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Baseball on the Big Screen

January 21, 2012

Hugh Atkins

Brad Pitt may get a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces their nominations on Tuesday.

Pitt starred in Moneyball, based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of how Beane built a winning team by using sophisticated computer analysis of players. I think it is one of the best baseball movies ever made. In fact, I would rank it fourth on my list of the Top 10 Baseball Movies of All-Time. Here they are:

10. Major League. This comedy is worth seeing just to hear the play-by-play of Bob Uecker. The plot is predictable but Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, and Wesley Snipes turn in great performances and create some memorable characters. It may not be good cinema, or even good baseball, but it is entertaining.

9. Angels in the Outfield. Our son influenced this pick. Sean has watched this 1994 remake about 714 times. I like it better than the 1951 original. Danny Glover stars as the manager of the last-place Angels who get some divine intervention from a feisty gang of angels.

8. Fear Strikes Out. This is the gripping biography of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersal, played by Anthony Perkins, and his overbearing father, portrayed by Karl Malden. Piersal overcame mental problems to become a successful major leaguer. This 1957 movie should be required viewing for all youth league coaches – especially if they are coaching their own children.

7. The Sandlot. A major league announcer looks back on his sandlot days when he and the neighborhood kids played baseball and battled a big, baseball-eating dog. James Earl Jones appears as the dog owner who also happened to know Babe Ruth.

5. The Stratton Story. Any top-ten movie list has to have a Jimmy Stewart movie in it. This 1949 biography of Monty Stratton won an Oscar for best story. This is a compelling drama that follows Stratton as he continues his baseball career even after losing a leg in a hunting accident. In the movie, he makes it back to the majors, in real life he did not.

4. Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” This 1989 adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s book, Shoeless Joe, is one man’s magical journey into the past that allows him to play catch with his deceased father. Any movie with both Burt Lancaster and baseball has to be good. In my opinion, this is Kevin Costner’s only good baseball movie.

4. Moneyball. Pitt and Jonah Hill turn in great performances as Beane and his assistant Peter Brand; Brent Jennings also does a great job as coach Ron Washington.

Lou Gehrig

Henry Louis Gehrig

3. Pride of the Yankees. This 1942 biography of Yankee iron man Lou Gehrig is a great movie worthy of any top-ten list. Gary Cooper wore a uniform with backwards letters and numbers. They filmed him as a right-handed hitter and flipped the negative to show him as a lefty. Cooper’s performance as Gehrig was superb and the final scene is one of the most memorable in movie history

2. Eight Men Out. Released is 1988, this movie is about the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series scandal. The script, based on a book by John Sayles, sticks to the facts. After seeing this movie, you would think the baseball writers would put Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame. Studs Terkel appears as a sports writer.

1. The Natural. Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs in this 1984 sentimental drama based on Bernard Malamud’s book of the same title from 1952. Hobbs starts out as a fire-balling pitcher, but after a few twists and turns, winds up as an aging slugger who leads his team, the New York Knights, to the pennant. Robert Duvall is fantastic as sports writer Max Mercy. Joe Don Baker appears briefly and turns in a brilliant performance as the Whammer. This is one case where the movie is better than the book. By the way, did you know that in the book Hobbs takes the money offered by the corrupt owner and the Knights lose the championship?

I left out some good movies; A League of Their Own and Bang the Drum Slowly come to mind. I almost threw in The Great Gatsby since Gatsby tells Nick Carraway that Meyer Wolfsheim is “the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919,” but that hardly qualifies it as a baseball movie.

It will be interesting to see whether Moneyball gets any Oscar consideration. I am hopeful that it will.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Didegnan permalink
    January 21, 2012 12:13 pm

    Bull Durham is another good one!


    • January 21, 2012 5:16 pm

      I liked Bull Durham and I’ve seen it listed on some sites as the best baseball movie ever made.


  2. Mark permalink
    January 21, 2012 1:27 pm

    The list is great. I loved ‘Fear Strikes Out’, ‘the Stratton Story’ and ‘Pride of the Yankees’, and of course most of this list would rank on mine as well although I have not seen ‘The Sandlot’.
    One of my favorites and near my personal top is Billy Crystal’s nostalgic film, 61*.


    • January 21, 2012 5:14 pm

      It’s difficult to narrow it down to just 10 movies. Now you’ve got me thinking I should have had 61* on the list; I really like that movie, too. I was amazed at how much the actor Barry Pepper looked like Roger Maris. The movie did have one or two historical inaccuracies in it, but that’s why lots of movies say they are “based on” true stories rather than saying they are merely true stories.


  3. Mary permalink
    January 22, 2012 10:05 pm

    I think I’ve seen about half. Something to add to the tooo-do list!


    • January 22, 2012 11:18 pm

      I think most of these are available. May be difficult to find The Stratton Story.


  4. January 24, 2012 9:13 pm

    UPDATE (Jan. 24, 2012): Moneyball received six Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Sound mixing.


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