Baseball is my first love. In my post on How Baseball Saved a Young Boy, I described the importance the sport had in my early life. My love of Baseball is a lifelong affair, and transcends any other relationships in my life. Over the years I have watched more than my share of Baseball movies. In this post I am going to count down my top 5 personal favorites, with some explanation of why they are important to me.
This was not an easy list to make. There are an additional 5 to 10 movies that I had on my initial list, that could easily be someone’s top 5 favorites. For each of the ones that I chose, I will also tell you their significance to me, and why I consider them among my favorites.
5. Bang the Drum Slowly. This movie features a young Robert De Niro, and Michael Moriarty. Moriarty plays a star pitcher on a professional baseball team whose best friend in the game, De Niro, is dying. The film takes place during a season in which Moriarty demands that De Niro be his exclusive catcher for all games. The audience watches as De Niro’s character slides down toward his inevitable demise. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It is a story of a friendship between two men that is set within the testosterone-laden world of professional sports, but retains a tenderness and love that is unspoken, but so clearly stated.
I first saw this movie when I was in my teens. At the time I saw it as a baseball movie. When I have watched it as an adult I have come to see it as a movie about relationships. This movie pre-dates Taxi Driver by three years, and gives a brilliant early look into the career of Rober De Niro.
4. A League of Their Own. Of all the movies on my list, this one is the most quotable around my house. The historically-inspired story of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League features Geena Davis as the reluctant league star, Dottie Henson. I love this movie because of the historical references (many of which are fairly accurate), and because it is just a fun movie. Sure, there is drama and interesting relationships. But, at its heart, A League of Their Own is a fun, funny, quotable movie.
The biggest significance this movie has to me personally is how when it is on, and I am watching with my children, we all enjoy it together. It is a fun, family movie for all of us.
3. Field of Dreams. Among the movies on this list, in many ways it is the least about baseball. This one is all about redemption. From Ray Kinsella chasing the ghost of his father, to Terence Mann exorcising the self-created demons of his 1960s writing, this movie is about second chances. It is a completely fanciful, impossible story, told in a way that has you believing from the first whisper in the corn field, through the game of catch between the ghost of a father, and the adult son longing to make up for his youthful petulance.
This one tugs at my heart strings. My dad died when I was 6, before I ever put on a baseball glove for the first time. So, when Ray Kinsella and his dad play catch at the end of the movie, I see myself having a catch with my dad. For Ray is about redemption and a second chance. For me it is about the chance I never had.
2. Major League. My daughter asked me why this one wasn’t on the top of my list. After all, I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, rooting for the hapless Indians of the 1960s and 1970s. This one is presented as a comedy. It has unlikely heroes, stereotypic villains, and enough one liners and sight gags to keep the audience laughing throughout. It isn’t an acting masterpiece, and even the baseball scenes feel completely contrived (who uses their #2 starter late in the game of a one game playoff? Doesn’t this team have an actual bullpen?).
But it is precisely because of my childhood that this movie holds such a special place in my heart. Yes, when Harry Doyle screams “Oh My God the Indians Win!”, you can bet there are tears in my eyes. This movie came out in 1989, when the Tribe was still quite hapless. When the revival of baseball in Cleveland happened in middle of the 1990s, this movie was fresh in mind. I am a 51 year old man, and I will tell you that I was despondent when David Justice hit the home run in game 6 of the ’95 series; and I will never forgive Jose Mesa for 1997. But, after waiting all my life to get to those spots, they were still quite sweet, even in defeat.
1. The Natural. A masterpiece, plain and simple. Redford delivers a performance for the ages as Roy Hobbs. The story (based on real-life events), of a prodigy who is caught in the grasp of a murderous psychotic, Roy disappears from his family and friends as he works to bring himself back. A chance, unintended contract with The Knights, sets him on his heroic path. With his homemade bat, his boyish looks, and his Gary Cooper demeanor, he wins the hearts of fans. His prodigious hits turn him into a shooting star. As in Major League, this is a story about saving a franchise. On the back of Roy Hobbs, the Knights rise from the second division to the unlikely and heroic end of the season.
This is a movie that will always stop me in my tracks to watch. When I was a kid I loved to read about the history of baseball, and the early heroes. Because this movie is apparently set in the 1930s, it takes me back to those simpler times. Back to a time before the internet, or even network television. A time when most people got their baseball information from the newspapers, or a radio broadcast. That romantic, golden age of the game. When I watch the movie, I get lost in the era. I wonder what it would have been like to see the pioneers of the game, and to model my own playing by the tiny snippets of information from a tattered newspaper.
So those are my top 5 favorite baseball movies. Many great movies didn’t make the list, and some of my choices are bound to cause discussion. For me, if I am only allowed to ever watch 5 baseball movies in my life, these are the ones I will choose.