Great Baseball Movies for the Baseball Fan!
For players and fans, something “magical” happens on and off the field during baseball season. Grab a hot dog (with stadium mustard, of course!) a bag of peanuts, some popcorn, and a bottle of pop before you settle down to watch these fictional flicks!
Comedy and Drama
The Busher (1919) starring Charles Ray. A silent film, The Busher features fictional pitcher Ben Harding who plays for the Brownsville baseball team. When a train (carrying a professional team) is delayed in Brownsville, Harding and his teammates play a recreational game against the St. Paul Pink Sox. The Pink Sox manager is impressed with Harding and hires him to play for the pro team. When success goes to his head, Harding is at risk of losing everything. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures).
It Happens Every Spring (1949) starring Ray Milland. The unexpected result of a scientific experiment leads college professor Vernon Simpson (“King” Kelly) to develop a substance that repels wood. Simpson takes his discovery to the baseball field. (Distributed by 20th Century Fox).
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) starring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. Set in 1908, the “Wolves” baseball team and two of its players -- who both just happen to be part-time entertainers -- are under new ownership by a (gasp!) woman. Dennis Ryan (Sinatra) falls for K.C. Higgins (Williams), and then so does Eddie O’Brien (Kelly). The trio mixes up with gangsters, gamblers and thugs. (Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).
The Kid from Cleveland (1949) starring George Brent and Russ Tamblyn. Teenager Johnny Barrows (Tamblyn) is a big Cleveland Indians fan who has problems at home and a history of juvenile delinquency. He sneaks into the ballpark to watch the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 World Series and makes friends with the team and broadcaster Mike Jackson (Brent). This film features clips of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and the city's League Park, as well as many of the 1948 championship team Cleveland Indians and then-owner Bill Veeck. (Distributed by Republic Pictures).
Baseball Movies of the 1950s
Kill the Umpire (1950) starring William Bendix. Even though he “hates” umpires, an ex-baseball player, after having failed at many tries for post-career employment, enters an umpire-training school. When, during an important game, Bill “Two-Call” Johnson calls a player out at the plate, the home crowd turns against him and a near-riot follows. (Distributed by Columbia Pictures).
Rhubarb the Millionaire Cat (1951) starring Ray Milland. An eccentric millionaire adopts a stray cat that later inherits a fortune -- and a professional baseball team. The ballplayers don’t really like being owned by a feline but the team’s publicist “goes to bat for the cat.” Also starring Jan Sterling and William Frawley. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures and Legend Films).
Angels in the Outfield (1951) starring Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh. A reporter blames the manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ losing streak. The manager then hears an angel’s voice, telling him that if he changes his abusive ways, the team will start winning. (Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Angels in the Outfield, starring Danny Glover and Brenda Fricker, was remade for release in 1994. This version features the California Angels (instead of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and changes elements of the original movie plot. (Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures).
More Baseball Films of the 1950s
The Kid from Left field (1953) starring Dan Dailey and Anne Bancroft. A former baseball player -- later working as a peanut vendor for a struggling team -- gets fired when he smuggles his son into the ballpark once too often. The son, Christie, makes friends with the former club owner’s niece and then gets his father’s job back. He also secures a batboy position. The club, as a publicity stunt, names Christie as the youngest manager on record. But when Christie gets sick, his dad steps into a baseball uniform once again. (Distributed by 20th Century Fox).
Big Leaguer (1953) starring Edward G. Robinson. As training camp manager for the New York Giants, John Lobert assesses the baseball talents of young players. When Lobert’s niece visits from the home office, she becomes attracted to one of the players competing for a coveted minor league contract. (Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).
Whatever Lola Wants ...
Damn Yankees (1959) starring Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.Originally a Broadway musical adapted from the 1954 book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop, Damn Yankees is a musical film about a middle-aged man whose favorite baseball team is the ever-struggling Washington Senators.
Amidst the frustration of seeing his team lose again, Joe Boyd (Hunter) declares aloud that he’d “sell his soul to the devil” to see his team beat the News York Yankees. The Devil appears in disguise at Joe’s door -- as the smooth-talking Mr. Applegate (Walston) -- and says he can turn Joe Boyd into Joe Hardy, a young baseball superstar who can help the Senators win. Joe negotiates the deal and a promise that the transformation is only temporary and if he wants, he can revert back to his “old” self before the season is over and thus, keep his soul. Things get complicated, though, when The Devil brings in temptress Lola to win Joe’s heart.
