Baseball BeatAugust 13, 2003
Passing the Time...
By Rich Lederer

In between weekend posts, I would like to refer readers to some of the other great baseball blogs and sports websites out there. There are numerous well-known and well-written blogs that should become a part of your daily reads. There are also a handful of sites that may be under the radar screen but should be worthy of your attention.

My son, Joe Lederer, and his best friend, John Kumpart, are the co-authors of Soapbox Sports, a fun and sometimes irreverent look at the world of sports. If you like editorials, opinions, point/counterpoint discussions, and top ten lists, then this website is right up your alley. Speaking of the latter, Joe and John have ranked their top ten sports movies of all time. Check these lists out and tell them what you think.

In the meantime, here are my top ten BASEBALL movies of all time:

1. Field of Dreams (1989). An adaptation of W.P. Kinsella's fantasy novel, Shoeless Joe. Starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster. "If you build it, he will come." It's not so much a baseball movie as it is a story about pursuing your dreams, no matter the cost--literally and figuratively. "The one constant through all the years has been baseball...It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again." Poignant scene of son (Costner) and father (Dwier Brown) playing a game of catch at the end. One of the few movies that gets better with each viewing.

2. The Pride of the Yankees (1942). The Lou Gehrig Story. Starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, and Walter Brennan. Cameo roles by Babe Ruth, Joe McCarthy, Bill Dickey, Bob Muesel, and Mark Koenig. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and Wright for Best Actress. "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for." A must own DVD for any Gehrig fan or sentimental baseball enthusiast.

3. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Baseball's version of "Brian's Song". Starring Michael Moriarty and Robert DeNiro. OK, I'm a sucker for tear jerkers. Moriarty plays the star pitcher, Henry Wiggen, and DeNiro (in his first starring role) plays the simple-minded rookie catcher, Bruce Pearson, stricken with Hodgkin's Disease. "Everybody would be nice to you if they knew you were dying." A pre-cursor to the great baseball movies of the 1980s and 1990s.

4. Bull Durham (1988). Starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Written and directed by Ron Shelton, who spent five years in the minor leagues. An accurate look at the game, both on and off the field. Minor league journeyman catcher Crash Davis (Costner) tutors the hard-living and hard-throwing Nuke LaLoosh (Robbins), while attempting to court groupie Annie Savoy (Sarandon). "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." Fun and entertaining.

5. Eight Men Out (1988). Based on Eliot Asinof's book by the same name. The story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Great cast including John Cusack and Charlie Sheen. Writer and director John Sayles does a masterful job of recreating the period, bringing the complexity of the gambling conspiracy to the screen, and playing a cameo role as baseball writer Ring Lardner. "Say it isn't so, Joe! Say it isn't so!" A good two-hour investment, if for no other reason than to learn more about the game's storied past.

6. The Natural (1984). Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud. An all-star lineup of actors and actresses, including Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, and Barbara Hershey. Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, the quintessential baseball hero. The game-winning HR off the scoreboard clock is probably one of the most memorable baseball film moments. "God, I just love baseball." Generally overrated but an enjoyable fable nonetheless.

7. A League of Their Own (1992). Based on the Women's Professional Baseball League in the 1940s. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, and Jon Lovitz. Hanks and Davis star as the drunken manager Jimmy Dugan and star catcher Dottie Henson, respectively. Movie brought attention to a nearly forgotten part of baseball history. "There's no cryin' in baseball" has become part of the game's vernacular.

8. The Sandlot (1993). Tale of a kids' pickup team in the 1960s. James Earl Jones heads a cast of unknowns. One of the least known and underrated baseball movies ever. "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Follow your heart, kid, and you'll never go wrong." Brings back fond memories of simpler times when my neighborhood friends and I played baseball and games like Over-The-Line, Home Run Derby, and Whiffleball. Fun for the whole family.

9. 61* (2001). Docudrama by Director Billy Crystal about the 1961 home run battle between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Starring Barry Pepper as Maris and Thomas Jane as The Mick. Pepper and Jane are perfectly cast in their roles with the former looking eerily like his character. Although pitted against one another in the newspapers, Maris' and Mantle's friendship is at the heart of the film. Great technical advice from former ballplayers adds reality. Insightful from a "behind the scenes" vantage point. Straightforward without a lot of the fluff that generally finds its way into such movies.

10. Bad News Bears (1976). Baseball comedy about Little League baseball. Starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal. The story line is simple: the coach is waiting for his next beer; the pitcher is waiting for her first bra; and the team is waiting for a miracle. Matthau, O'Neal, and all the foul-mouthed misfits are superb in their roles. "Hell no, Coach. I want to play ball." Big hit with kids in its day. Avoid the sequels, which are not even of replacement level caliber.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Safe At Home (1962). It was the first baseball movie I remember seeing. I haven't watched it since I was a kid but am reluctant to do so again because my sense is that I would be disappointed the second time around. The M&M Boys (Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris) star as themselves with cameos by Whitey Ford and Ralph Houk.