realism — and it doesn’t save Billy’s career — he retires at the end of the game.
It may not be the worst option on this list, but it wouldn’t be one I’d recommend, and is at the bottom of the list of Kevin Costner’s baseball oeuvre for sure.
The premise: Minor league pitcher (and landscaper) Ryan Dunne (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has sworn off women to help focus on his game in the hopes of reaching the majors one day, but that all falls apart when he meets Tenley Parish (!!) (Jessica Biel) and the pair start to fall in love. Meanwhile Ryan’s game struggles, he’s demoted to the bullpen, and seems to be at risk of losing his career and the woman of his dreams (who has pesky career aspirations).
The problems: I think perhaps the biggest issue with Summer Catch is that it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be, so it tries to be all the movies. Is it a bonding flick about a young powerhouse pitcher and his buddy the catcher, a la Bull Durham? Is it a bawdy boys club movie in which teammates make fun of Mark Blucas for liking big women, and everyone just wants to get laid? Is it a romcom? Is it a drama about a guy from a family where alcohol has caused a rift in a father-son relationship and Ryan thinks becoming a major league star is the only thing that can fix that?
This movie needed to find a lane and stick to it, rather than attempting to be too many things at once. It’s also mind-boggling how many stars they got for this. In the final epilogue during Ryan’s debut, he gives up a home run to Ken Griffey Jr. (also don’t get me started on how unrealistic it is that a mid-level summer league pitcher who was demoted to the bullpen and pitched part of a no-hitter before leaving the game intentionally would get a minor league deal, but I digress.) Other big names: Doug Glanville, Kevin Youkilis, Carlton Fisk, and HANK AARON.
And don’t think I just have it in for baseball “rom coms” because I actually enjoyed the not-very-good Fever Pitch.
Trouble with the Curve
The premise: Aging baseball scout Gus (Clint Eastwood) is sent out for one last trip to check on a prospect the Atlanta Braves are interested in. Because of his failing health, the team quietly asks his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to join her father on the trip. They pair up with a former pitcher, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) who is now a scout for the Boston Red Sox in assessing the young hitter. There is meant to be chemistry between Mickey and Johnny, and there is also father/daughter drama, but ultimately this movie is all about scouting gut feel being superior to analytics.
The problems: This is the one, you guys. This right here is the movie that might be the reason they just don’t bother making baseball movies anymore. Following the absolutely monstrous success of Moneyball in 2011, this 2012 dud tried to take an incredible cast and turn it into the next Bull Durham. Maybe I’m just mad because I made a real effort to go see this in theatre with my baseball road trip BFF, maybe it was because the trailers tried to sell me something really watchable, but my goodness this movie is an absolute ode to drudgery. This movie is what people mean when they say baseball is boring. And don’t get me started on the scene where the screenwriter decided the best way to prove Mickey was a “real” baseball fan was to have her list off arbitrary baseball stats by year.
There’s a much deeper concern here as well with a somewhat buried storyline about Gus sending Mickey to live with a relative when she was a child because he decided being on the road with him for scouting trips wasn’t safe, and this plot is not handled well at all.
The movie seems to suggest that scouting requires a certain kind of magic — Mickey literally finds a new hot pitching prospect based on the sound his pitches make in the glove — while turning the team analytics guy into the villain. It’s exhausting, depressing, and just generally not worth the watch.
Did I pick one of your favorites above? Just remember, it’s all personal opinion, but if you liked Trouble With the Curve I would genuinely love to know why.