(Distributed by Warner Bros). Damn Yankees was released again in 1967 as a TV movie starring Phil Silvers as Mr. Applegate, Lee Remick as Lola and Jerry Lanning as Joe /Hardy.
Safe at Home! (1962) starring Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. A young boy claims his dad knows Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris but his unbelieving Little League teammates want proof. When the youngster heads to the Yankee’s spring training camp, he gets a lecture about being honest and has to return to the team with the truth. But the Yankees don’t let him down. (Distributed by Columbia Pictures).
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) starring Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty. Henry Wiggen (Moriarty) is a star pitcher on the Major League New York Mammoths baseball team. Henry negotiates a new “package deal” contract specifying that awkward, slow-minded catcher Bruce Pearson (De Niro) cannot be traded or sent down to the minor leagues without him. The team doesn’t know that Bruce is terminally ill. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures).
The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars & Motor Kings (1976) starring Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor. Set in the 1930s when baseball was still segregated, star pitcher Bingo Long (Williams) recruits Negro League players for a barnstorming team that eventually becomes so entertaining and successful, it cuts into the professional league’s attendance and revenue. Bingo’s team, including catcher Leon Carter (Jones) and outfielder Charlie Snow (Pryor) then take on the Negro League’s all-stars in a “winner take all” matchup. (Distributed by Universal Pictures).
Bears and Tigers!
The Bad News Bears (1976) starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. Former minor league player and current alcoholic Morris Buttermaker is recruited by the city to coach an expansion Little League team primarily made up of athletically-challenged and other “misfit” children. The team is awful but when Buttermaker adds a couple of talented players to the lineup, the kids, playing with more confidence and drive, become competitive. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures).
The first sequel, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, was released in 1977 followed by The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978. In 2005, Paramount released a re-make; Bad News Bears starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Tiger Town (1983) starring Roy Scheider. Alex (Justin Henry) attends Detroit Tiger baseball games with his father. They love their favorite player, even though aging slugger Billy Young (Scheider) is having a poor season. Alex closes his eyes and makes a wish that Young will hit a home run when he’s batting. When the “magic” happens, especially after Alex’s dad dies unexpectedly, the boy believes that he must attend all of the Tigers’ (home) games or the team will lose. The story was mostly filmed in the original Tiger Stadium (opened in 1912, closed in 1999) and city of Detroit.
Tiger Town features cameo appearances by then-Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, team radio announcer Ernie Harwell and former Supremes singer Mary Wilson, who sang the national anthem for the final game. (Made for television for the Disney Channel).
The Natural (1984) starring Robert Redford. As a boy, Roy Hobbs carves a wooden baseball bat from a tree that had been hit by lightning. In 1923, as a 19 year-old phenom on his way to a tryout for a big league team, Roy is seduced by a woman who shoots him and then jumps out of a hotel window. The woman is later determined to have murdered two other promising young athletes. Roy survives but is never the same.
Fast-forward to 1939 when Roy, as a 35-year-old, signs as a “middle-aged rookie” with the New York Knights, much to the chagrin of the Knight’s manager. Having never fully healed from the gunshot wound and the betrayal, Roy keeps quiet about his background as he leads the Knights to the pennant race. But Roy again fights for his life, career and dignity when questions, rumors and secrets are asked, intimated and revealed. (Distributed by TriStar Pictures).
The Slugger’s Wife (1985) starring Michael O’Keefe and Rebecca De Mornay. A baseball player, enjoying his career and bachelorhood as he chases the seasonal home run record, falls in love and marries a professional singer. Because Darryl Palmer (O’Keefe) thinks of Debby as his “good luck charm” who inspires each home run, he wants her to attend all of his games. Debby, who was never ready to give up her own career aspirations, isn’t happy to be just a “slugger’s wife.” (Distributed by Columbia Pictures).
