The Top 10 Family Baseball Movies
Baseball as the Setting
Some of the films were made for kids or are about kids’ teams, others are inspirational, and one or two will require a hankie at the end. The stories are about baseball, but simultaneously are about much bigger life issues. The list is in random order.
The Perfect Game
The Perfect Game
The Perfect Game. (2009) HISTORY and DRAMA. Clifton Collins, Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin.
Based on true events in 1957, the movie follows a Little League team from Mexico which becomes the first non-US team to win the Little League World Championship. The story is very family-oriented and extremely heavy-handed in depicting prejudice against Latinos and colored people. The other strong theme is the power of faith in God and the belief that anything is possible.
Occasionally genuine newsreel clips are interspersed in the movie. These are nice additions to reinforce that this is a true story. The delight on the faces of both the film and real Monterrey Industrials players is priceless. There are many “feel good” moments connected to small victories and the support that members of underdog ethnic groups give each other.
The Perfect Game keeps a good pace, creating” edge of the seat” interest. The story ends in tear-jerker happiness. Actor Cheech Marin, as a nurturing priest, does a superb job, as does Lou Gossett, Jr. portraying a groundskeeper. The music was composed by Bill Conti, the man who scored the Rocky movies.
A League of Their Own
A League of Their Own
A League of Their Own (1992) COMEDY and HISTORY. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell.
This film is based on the true World War II events when the major league players joined the military and a baseball-craving public tolerated watching women. (This was an era in which women athletes certainly did not have “equal rights.”) Singer Madonna is predictably cast as a party girl, and Rosie O’Donnell is a wise-cracking teammate. Tom Hanks, fantastic actor, plays a crude and alcoholic has-been baseball star who serves as the team coach. The story develops around relationships and rivalries among the women, dealing with the coach’s ineptitude, and discovering a world outside the homemaker role. The movie gives a nice feeling for actual events and the time period. A League of Their Own is rated PG, but there are innuendos about sexual situations. A PG-13 might have been a more accurate rating
The Pride of the Yankees
The Pride of the Yankees (The Lou Gehrig Story)
The Pride of the Yankees (The Lou Gehrig Story) 1942 BIOGRAPHY. Gary Cooper, Theresa Wright, Babe Ruth, Walter Brennan.
This film is inspiring as it depicts baseball stars in the era when they truly were good guys and heroes. It is also, of course, a tear-jerker at the end as Lou Gehrig bids his team and his fans goodbye due to his incurable illness. This is a classic film in black-and-white, not color – which I think has its own beauty using shadows and light to convey mood. It might be good for the kids to see examples of early film technology – and it is a story they will never forget.
42: The Jackie Robinson Story
42: The Jackie Robinson Story
42: The Jackie Robinson Story (2013) BIOGRAPHY. Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie.
This is Jackie Robinson's story without glossing over the challenges that Jackie, his family, his teammates and all of major league baseball faced when one team included the first Negro player. The personal strength of this man is incredible. Scenes depicting prejudice are painful to watch, but are not exaggerated. Three stars to Harrison Ford’s interpretation of the coach who dared to break the color line. My favorite line is his: “I am a Methodist. He (Jackie Robinson) is a Methodist…GOD is a Methodist.”
Interestingly, Jackie Robinson portrayed himself in a bio-pic with Ruby Dee made in 1950. Understandably for 1950, problems of racial prejudice were minimized in that movie. Both films complement each other.
Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams (1989) FANTASY. Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan.
This is a classic story about believing. A farmer receives messages to build a baseball field in the middle of one of his cornfield and to collect (almost kidnap) a famous writer. The image of that full-sized major league baseball infield with night lights in the middle of that cornfield has touched the spirits of so many people that after the movie filming was completed, tourists have continually made the pilgrimage to see it in Dyersville, Iowa.
Many baseball heroes of the early twentieth century are depicted in this movie. It's a treat for baseball historians and nostalgia fans.
James Earl Jones, portraying the writer, of course, has that incredibly deep, resonant voice that is synonymous with authority. Kevin Costner is totally believable as a child of the hippie era trying to make sense of his troubles with his now-deceased father. All this is wrapped up in hopes and dreams and baseball. Burt Lancaster has a small role in which his acting skills shine, as usual.
Bang the Drum Slowly
Bang the Drum Slowly
Bang the Drum Slowly. (1973) DRAMA. Michael Moriarty, Robert De Niro, Vincent Gardenia.
This is a fictional story of a major league pitcher covertly acting as “his brother’s keeper” to a mediocre catcher on his team. The catcher and he work to hide the catcher’s diagnosis of terminal cancer from the world, although it eventually leaks out. This has positive and negative consequences.
The beauty of this movie is its very subtle, gentle reflection of the 1970’s youth movement ideal to do the right thing, to get along with all races and peoples. When it was released, it was billed as a tear-jerker, but I did not find it to be so. The cancer is not shown in gory accuracy. The illness is hinted at, not shoved in the viewer’s face. Vincent Gardenia provides some comic relief as the coach who is determined to discover what secret these two ballplayers are hiding. Robert De Niro plays the catcher with a cheek constantly crammed with chewing tobacco (“chew” was very common with baseball players at time, but his character exaggerates it.) The title comes from a line in a folk song about a funeral.
Angels in the Outfield
Angels in the Outfield
Angels in the Outfield (1994) FANTASY. Danny Glover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brenda Fricker, Christopher Lloyd.
