Filling the emptiness with baseball movies


Sporting News

In a simpler time (which seems like eons ago), Padres fans looked forward to March 26 at 1:10 p.m. with heightened enthusiasm.  This season promised so much more than the team had delivered in at least a decade.  The offseason, which always crawls by, had almost come to an end when the bottom dropped out.

On March 12, Major League Baseball suspended spring training as well as the beginning of the 2020 season.  At this point, unknowns abound and affect far more than sports but all aspects of our lives.

Although a poor substitute, baseball movies can help fill that void.  In the great minds think alike category, Will Leitch of recently posted an article on the “25 of the best baseball movies ever.”

  1. “Bull Durham” (1988)
  2. “A League of the Own” (1992)
  3. “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942)
  4. “Field of Dreams” (1989)
  5. “Eight Men Out” (1988)
  6. “Moneyball” (2011)
  7. “The Natural” (1984)
  8. “The Sandlot” (1993)
  9. “Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016)
  10. “Major League” (1989)
  11. “The Bad News Bears” (1976)
  12. “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973)
  13. “The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars” (1976)
  14. “The Rookie” (2002)
  15. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949)
  16. “Damn Yankees” (1958)
  17. “Sugar” (2008)
  18. “Fear Strikes Out” (1957)
  19. “42” (2013)
  20. “Rookie of the Year” (2013)
  21. “3000” (2004)
  22. “Angels in the Outfield” (1994)
  23. “61*” (2001)
  24. “Cobb” (1994)
  25. “For Love of the Game” (1999)

Baseball may predate movies, but cinema has captured the sport in a variety of ways from the actual play on the field to the human stories, from comedy to pathos, from glory to heartbreak. My choice for March 26 at 1:10 p.m. will be “Bull Durham,” #1 on Leitch’s list as well.  Director Ron Shelton’s dialogue surpasses all other baseball movies combined.

Kevin Costner (Crash Davis), Susan Sarandon (Annie Savoy) and Tim Robbins (Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh) star in the 1988 classic.  The movie opens with Annie’s monologue, “I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones… You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never borin’ – which makes it like sex.”

Costner plays a catcher on his way down and out of baseball, who helps lead the young fireballer Nuke through a season and on to the majors.  He also starred in “Field of Dreams” and “For Love of the Game,” and he’s not out of his depth as he played the game in high school and at Cal State Fullerton.  Costner has an athletic ability, which can’t be said of all the actors who have played ballplayers.

Credit: Esquire

The year after “Bull Durham,” Costner played Ray Kinsella in the movie adaptation of W.P. Kinsella’s novel about Shoeless Joe Jackson called “Field of Dreams” (which ranks fourth on Leitch’s list).  Guided by a mysterious voice saying, “If you build it, they will come,” Kinsella faces seemingly insurmountable odds to say nothing of ridicule to build a baseball diamond in his field.  But he builds it, and they do come.  James Earl Jones’ presence and resonate tone enhances the experience.

Coming in second on Leitch’s list, “A League of Their Own” (1992) takes its storyline from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  Phillip K. Wrigley founded the league in 1943 to keep the sport going as most men marched off to war.  Penny Marshall directed the film, which starred Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell.  Hanks manages the team and uttered that memorable phrase, “there’s no crying in baseball.” By 1953, men had returned from the war, and the women, who certainly demonstrated their ability to play, went back to the softball fields.

Highlights of other movies include Babe Ruth playing none other than the Babe in “The Pride of the Yankees”, the dramatization of the integration of baseball in “42”, the majestic home run in “The Natural”, Charley Sheen playing Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in “Major League”, the foundation for statistical analysis in “Moneyball”, kids classics like “Bad News Bears” and “The Sandlot”, a tale of a Dominican player trying to adjust in a new country in “Sugar”, the retelling of the story of the Black Sox scandal in “Eight Men Out.”

From weepies to comedies, historically accurate to pure fantasy, baseball fans can take a break from the fear and monotony of our times and immerse themselves in these and other movies.  The game has almost always been there for us through personal, local, and national crises.  With no ball at all, we find there is crying in baseball after all.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.

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