A Winner Never Quits (1986) starring Keith Carradine. This made-for television movie is based on the story of a young boy who loses his arm in an accident but still plays baseball. In “real life,” Pete Gray (March 6, 1915-June 30, 2002), after playing for several minor league teams, was an outfielder for the St. Louis Browns from April to September of 1945. He appeared in 77 games. Gray (originally born Peter Wyshner of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania and who lost most of his right arm in a truck accident) learned to bat and field one-handed. In the movie (also starring Mare Winningham), Pete meets a young handicapped fan who helps him to realize that he can be an inspiration to other people. (Produced by Columbia Tri-Star).
Eight Men Out (1988) starring John Cusack. Based on the true story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Eight players, in order to score a payoff from gamblers, were accused of deliberately playing badly so they could lose World Series games against the Cincinnati Reds. Although several players said they wanted nothing to do with a “fix” and denied participating in the cover-up, those accused were: Pitchers Eddie Cicote and Claude “Lefty” Williams; outfielders Oscar “Happy” Felsch and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson; and infielders Chick Gandill, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg and George “Buck” Weaver (played by Cusack). Although the players were acquitted of the charges in court, they were banned for life from playing professional baseball. (Distributed by Orion Pictures).
Bull Durham (1988) starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. A well-respected minor league catcher nearing the end of his career (“Crash” Davis played by Costner) is signed by the Durham Bulls to mentor a young, talented but wild phenom pitcher (Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Robbins). Both men are invited home by Annie Savoy (Sarandon) -- an attractive “older woman” type of baseball groupie -- for her own little “spring training.” Annie, whose failed attempts at religion led her to “the Church of Baseball,” chooses one player per season to become her lover; “there's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career.” She gives young ballplayers baseball tips and “a certain amount of life wisdom” (‘funny, that’s my job too,’ notes Crash) while they make her feel “safe and pretty.”
Annie is attracted to Crash (who is nearer to her own age) but she chooses Nuke (so nicknamed because Ebby Calvin is a regular “nuclear meltdown”). Recognizing the chemistry between them, Crash offers his affections to Annie -- “so, is this going to happen, you and me?” -- but she turns him down; “despite my rejection of most Judeo-Christian ethics, I am, within the framework of the baseball season, monogamous.” As the season progresses, Crash, Nuke and Annie each find their own endings and new beginnings. “You could look it up.” (Distributed by Orion Pictures).
Reflections, Comebacks and Dreams
Stealing Home (1988) starring Mark Harmon and Jodie Foster. Former high school star and minor league ballplayer Billy Wyatt receives a phone call telling him about the death of his first love, Katie Chandler. Billy, now in his 30s, has been asked to dispose of Katie’s ashes -- he struggles to determine the best way to honor her life. After a painful trip down Memory Lane, Billy is able to put some demons to rest and return to his baseball career. (Distributed by Warner Bros.).
Major League (1989) starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernson, Margaret Whitton and Bob Uecker. Prior to the 1995 season, the (real) Cleveland Indians hadn’t won a Major League pennant since 1954. In this fictional story (the movie was released several years before that magical 1995 season), a former Las Vegas showgirl (Whitton) inherits the team upon her rich husband’s death. In order to relocate the Indians to Miami (where they’ve offered to build the team a new stadium, plus a few perks for the ownership), Rachel Phelps wants attendance at games to fall low enough for her to cancel the team’s lease with the city of Cleveland.
When the Indians -- deliberately put together of “has-been,” “might-be” and “never-was” players -- finds out the real game here, the team finds a way to fight back. Also featuring Rene Russo, James Gammon and Wesley Snipes. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures). The film spawned two sequels: Major League II (1994) and Major League: Back to the Minors (1998). (Distributed by Warner Bros.).
Field of Dreams (1989) starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan and James Earl Jones. Also Featuring Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster. An Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella (Costner), hears voices in his corn crops, telling him to build a baseball field. “If you build it, they will come,” whispers the voice. At the risk of his financial future, Ray plows under the corn, builds the field and waits for … something. Nothing happens. The following year, when faced with the reality of losing his farm, Ray is ready to plant crops on the land again … until the magic happens and “they come.” (Distributed by Universal Pictures).