“It could happen,” is the statement of faith heard throughout the film. Two little boys living with a loving foster mother adore their Anaheim major league baseball team (called the California Angels in the movie, and have also been known as the Anaheim Angels and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim!) Roger, one of the boys, has infrequent visits from his unemployed, poverty-stricken father. When Roger asks his father when they will be family again, the father replies “when the last-place Angels win the pennant.” Roger grasps this straw of hope and prays for the team to climb out of the standings cellar. After this, spiffy angels who can be seen only by Roger (he calls them the guys in the sparkly pajamas) come to help.
The movie is full of silly, physical comedy – like what would result if the Three Stooges made a baseball movie. Players crash into each other, mustard and other foods are squirted onto exasperated characters, and there are many stupid pranks and cheap laughs and jokes. Danny Glover plays the frustrated, out of control team manager who needs anger-management classes. Christopher Lloyd is the boss of the heavenly angels – what a hoot! He performs some silly stunts but is quite engaging. Really nice special effects highlight the mixed race, mixed gender cherubs’ assistance. Tony Danza is a pitcher on disabled list who gets his last hurrah pitching in the pennant championship game. This was the time before closers, because he has 150 pitches already in at the crucial moment when the manager must decide whether to take him out of the game.
The film follows the team manager’s restoration of faith in humanity. It also portrays a test of faith or integrity: should one deny the existence of angels or tell one’s truth? A statement of faith from the foster mother is a profound moment. This is a tear-jerker, but it ends with family hug!
(This is loosely based on a 1951 movie with the same title.).
The Sandlot (1993) COMEDY. Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Pena.
Pre-adolescent boys bond during their daily summer baseball playing in the 1950’s. The heartwarming story focuses on an interracial, multi-ethnic gang in suburban California. There are no evil characters, just normal kid situations. This gentle plot makes the movie very suitable for family viewing. Unfortunately, the kids use a handful of bad words which are totally unnecessary; probably the reason for the PG rating.
The structure of the movie is much like A Christmas Story and Stand By Me, with an adult reminiscing about the most important summer of his life. The leader of the neighborhood baseball players, Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, befriends and mentors the narrator, a new boy in town who is an incredibly lonely non-athletic dweeb. As the action progresses, the background music very obviously cues young viewers on what they should be feeling. This is interspersed with popular tunes from the 1950’s. Additionally, sets and props accurately take one back to the fifties.
The movie delightfully depicts childhood perspectives in superlatives. Normal middle class summer activities are the biggest and best ever, or the kids face challenges that they perceive will end in grounding for life. You see them cannonball into the community swimming pool, being awed by the Fourth of July festivities, going to a summer carnival, experimenting with chewing tobacco, and enduring a joyously painful crush on a girl lifeguard. Furthermore, this film includes a perennial kid-favorite for movies: mayhem at a banquet.
There is an underdog element with the official Little League team players coming to insult the sandlot boys. Another nemesis is a scary junkyard dog thing – at first unseen, shown only as a shadow similar to a combination of the Hound of the Baskervilles and Godzilla. The exaggerated screams of the actors could only induce the same from the audience. It must have been fabulous watching it in a theatre full of kids. Kudos to child actor Patrick Renna, whose comic lines are expertly delivered. I loved the inventiveness and ingenuity the sandlot kids use to solve a crisis near end of movie.
The Rookie (2002) DRAMA. Dennis Quaid, J.D.Evermore, Rachel Griffiths.
This review is for the 2002 movie with Dennis Quaid. (DO not confuse it with a 1990 Clint Eastwood movie about police officers with the same title.) This is heartwarming and just a tale cheering for the hardworking underdogs - both kids and adults. There are no bad guys, just a tale of determination based on a true story. A high school coach must put his “money where his mouth is,” in a manner of speaking. While using every motivational and coaxing idea he can imagine to help the high school baseball team, the tables are turned on him with their counter challenge that he resume his abandoned efforts to become a major leaguer. Excellent story.
The Natural (1984) DRAMA. Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close.
I am almost tempted to add Fantasy to the description, because the movie contains many moments when disbelief must be suspended. A young boy at the turn of the century becomes a talented southpaw baseball player, both in hitting and pitching. Just as he is ready to enter the major leagues, a crazy person shoots him, injuring his left side (just the tiniest scar, though) and causing him to be hospitalized for years. The young man disappears from the world until the late 1930’s when he becomes an “old man” rookie for a major league New York team. Intrigue abounds with gambling, double-crossers, the bad girl (in the style of thirties era film noire) and more.
Robert Redford is absolutely fantastic. The dialogue is sparse, but he communicates so much with his eyes. Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth play the ball club’s manager and assistant manager and the interaction between the two is understated, natural, and totally precious. Another heart-warming relationship is the mentoring by Redford’s character towards the bat boy. The gambler is skillfully depicted with coldhearted evil by Darren McGavin. The movie sets recreate the 1930’s in wonderful detail. Kudos to the team which found or made all the props, costumes, and scenes.
Stay-cation or Vacation Films for the Summer
If your family is making plans for a stay-cation or just family together nights, these may be enjoyable for you and your children ages 9 and older.
I encourage adults to watch these with their youngsters. Some of the concepts presented are a little more mature than the first or second-grader will understand, and your explanations and reinforcement of your family values will make it worthwhile for everyone.
Maren has liked baseball since her elementary school days when she would check the newspaper for the daily standings of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
© 2014 Maren Elizabeth Morgan