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Hollywood's Home Runs: Top 10 Baseball Movies

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When it comes to sports, in my book, there is no contest. I love baseball, and Hollywood loves it, too. As baseball season comes into view, we share a few movies that fans everywhere cherish as much as the game. And as usual, read until the end to see our bonus track.

42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013)

A dramatic retelling of the life of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in the Big Leagues. Quite an achievement, considering how pervasive segregation was back in the forties. He is not just a sportsman but a man fighting for justice. Nowadays, it is common to see black players on the field, but back then, it was impossible to see a black man playing side by side with whites, and Jackie Robinson made it possible. Chadwick Boseman hits a home run playing Jackie, the role that made him a leading man. He would go on to don the Black Panther suit in Marvel's first African-American-led film. The star-studded supporting cast includes Harrison Ford and Christopher Meloni.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)

Brad Pitt headlines this movie based on a true story, playing Billy Beane, who used his mathematical skills to change the game forever. When the Oakland Athletics did not have enough money to hire the star rooster to take them to the finals, Billy analyzes statistics to put together a good enough team at the right price. Jonah Hill plays his right-hand man, and Chris Pratt is a gun-ho rookie. Check it out if you want to understand how they play the game in corporate suites.

The Natural (Barry Levinson, 1984)

Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, and Kim Basinger made a dream team in a biopic with mystical undertones. Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, the movie finds inspiration in real-life characters and events. Redford is Roy Hobbs, a miraculous player. However, the real protagonist is Wonderboy, the most powerful bat in the history of the game. There is no room for error on the field, and this movie did not make any. It has everything Hollywood wants: suspense, romance, action, and magic.

Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)

Many times, we think other people are crazy. But are they? Wonderful things happen when some dare to dream beyond sanity. Such is the case of Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. He is an Iowa farmer who one day listens to a mysterious voice telling him “if you build it, they will come. The “it” is a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn fields. The “they”, are the disgraced Chicago White Sox players who allegedly sold the 1919 World Series in a game-fixing scandal. The sterling cast includes James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I found this interview with Kevin Costner, sharing how big an influence baseball has been in his life. I am not crying. You are crying.

The Sandlot (David Mickey Evans, 1993)

In Hollywood, they say never to work with kids and animals. Director David Mickey Evans disregarded the advice and gave us The Sandlot, a 90s cult family film set in the 60s. How is that for a double whammy of nostalgia? Scott (Tom Guiry) moves into a new town with his mom and stepdad. Searching for friends, he falls in with a gang of baseball-crazy kids. A lost Babe-Ruth ball, fierce dogs, and a mysterious neighbor add up to one of those juvenile adventures you never forget. You will laugh. You will cry. You will want to coach a Little League team. Karen Allen, Dennis Leary, and James Earl Jones play the adults on the sidelines.

Evans has not directed another project since this sentimental favorite. An untitled The Sandlot prequel circa 1926 project remains haunting IMDB. May Evans gets to bat once again.

A League of Their Own (Penny Marshall, 1992)

Any idiot who still thinks women are the weak sex has not seen A League of Their Own. Twenty years after marching into theaters, this warm-hearted comedy directed by Penny Marshall remains a stealth feminist manifesto, telling the real-life story of the first professional female league. It kept the sport going when WWII took the men away to the frontlines. Geena Davis and Lori Petty headline a star team. Madonna and Rossie O’Donnell provide comic support. Tom Hanks coaches with motivational gems like “There’s no crying in baseball!”. Prime Video just released a series inspired by the film.

Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988)

Sex, love, and baseball come together in Bull Durham. Kevin Costner goes back to the field to play “Crash” Davis, an over-the-hill catcher seeing his big-league dreams withering in the minors. At least, he gets into the hottest love triangle of the 80s when he vies for the affection of Annie (Susan Sarandon), a super fan who each year sets out to inspire the most promising rookie with sex and attention. Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is the chosen one. If you decry sexy movies, watch close to your fainting on a divan.

Sugar (Ryan Fleck & Anna Bowden, 2008)

Ryan Fleck and Anna Bowden conquered the box office with Captain Marvel. Before hitting the commercial jackpot, they were indie film directors who led a young Ryan Gosling to his first Oscar nomination as the addicted teacher in Half Nelson (2006). Their follow-up was Sugar, a surprisingly tender look at a young Dominican player recruited to play in the US minor leagues. It is a beautifully observed look at the less glamorous side of the baseball industry and an empathetic consideration of migration.

The Pride of the Yankees (Sam Wood, 1942)

Get a dose of Golden Age Hollywood with this biographical film about Lou Gehrig, played by the impossibly cool Gary Cooper. The "Iron Horse" burnished the legend of the New York Yankees before succumbing to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the disease that now bears his name. His contemporaries Babe Ruth, Mark Koening, and Bob Meusel play themselves. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, It only scored one win for Best Editing. Alas, the movie made it into the top 10 box office hits of 1942.

Eight Men Out (John Sayles, 1988)

Field of Dreams offers the myth, but John Sayles goes after the real story with journalistic zeal. You get to see the 1919 Chicago White Sox bribing scandal from the point of view of multiple characters. The team includes Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, and D.B. Sweeney as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, all disgruntled players chafing at the owner’s stinginess. Sayles gets in the game, too, playing a smarmy sports reporter who breaks the story. John Mahoney - Frasier’s dad! - plays manager Kid Gleason; David Strathairn is benched veteran Eddie Cicotte.

Bonus Track: Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on first?”

The legendary comedy duo of Abbott and Costello took a traditional routine from vaudeville and made it their own by applying it to baseball. It made the rounds on their stage, radio, and TV appearances. According to Wikipedia, they first introduced the bit to film on their debut One Night in The Tropics (A. Edward Sutherland, 1940) and repeated it in The Naughty Nineties (Jean Yarbrough,1945). The comedians enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of having a golden record of the comedic routine included in the permanent collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, NY.

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