There has always been a special connection with baseball fans and baseball movies. They can bring out every emotion from tears to laughter. “Moneyball” came out in October 2011 after years of uncertainty of even being released. Brad Pitt portrays Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane as the team has lost star players Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi to free agency following the 2001 season. How can Beane replace two great players on such a small-market budget? Enter Jonah Hill’s character Peter Brand (the real-life Paul DePodesta) to show off a new way of analyzing how to score runs and get wins on a shoestring budget, creating Moneyball. Pitt grabbed a Best Actor nomination for his role and Hill nominated for Best Supporting Actor. “Moneyball” received 4 other nominations including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, and of course Best Picture. Where does “Moneyball” rank among the all-time great baseball movies? I’m sure everyone’s list is different, but these are my nominations for the Best Baseball Picture Oscar.
10) “Pride of the Yankees”-1942
I love that this movie actually has Babe Ruth in it. It chronicles Lou Gehrig’s career, leading up to the culmination of his “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech. It may be the saddest of the movies on this list, watching the crippling disease ALS take over the body of one of the greatest players of all-time. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won one. Gets some bonus chuckles for Gary Cooper batting right-handed in the movie, even though Gehrig was a lefty.
9) “Bull Durham”-1988
This is where I’m going to get in trouble. A lot of trouble. I don’t really like “Bull Durham” as much as everyone else. Which is surprising because 90% of the time when I have the choice I’ll choose the comedy over the dramatic film. Kevin Costner is great as minor league player Crash Davis, but they movie just doesn’t do it for me. The movie in general is well received and was named the #5 Best Sports (not just baseball movie) by the American Film Institute.
I’ve already gone to great length talking about the movie, but this seems like the right spot for it. I may feel differently in a decade after 50 more replays of it.
7) “Rookie of the Year”-1993
Please humor me. I’m not saying that “Rookie of the Year” is the 7th best baseball movie of all-time, it’s probably far from it. However, it’s the movie that hardly ever left 10 year-old Bryan’s VCR. Thomas Ian Nicholas plays Henry Rowengartner, a middle school afterthought who by a freak injury becomes the flamethrowing pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. Super bonus points for the only time the Cubs have won the World Series since 1908. Plus, if you’re a baseball fan from ages 21-35 and you have uttered the words “funky butt-loving” or “pitcher’s got a big butt” you haven’t lived. Don’t worry this one wasn’t nominated for anything.
The perfect movie for any baseball history lover. Ken Burns documentary that chronicles the evolution of baseball through 18.5! wonderful hours. Each film goes over a different era in baseball history from the origins of the game through 1993 and was sadly released during the 1994 baseball strike. The film gave baseball fans a much needed baseball fix during the absent 1994 playoffs. A new film was released in 2010 called “The Tenth Inning” which chronicled the game from 1994-2010. Plus the 9-part VHS tapes, looked so awesome sitting on the bookshelf in the family room growing up. “Baseball” won an Emmy for Best Informational Series.
5) “A League of Their Own”-1992
A movie that I don’t think gets enough respect over the years. Tom Hanks entering his acting prime, this movie came out right before “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”. This movie had entertaining performances from Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’ Donnell. The film tells the story of the short-lived All-American Girls Professional Baseball League through the team the Rockford Peaches, while MLB is shut down for World War II. The slew of storylines from player-manager, to husband-wife, to sister-sister weaves together wonderfully. The final scene is one of the few where you didn’t see it coming. Jimmy Dugan’s famous line “There’s no crying in baseball” is still uttered 20 years later.
4) “The Natural”-1984
When I first visited the Baseball Hall of Fame when I was an early teen, what the most exciting piece of baseball history for me? Not the plaques chronicling baseball greats, not the exhibits on the 500 HR club, 3000 hits, etc. it was the baseball movies exhibit. The piece that I still remember seeing this day? The Wonderboy bat and Robert Redford’s New York Knights jersey. I even debated buying a Knights jersey in Cooperstown before I left, before settling on a Brooklyn Dodgers one. The Roy Hobbs character was just so fun from striking out The Whammer to appearing as a 35 year-old rookie for the Knights completely knocking the cover off the ball. The climax is still one of the most memorable for not just a baseball film, but any movie. Imagine if a player like Hobbs came around today in the world of around the clock sports news and social media, it’d be Tebow and Lebron wrapped into one. The movie was nominated for four Oscars, sadly none of them for Redford’s role as Roy Hobbs.
3) “The Sandlot”-1993
From this list you can pretty much guess my baseball movie peak was from 1992-1994 (there’s even another one on the list coming). “The Sandlot” was what I was when I was nine, a kid who went out every day and wanted to play some baseball. I was very much like Smalls, not the best player, but a kid that grew to love the game. The only difference is I actually knew who The Great Bambino was. The characters were all fun from Benny, to Ham, to Squints (and Wendy Peffercorn), to Yeah-Yeah. The story with the beast was great and was the quintessential baseball family movie.
2) “Major League” AND “Major League 2”-1989 and 1994
Please don’t throw things at me for what I’m about to say. I like “Major League 2” more than the original. “Major League” is a great movie in its own right, but the young teenage silliness in me enjoyed the more ridiculous “Major League 2”. The movie shows the lovable loser Cleveland Indians as they turn from a ragtag group of nobodies into a bonafide contenders. Find another baseball movie that has fans of the team actually wearing the jerseys from the movie rather that the teams own players. You know you own a Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn #99 jersey Indians fans, don’t try to deny it. But why do I prefer #2? Except for the slight downgrade from Wesley Snipes to Omar Epps as Willie “Mays” Hayes, the entire cast is back, plus the hilarious editions of Rube Baker and Isuro Tanaka, just make the rare preference for the sequel. I still ask people if they “have no marbles”, but I don’t quote anything from the original.
1) “Field of Dreams”-1989
1989 was a great year for baseball cinema, with arguably the best baseball drama and comedy being released in the same year. “Field of Dreams” is based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice telling him “if you build it, he will come” Kinsella turns his crops into a homegrown baseball field in the middle of nowhere, while the ghosts of baseball greats like Shoeless Joe Jackson appear to play the game they loved while they were alive. The fantasy story continues as Kinsella travels to find Terence Mann (the always entertaining James Earl Jones) and “Moonlight” Graham. The ending where people will always come for the game of baseball, helps show why it is America’s pasttime. It’s one of the few movies that any time it is on TV, the channel doesn’t get changed.
61*, The Bad News Bears, Eight Men Out, Cobb, The Rookie, Catching Hell, Bang the Drum Slowly, For Love of the Game, Angels in the Outfield and Little Big League
There you have it. My personal Best Baseball Picture Oscar nominations. This no doubt is always one of the most controversial baseball topics. What’s on your list? Feel free to pick apart mine, there should be no one that completely agrees with me.
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)