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My List of All Time Greatest Baseball Movies
The Spring Season is close, and with it comes Baseball. You'll notice I've written a couple of hubs on Baseball lately. To me baseball is the best sport out there, and it is still populated by what passes as gentlemen in the sporting world. Basketball is full of inner-city thugs; football is full of over-stimulated amped up walking muscles; and soccer is...... well soccer. A bunch of people running helter skelter across a field recently cleared of cow patties kicking a ball back and forth with no apparent ability to decide what they want to do: continue running and kicking or tear their shirts off once they kick the ball past a person standing in front of a net. Hockey is frozen soccer (minus the shirt tearing except in times of a fight), and golf and bowling are for more dignified audiences. But baseball is beyond each of these, and the movies made about it represent the bottom and the uppermost limits of what humans can accomplish. So without further ado, here are some of my favorites movies.
If I am going to start this off right, I'd better do it with what may be the funniest, closest to the real thing, all time best baseball movie ever made about minor league baseball. Bull Durham. Written by writer/director Ron Shelton and based on his own minor league experiences, it is well worth a watch.
Oh, and the quotes are fantastic.
"Baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball."
"...long slow deep wet kisses that last three days." Wait a minute; what does that have to do with baseball???
And the scenes that get you laughing: the "rainout" scene; Tim Robbins in the garter belt; the meeting on the mound to discuss wedding gifts all are priceless. The times the players are talking to themselves on the field are just what you expect them to be, and are priceless.
If you watch this movie and don't get a chuckle out of it I don't know what will get you to smile. Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and a fabulous supporting cast including that master of baseball comedy actions, the Clown Prince of Baseball Max Patkin make this classic worth anybody's time. It gives you an insight to the wonderful world of minor league baseball and its quirky, fun, enjoyable game.
While we're on Kevin Costner movies, I might as well include what I think is his best sports movie, For Love of the Game. This time, rather than being a minor league catcher, he is the end of his career major league pitcher about to be traded. The film is a hard look at the life of a major league baseball pitcher including the intensity, loneliness, and business end of what baseball has become. Full of flashbacks and thoughts, this movie is a true baseball fan's delight. What we see on the outside may not be what is happening beneath the surface. Costner's integrity at the end signals an end for his career, but a beginning to his life.
There are few laughs to be found here; rather there are any number of heartbreaks. There is a romance, futility, fear, honor, and great love in this movie to be enjoyed. The reality of the game asserts itself here, showing that what we view as a game has become a big business full of greed and people who are in it for the money alone. We the fans want nothing more than the experience, while those behind the scenes need that return on their money and will sell their soul to get that return.
The writing is superb, and the acting is outstanding. Kelly Preston as Cosner's love interest is great; Costner as the seasoned veteran is perfect. John C. Reilly as Costner's catcher is solid, and Brian Cox as the team owner is right in line with what the old school owners were; those who were invested in their players.
I think my favorite part of the movie is when Costner gets ready to pitch, he focuses and says "Clear the mechanism". It is his way, as a pitcher, to clear his head and focus on the job at hand. I especially like the end, when this fails and he is forced to work without his fail-safe. This is what separates him from the also ran pitchers.
This was a book written prior to the movie by Michael Sharra, and the fact that the movie features the incomparable Vin Scully calling the game just adds to its luster.
As a side note, Costner threw some 400 to 500 pitches a day during the filming of the movie, more than most Major League pitchers throw in a day. He worked his fanny off to make this the best movie he could about baseball. He succeeded.
For Love of the Game
Field of Dreams is another of Costner's great films about sports. Seems he does those well, doesn't it? While he is not a player this time around, he represents what most of us wish we could be or do: follow our dreams. A mysterious whisper sounds in his ear and leads him to build a baseball park out of his cornfield. The voice shows itself as Shoeless Joe Jackson, come back from the dead. When asked at one point if this is Heaven, Costner responds "No, this is Iowa." Simple, but oh so telling.
Featuring cinema greats James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster in what would be his final role, the movie is not for those who demand something to happen constantly. But that is what a baseball purist is: someone who waits patiently for long periods of time, knowing sometime something great will happen. We wait, and something great does indeed occur.
What finally completes the movie is the fact that the voice was not speaking of Shoeless Joe, but of Costner's father. He was a minor league catcher until he becomes a father and is forced to give up this dream. When Costner and his father meet on the field to "have a catch", the moment is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
The film is based on W.P. Kinsella's wonderful novel "Shoeless Joe" and is a good read should you care to pursue it.
Field of Dreams
The Natural, starring Robert Redford is one of those magical moment movies. The climatic finish is one of those Hollywood things you hate and love at the same time. Is it too much? Or is it just right?
