Friday, August 31, 2007

Ranking the all-time best baseball flicks

In the spirit of the end of August and the beginning of the September pennant races, let's take a look at some of the greatest baseball films of all time with the Staten Island Advance's Steve Hart from SILive's Blog.

By Stephen Hart
Forgive me if I seem a little wired ... I’m still a bit jacked up after yesterday’s viewing of "The Bourne Ultimatum," which was two hours of non-stop action. Sure, you have to chuckle at times as Matt Damon’s identity-confused CIA assassin dusts himself off and walks away from some of the car wrecks he gets into, but it was as enjoyable a time as I’ve spent at the cineplex this year.

Speaking of movies, it got me thinking about my favorite sports films. There have been plenty of great ones, pictures I’d rank with any type of genre. And then there’s the flip side, like "Caddyshack II." Since it’s still baseball season, I’ll limit my list to my top 10 favorite baseball movies. In ascending order:

10. Little Big League (1994):
Appearances by real-life Major Leaguers including Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson gives the film — about a baseball-loving teen who inherits the Minnesota Twins and becomes their GM/manager — some credibility. Actors and real-life players (Kevin Elster, Leon Durhman and former Reds reliever Brad "The Animal" Leslie) portray the Twins.

9. For Love of the Game (1999):
The first of three appearances on this list for Kevin Costner, who has made a career playing sports characters (including the fun golf flick "Tin Cup" and yes, even "The Bodyguard," as his character was a former college football receiver before entering the Secret Service). Anyway, back to "For Love of the Game," where he plays a Jack Morris-type veteran hurler for the Detroit Tigers. His quest to pitch a perfect game in Yankee Stadium in what could be his final game is intercut with scenes from his rocky romance with a single mom played by Kelly Preston. Vin Scully’s play-by-play lends even more baseball cache to the movie.

8. The Bad News Bears (1976):
Walter Matthau is hilarious as the oft-inebriated coach of a bunch of sad-sack Little Leaguers. You have to love that they’re sponsored by "Chico’s Bail Bonds."

7. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): Michael Moriarity plays the star pitcher and Robert DeNiro (in one of his early breakthrough roles) is the dim-witted backup backstop who is Moriarity’s personal catcher ... who also happens to be dying. A great tale of camaraderie, cliques and relationships. Pop quiz: The name of their baseball team? Answer: The New York Mammoths, whose pinstriped uniforms look like the Yankees, though the game scenes were filmed at Shea Stadium.

6. The Pride of the Yankees (1942):
A true guy’s tear-jerker, thanks to Gary Cooper’s terrific portrayal of the Bronx Bombers’ immortal Lou Gehrig. Sure, old-time Hollywood took some liberties with things, and Cooper didn’t come off as the best baseball-playing actor. But the presence of Gehrig’s actual teammates, including Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey, are huge. The film, which is as much a love story as a baseball tale, also features Irving Berlin’s classic song, "Always."

5. Eight Men Out (1988):
The story of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal is presented very fairly, and features a stellar ensemble cast led by John Cusack as Buck Weaver, David Strathhairn as Eddie Cicotte and D.B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Look for writer/director John Sayles as legendary scribe Ring Lardner. Fine cinematography and costumes (including those old wool uniforms) really help the movie reflect the era.

4. Major League (1989):
The list of great characters is endless, from Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn to Willie Mays Hayes to Pedro Cerrano ... who, somehow, would become president of the United States (sorry, just a "24" flashback). It was funny how this fictional rise of the Cleveland Indians was mirrored at the time of its release by the actual Tribe’s brief uprising (led by Joe Carter, Cory Snyder and Brook Jacoby). Those Indians didn’t beat the Yankees for the division title, but the celluloid ones did. The movie is also known for broadcaster Bob Uecker’s over-the-top calls, like "Just a bit outside." A fun film with plenty of memorable lines.

3. Field of Dreams (1989):
Maybe the ultimate guy’s tear-jerker, a story about a past relationship between a father and a son (Costner) gone wrong, and baseball’s role in patching things up. I know, I know ... Shoeless Joe isn’t a righty batter, but that’s about the only thing this film gets wrong.
2. Bull Durham (1988): Costner strikes again in this funny/raunchy tribute to the trials and tribulations of minor-league life. It’s a film that appeals to both guys and gals, as veteran catcher Crash Davis goes about mentoring phenom hurler "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) while battling for the affections of a baseball lifer and hottie, played by Susan Sarandon. Costner won in the movie, Robbins won in real life.

1. The Natural (1984):
From Barry Levinson’s direction to Randy Newman’s music to the overall look of this 1940-ish set story of how Roy Hobbs steps out of a shady past and lifts the cellar-dwelling New York Knights to the N.L. pennant with the help of his magical bat, "Wonder Boy." I get choked up every time a bed-ridden Hobbs (Robert Redford) stops in the middle of speaking to his childhood sweetheart (Glenn Close) and simply states, "God, I love baseball." A truly awesome supporting cast that includes Robert Duvall, Darren McGavin, Kim Basinger and Wilford Brimley as the grumpy manager — who should’ve been fired for letting Hobbs ride the bench for a month before giving him a shot!


Scott Cavanagh said...

I loved yor comments, particularly on Bad News Bears. I was never a real big fan of Major League, though. And I might also have included A League Of Their Own and a sleeper in COBB.

BC in Buffalo said...

1, 2 & 3 are perfect but 4 has to be Pride of the Yankees....Come on.....It's Gary Cooper!

Michael Hart said...

Good list from Stephen Hart on the all-time baseball flicks; however, I am one of those people who prefer the realism (and humor) of "Bull Durham" - my #1 baseball film - to the mythic approach of "The Natural" (although, as Steve mentioned, the film has a superb supporting cast, worth noting is the performance by Joe Don Baker as the Ruthian figure "The Whammer"). Costner's "What I believe" speech in "Bull Durham" is a great movie moment. I am not a big fan of "Field of Dreams" - it's too earnest and overexplicit in its language in trying the explain the beauty of the game (although its final scene is wonderful). I would like to add the 1949 comedy "It Happens Every Spring" with Ray Milland to the list. A very entertaining film about a chemistry professor who accidentally discovers a mixture that causes baseballs to avoid all wooden surfaces, including bats. Milland's 1951 comedy "Rhubarb" - about a cat becoming a team owner - was fun also.