By Jon Gallagher
Well, Ed Garea has been after me for months now to write about my five favorite baseball movies. I don’t know why I’ve put it off; maybe it was because it was so hard to choose just five. Maybe it’s because I was waiting to see if 42 made the list after seeing it. Maybe it’s because I was lazy.
Time to rectify that now. The order of these movies might change somewhat, depending on the mood I’m in. There were several I considered, so let’s mention them first and hang an honorable mention tag on them.
The Bad News Bears (the original with Walter Matthau, and Tatum O’Neal), A League of their Own (which reminded us that there’s no crying in baseball), Mr. Baseball (with Tom Seleck), 61 (the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record), and The Winning Team (with Ronald Reagan). One of these days I’ll do a review on The Winning Team since I doubt that even 1% of our readers have ever heard of it, let alone seen it (it covers the life of Grover Cleveland Alexander, who got his professional start in my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois).
With no further ado, here’s the top five:
5) Eight Men Out – Based on the true story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball, this movie features a spectacular cast. It seems to be pretty accurate as it recounts the underpaid White Sox players, eight of them, who agree to throw the World Series for cash. Two of the eight, Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson, have second thoughts, but after word leaks out, they’re lumped in with the others and all end up with lifetime bans from the game.
4) The Rookie – Whadda ya know … Another true story. This one is the story of Jimmy Morris, a high school baseball coach who gave up his chance to play baseball long ago due to injuries and family obligations. Now, at 39, he promises his high schoolers that if they win a championship, he’ll go to a tryout. Scouts are impressed with his 98 MPH fastball and sign him to a contract. He toils in the minors while his wife and three kids struggle at home. Finally, he’s called up to The Show and makes his debut in Arlington Texas, not far from where he coached. It’s a “feel-good” movie, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, skip it.
3) For the Love of the Game – Billy Chapel is on the mound, contemplating several things. The new owners of the Tigers want to trade him, but he knows his career is at an end. His lover is leaving him to take a new job in London. This could be the last game he ever pitches. Oh yeah, and through eight innings, he hasn’t allowed a single baserunner. He’s on track to pitch a perfect game in the twilight of his career. If you don’t like baseball movies, there’s enough going on off the field, done in flashbacks and his lover’s point of view, to keep you interested. And if you don’t like love stories, there’s enough baseball to keep you watching. But if you don’t like either, why the heck are you continuing to read? If you like both, you may move this one up on the list.
2) 42 – Yeah, it’s brand new, and it’s fresh in my mind, but it’s also a very powerful movie that tells what might be the most important baseball story of all time. It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson came to be the man who broke baseball’s color barrier and the implications that went with it. I won’t say more; you can read my review here.
1) Major League – Not only is it my favorite baseball movie, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies period. The new owner of the Cleveland Indians want to move the team, which hasn’t had a winning season since the 1950s, but in order to break their lease on the stadium, they have to have a very low attendance. She puts together a mishmash of cartoonish characters with has-beens and never-will-bes, to form a team that steals our hearts from the beginning. It’s the Bad News Bears make the Major Leagues. An unbelievable cast including a young Charlie Sheen, a younger Wesley Snipes, and the Allstate Voice Guy, along with some major league stars and Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker, combine to deliver a fun-filled romp over the bases, and some dialogue that is still quoted regularly (“Juuuusssst a bit outside…”).
It’s an eclectic list with some cheesy films paired with others that may bring home some hardware and little gold statues someday. They all have two things in common, however: they’re about baseball, and they’re highly entertaining.