I recently read an article about Stan the Man Musial in which a reference is made to the movie The Natural. In a game many years ago, Stan ripped a shot down the right field line for a double. A run scored, and Stan stood smiling on second. Nobody realised that the First Base Umpire had called the bal foul. When they did, and uproar occurred. Teammates stormed out of the dugout, and an altercation took place. Stan quietly went over to the umpire to ask what he had seen, and said "So, it didn't count?" When the ump nodded, Stan took his place back in the batter's box, and on the next pitch stroked the ball down the line for a double. This time, it was fair. The writer referenced it as one of the Natural moments in baseball; something almost beyond the realm of fact and bordering on the unbelievable.
Taken from the novel by the same name written by Bernard Malamud, it takes you back to the glory days of baseball, when anyone who wanted to had a chance to play the game.
Redford is one of those actors that can be anything, anytime. Here one might think he might be too old to be a baseball player, especially for the time. But he is perfect. His swing and throwing motion are perfect. His timing is perfect.
Again, we get to peek behind the curtains of Baseball, into the seedy side of what it can be. But our Knight rises above it all, intent on accomplishing his goal: to be the best there ever was. Does he achieve this? Only you can decide.
The film features some great actors like Wilford Brimley, Joe Don Baker, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Darin McGavin, Robert Prosky, Robert Duvall and Kim Basinger, but Redford is the star here, with everyone else simply supporting him.
Eight Men Out is a movie that features the notorious Black Sox team on 1919. They were the best team to ever take the field, and were expected to have a cakewalk through the World Series that year. But their skinflint of an owner, Charles Comisky played brilliantly by Clifton James was so "frugal" with his money to his players that they turned on him, and chose to throw the Series rather than to give him the World Series title. If you are that hated by your players as to throw the Series, you are the most hated man in town.
The movie is based on the book of the same name which was written by Ring Lardner, a sports writer of the time. He assisted in determining what happened and who was involved. And while Comisky did not want others knowing his dirty laundry, that is that his players threw the series, Baseball hired the first Commissioner of Baseball, Tennessee Mountain Landis, to preside over a hearing.
The players were found not guilty in the eyes of the court, but banned for life by Landis from ever playing organized baseball again. Even Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played brilliantly in the series, was banned.
Starring John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney, Christopher Lloyd, and Charlie Sheen, the players look the part and act the part, and although this is one of those films that shows the dirty side of old time baseball, one cannot help but feel for the players, in the days before they had the control of their lives. One played for who paid you, or one did not play. Simple as that. I cannot say that if I was in their shoes in that day and age, I would have done anything differently.
Eight Men Out
I will get hung if I do not mention The Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. Sentimental - yes. A man's "chick flick" - yes. Will you cry - probably. Well, more than likely.
Every baseball enthusiast worth his (or her) salt knows the Iron Horse and his story. This is considered to be the greatest movie about Gehrig and his playing days and retirement. The speech given by Cooper as Gehrig when he retired has been quoted and replayed an untold amount of times; it has even been played off of in other movies. It stands the test of time.
The Iron Horse played 2,130 consecutive games at first base and held that record until Cal Ripkin Jr. surpassed him on September 6, 1995. He was not even on the 1923 World Series roster, although he came up to the bigs that year. It was June 1,1925 when he entered the game as a pinch hitter. His next day off was May 2, 1939. He benched himself, approaching manager Joe McCarthy "for the good of the team." He never played again.
His debilitation became steadily worse and his wife Elanor contacted the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Charles Mayo himself had followed Gehrig's career and was aware of his illness. After some tests, it was determined that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, what would later become simply Lou Gehrig's Disease. This occurred on his birthday June 19, 1939. He was 36 years old. What a birthday present. He was to die on June 2, 1941, sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base, and only two years after retiring from baseball. He was 37.
Two days later, he announced his retirement. July 4, 1939 was proclaimed Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium. Between games of the doubleheader that day, Gehrig gave The Speech. The Yankees retired his number 4, making him the first player to have a number retired. Even in the face of what would become his certain death, Gehrig held himself high and delivered the most moving speech ever by a sportsman, and perhaps one of the all time greatest speeches in any setting.
"Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Thank you Lou. Thank you Gary Cooper.
The Pride of the Yankees
There are more, so very many more. Bang The Drum Slowly; Major League; The Sandlot; A League of Their Own; The Bad News Bears; Don't Look Back; The Jackie Robinson Story; Cobb; The Rookie; Trouble With the Curve; Moneyball; Fear Strikes Out; 61*. Some true life, some total fiction. Comedies, drama, it's all there waiting for us as it does every spring. Wasn't that another movie? It Happens Every Spring? Yeah, I think it was.
Enjoy them. Sit down one evening, or during a rainy Saturday or Sunday and watch one or two or three. Ready yourself for the Rites of Spring - Baseball Style.