Baseball Movies of the 1990s
Pastime (1990) starring William Dean Russ and Glenn Plummer. In this feature film set in 1957, an aging minor league pitcher (Russ) who gets little respect from his team or management is paired with a hot but very young fireball pitcher (Plummer). The two players find more in common than just baseball. The film features cameos by baseball greats Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, Ernie Banks and Bill Mazeroski. (Distributed in part by Miramax Films and J & M Entertainment).
Talent for the Game (1991) starring Edward James Olmos. Virgil Sweet, a pro talent scout for the California club, is on the verge of losing his job when he discovers a young fellow with a great pitching arm. Sammy Bodeen (Jeff Corbett) has never pitched in a pro game and he’s not interested in hoopla; he just wants to play ball. When the club management sees dollar signs, Virgil gets caught in the middle. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures).
Ladies and Gentlemen ... and Boys ...
A League of Their Own (1992) starring Gena Davis, Lori Petty and Tom Hanks. Also featuring Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. In this fictionalized account of the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), athletic (but mostly attractive) women hold professional baseball together during World War II. “There’s no crying in baseball,” proclaims Coach Jimmy Dugan (Hanks) as he berates a player for a shoddy performance. A League of Their Own is preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” (Distributed by Columbia Pictures).
Mr. Baseball (1992) starring Tom Selleck. Aging ballplayer Jack Elliot’s contract is deemed “for sale” by the Yankees when they acquired a rookie first baseman to fill their lineup. The only interest in Jack’s contract was from a team in Japan. Egos, attitudes and cultural differences clash between Jack and his Japanese teammates, while causing career damage to Jack and the team’s manager. When Jack falls in love with the angelic Hiroko, he learns that Hiroko’s father, Uchiyama, is the manager of the Nagoya Chunichi Dragons. When Uchiyama admits that his job is in jeopardy because he pushed the team’s “Front Office” to hire Jack (instead of a popular Boston Red Sox player), Jack works within himself to become a team player. (Distributed by Universal Pictures).
The Sandlot (1993) starring Tom Guiry. Set in 1962, the new kid in town hooks up with some neighborhood boys to play baseball on a sandlot field. Starting out slowly and awkwardly, Scotty Smalls makes friends with the best player in the group and learns what it’s like to be part of the team, even if it gets him into trouble. The film takes the boys over the next 30 years as they all go their separate ways. But they’ll always have one thing in common … baseball. (Distributed by 20th Century Fox).
Rookie of the Year (1993 starring Thomas Ian Nicholas and Gary Busey. A Littler League ballplayer, 12-year-old Henry Rowengartner, dreams of playing in the big leagues someday. When Henry injures his throwing arm, doctors wrap it in a cast but when the cast is removed, Henry’s arm works like a catapult -- allowing him to cock backward and rapidly launch a ball a great distance. While watching a game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Henry throws the visiting team’s home run ball back onto the field with such force that the home team’s general manager wants the kid to join the club. (Distributed by 20th Century Fox).
For Love of the Game (1999) starring Kevin Costner. When 40-year-old Billy Chapel pitches in what may be the final game of his career, he thinks about his past 19 seasons as a ballplayer, as well as the end of his five-year relationship with Jane (who’s getting ready to leave for London take a new job). The realization that several of life’s doors are closing keeps Billy from noticing that he’s pitching a perfect game. (Distributed by Universal Studios).
Baseball Movies in the 2000s
The Rookie (2002) starring Dennis Quaid. This fictional account depicts the true story of a Texas high school teacher and baseball coach who can still throw a mean fastball. 35-year-old Jim Morris agrees to try out for the major leagues if his otherwise unmotivated team can win the state championship. (Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures).
Mickey (2004) starring Harry Connick Jr. and Shawn Salinas. After assuming new identities to dodge an Internal Revenue Service investigation, a widowed father allows his son to play one more year of Little League Baseball, even though the boy is actually older than his teammates. The boy’s advanced skills attract the attention of the media; putting his father’s attempts at hiding from the law in jeopardy. (Distributed by Mickey Productions and Anchor Bay Entertainment).
The Perfect Game (2009) starring Clifton Collins Jr. Based on the true story of an Industrial Little League baseball team in Monterrey, Mexico that defeated the United States in the 1957 Little League World Series. (Distributed by Image Entertainment).
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Teri Silver