Baseball

Baseball Movies: Ranking the 15 Greatest

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With the 93rd Academy Awards upon us, it is time to answer the question: which baseball movies are the best in cinema history?

Hundreds of baseball films have been released over the years. These movies range from the nearly sublime to the downright too bad to watch.  We selected 50 baseball movies, including those with the highest Rotten Tomatoes scores and a few select ones that have achieved cult status in their own right.

Those movies were presented to the baseball writing staff at Overtime Heroics to rank. As OTH believes in empowering fans and projecting their voice, we launched a series of Twitter polls asking fans to rank their top baseball movies as well. The People’s Ballot was added to those submitted by our writers, and voila, the 15 #BestBaseballMovies are now ready for publication.

OTH’s Top 15 Baseball Movies

15. Hardball

Hardball is perhaps too often forgotten, but G-Baby (DeWayne Warren), one of the main characters, has managed to break through into popular culture. The film tells the story of a degenerate white gambler (Keanu Reeves) who makes a deal to coach African-American little leaguers from the Chicago projects. A young Michael B. Jordan stars as well.  The movie could be faulted for spending a bit too much time with Reeves’s character and too little with the kids.

14. Angels in the Outfield (1994)

The 1994 children’s movie Angels in the Outfield taught a generation a variation of the rally cap. When my local minor league team changed affiliations from the Saint Louis Cardinals to the Anaheim Angels, every fan of a certain age knew exactly what to do in a rally situation: flap your angel wings. The star-studded cast featured actors such as Danny Glover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Adrien Brody, and Matthew McConaughey. A remake of a 1951 film with the Pirates as the divinely-advantaged club, this version benefited punnily from the Angels’ rise to the majors.

13. The Pride of the Yankees

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yldD9NQ4T9o

Lou Gehrig was such a monumental figure during interwar America that Hollywood hardly waited a moment after his death to begin production of this biopic. Gary Cooper starred in this instant classic. Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Bill Dickey appeared as themselves in the film, along with several other ballplayers.

12. Mr. 3000

Baseball writers and fans defied the critics to rank the Bernie Mac vehicle as the twelfth-best baseball movie ever made. Centered on the plot of Mac’s character falling victim to a statistical change taking him just under the milestone hit mark, the film certainly has its moments. It is also always refreshing to see baseball movies centered on teams other than the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers. Congrats, Brew Crew!

11. Bad News Bears (2005)

This remake of the 1976 classic can perhaps properly be thought of as part of the “Bad” series of movies released in the new millennium (e.g. Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Moms). Starring Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton brings just the right amount of self-loathing, self-awareness, narcissism, and altruism to the Buttermaker role to allow for solid laughs.

10. The Bad News Bears (1976)

This bicentennial picture following a derelict little league coach and his ragtag team is an instant classic. In between the multiple laughs, the movie critiques the hyper-competitiveness of a children’s game, the gender barriers imposed in athletics even at an early age, and the way society often tries to write-off outcasts.

9. Eight Men Out

This cinematic retelling of the hippodroming of the 1919 World Series is frequently criticized by fans for historical inaccuracies. Yet, as baseball movies go, it does a fine job portraying dead ball and serves sufficiently as a morality tale with baseball as the backdrop.

8. The Natural

This Robert Redford-vehicle made a lasting impact on cinematic depictions of baseball. The foundations of the story are those dreamed by almost every young player: to be so naturally gifted so as to be ready to star in the big leagues. Roy Hobbs is the every child’s dream come to fictional life, yet the trials and travails of adulthood interrupt the plan. Set in 1939, the caricatures of various baseball personalities manages to enrich, rather than detract from, this worthwhile movie.

7. The Sandlot

To this author’s lasting shame, I have somehow never seen The Sandlot. Friends are routinely shocked at this confession, considering my love of baseball and my binging of so many movies and shows. I worry that viewing it this far after childhood will not endear me to the movie, but I suspect the next time I find myself in a nostalgic mood I would be wise to watch the tale of boys, baseball, and innocence.

6. Moneyball

https://youtu.be/8DDMHwqIn3s

Baseball is centered around rooting for a team over an individual. The very nature of the game makes it incredibly difficult for a single star player to lead a club to victory without a strong supporting cast (see Mike Trout and the Angels). Moneyball tells that lesson well while simultaneously demonstrating that one individual, the general manager, can create a winning team. In spite of (or because of) the focus on analytics and a deeper understanding of the game, Moneyball asks and answers the question, “how can you not be romantic about baseball?”

5. Major League

Full of archetypes, caricatures, and stereotypes, Major League builds upon an unstable foundation to create a classic underdog story. The hapless Cleveland club has to be more than the sum of its parts to stop an scheming owner’s plot to move the team out of Ohio. Perhaps this movie can be viewed today to give some perspective for those fans lamenting the upcoming nickname change: surely it is better to have major league baseball by another name than no major league baseball at all.

4. A League of Their Own

There may be no crying in baseball, but it is a crying shame that America lacks Women’s Major League Baseball. Sure, the National Pro Fastpitch league exists (though on Covid hiatus), but softball is not baseball. The Japan Women’s Baseball League has featured the highest level of club competition, though its future is uncertain. Nations compete every two years in the Baseball World Cup, but regular competition, high-level is not a feature of women’s baseball.

For a little more than a decade, this was not the case. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) fielded four to eight teams with star-studded lineups and a true competitive edge. A League of Their Own captures this spirit and glory. The film presents a lightly fictionalized version of the league and its players and personnel. Viewers likely leave the movie with two thoughts: (1) hopeful for a return of professional women’s baseball and (2) SPOILER ALERT did Dottie drop the ball on purpose?

3. Bull Durham

Bull Durham captures baseball and the minors better than any other film.  The little touches that other baseball movies might have neglected but make a film grounded in reality are abundantly present.

The movie also speaks more deeply to baseball as religion. From Annie’s opening dialogue to her years-long devotion, it is clear that baseball is “a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time.”

Bull Durham adds humor to these subtle and deeper elements. Toward the end, Crash is giving one last lecture. LaLoosh, pretending he misheard Crash and, just out of his eyesight, makes the slightest smirk.  It is subtle, but Robbins plays it exactly how people joke in that way in real life, not exaggerated for effect or playing too cool. It is this attention to reality that makes Bull Durham perhaps the greatest baseball movie.

2. 42

Jackie Robinson is undoubtedly the most significant player in baseball history and played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did he break the segregation barrier, but he translated his success in the Negro Leagues to MLB. The Hall of Famer’s playing career is told inspiringly in this Chadwick Boseman vehicle, and Harrison Ford plays a convincing Branch Rickey.

1. Field of Dreams

The second of Kevin Costner’s baseball trilogy, Field of Dreams is officially the best of the baseball movies. The film attempts to depict the emotional meaning of baseball: the connections forged through it between parent and child and the stability the game provides to a nation always changing. With a solid cast and a wholesale embrace of its sometimes sappiness, Field of Dreams achieves this attempt, even if it inexplicably ends with this non-colloquialism.


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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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