October Classics: Cool Papa E’s favorite Baseball Films

The season of the year has come where, despite football’s best efforts, it’s baseball’s time to shine.  A few readers have been after me for a while to come up with a list of the best baseball films of all time, and one might think it’d be a bit easier than it turned out to be.  For such a wonderful sport, there is a surprising dearth of real classic baseball films.  Even my fifth choice would not be considered a classic.  It is, however, better than anything 6 down.  While I am under no illusions to pretend that my opinion trumps all, it is my website, so here goes:

5) The Rookie – 2002 
Director John Lee Hancock
Starring Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Brian Cox, Angus T. Jones, Rick Gonzales, Angelo Spizzirri
Screenplay Mike Rich

Dennis Quaid

Summary / Review: High School teacher makes it to the bigs, many years after his dream was dashed due to injury.  The presence of Quaid and especially Brian Cox take away the general sanitized Disney feel to this film.  This story is most remarkable because it is true.

(***1/2 out of *****)

4) Bad News Bears – 1976
Director Michael Ritchie
Starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Chris Barnes, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patten, Quinn Smith
Screenplay Bill Lancaster

There was only one Tanner Boyle

Summary/Review: The crowning jewel in Matthau’s (and, sadly, O’Neal’s) career, this is a vicious,  wonderful and sentimental without being overly sappy.  It gave little league baseball back to all kids, too.  As good as Matthau’s Buttermaker is, he takes a second seat to the true star of the film, and its sequels, Tanner Boyle (Barnes).  His foul-mouthed shortstop is the paragon of 70’s cinematic kid.  In fact, I don’t think I have seen anything close to his character since.  As Kelly Leak, Haley shows flashes of his immense talent, and his chemistry with O’Neal is adorable.  He just didn’t look all that believable smoking a cigarette.  Special props to script writer Bill Lancaster, who wrote a sterling script filled with great one liners and a wonderful ending.  The late (died in 1997) writer had only 3 screenplays to his name, and one of the other two was the adapted screenplay to John Carpenter’s The Thing remake.  If the 3rd Bad News Bears film had not been the other one, he’d have batted 1000 for his career.

(**** out of *****)

3) Bull Durham – 1988 
Written and Directed by Ron Shelton
Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl, Trey Wilson, William O’Leary, Jennie Robertson

“Throw that s*** again, Meat. Throw that weak-a** s***again. “

Summary / Review: It seems like a silly joke to mix up the lyrics to Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, but in the hands of Tim Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh, its pure gold.  Kevin Costner would only do better one more time in his career, as “player to be named later” Crash Davis.  Davis is a catcher pushed all around the minors grooming pitchers with potential, like LaLoosh.  As they work through the season, they battle over many things baseball and one thing (Sarandon) that loves the “church of baseball.”  So many elements of Bull Durham are goofy as hell, but this is one serious love letter to the game.  Ron Shelton made a career (after a minor league stint with the Orioles) off of this film, and even if he made good movies to follow (White Men Can’t Jump, Blue Chips and Tin Cup), he never would approach the magnificence or the simplicity of this masterpiece.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Beautiful and dangerous Dottie Hanson

2) A League of Their Own – 1992 
Director Penny Marshall
Starring Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Jon Lovitz, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Anne Ramsay, Megan Cavanaugh, Ann Cusack, Tracy Reiner, Bitty Schramm
Screenplay Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandell

Summary / Review: This film is a must for any family that loves baseball.  The writers of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley use their immense talent to craft a touching tale from another era, that has humor that is refreshing and timeless.  Geena Davis and Lori Petty as a pair of baseball playing sisters who get drafted into a women’s baseball league.  Many male stars having been drafted into WWII, these women are targeted to fill the resulting empty stadiums.  Davis is totally believable as a not only a ball player, but a catcher as well.  In fact Marshall expertly frames many of the shots to make the women appear as viable athletes and players both.  Even Rosie O’Donnell looks like she can run around the bases, and that is an accomplishment.  Jon Lovitz has never been better on film.  Tom Hanks is always good, but rarely this great, with “There’s no crying in baseball…,” becoming the rare speech that assuaged misogynists and supporters of equal rights the same.

(****1/2 out of *****)

1) Field of Dreams – 1989 
Writer & Director Phil Alden Robinson
Starring Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Timothy Busfield, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley, Gaby Hoffman, Dwier Brown
Based on the original book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella

Summary / Review: What I have to say about this film cannot rightly be contained in the

“See if you can handle my curve…”

space allotted in this article.  This is one of the best films I have ever seen and some day I hope to write a review worthy of it.  A man who finds himself a farmer at middle age hears a voice in his corn field, which leads him to make some drastic changes to the farm and to the life of his family.  If you don’t know how this ties to his father, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the 1919 White Sox, “Moonlight” Graham or Terence Mann (in the original book, J.D. Salinger), I will not ruin it for you.  Suffice to say, it is the most unusual story I have ever seen. And, oh,  the most heart-rending conclusion…ever.   “I’d like that.”

(***** out of *****)

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