…and it reminded me of this story from a number of years ago:
My brother-in-law KML of Manhattan Man fame, and I once hatched this great idea for a vacation extravaganza. A long bus trip where we would visit the major sports Halls of Fame – NFL in Canton, OH, Baseball in Cooperstown, Basketball in Springfield, MA and Hockey in Toronto, Canada. We figured we would have plenty of beer on board and serve stadium food like hot dogs and peanuts and chili and nachos and pretzels and well you get the idea. We also figured that we would need to provide some entertainment to the masses onboard and thought that sports movies would be the best thing we could provide. When we got to the baseball movies we realized that there way too many for the trip and so we had to narrow it down to just the best of the best. I forget what ones we came up with that day but when I was thinking about this today. I figured I would give you a list of the ones I would want to see and why, and which ones don’t make the cut. Here they are:
Baseball movies to see, in no particular order (YEMV!):
The Natural – great book, good movie even if a bit overdone. It depicts an era of baseball that is awash in its innocence and reflects it in just how the characters are presented. Plus, the homerun off the lights stanchion gives us the fireworks display we all love.
“Pick me out a winner Bobby.”
Bull Durham – This movie seemed to give a fairly realistic look at life in the minor leagues. I think that is why I liked this film as much as I did. Kevin Cosner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins give quirky, earthy performances as 3 bit players in a Passion Play about baseball and life. Every baseball fan knows of a Crash Davis type, hard working but always destined to be in the minor leagues but with lots of knowledge to impart. Nuke Laloosh, he of the million dollar arm and ten cent brain (you hearing this AJ Burnett) and Annie Savoy, one of the original baseball annies. This movie really understands how baseball as life fits into our experience and existence and ends up being a lot more than a simple baseball movie.
“Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don't you think?”
The Sandlot – Kids playing baseball has been part of movies since the Little Rascals or even before. But they can be divided into several genre – over the top kids / Bad news Bears; kids with animals or other unbelievable things / that baseball playing monkey, Angels in the Outfield; Fictional stories / where the young kid becomes a manager and team wins; and the only really good kind of kid baseball movie, like The sandlot, which is about a kid’s coming of age because there is baseball.
“Baseball was life! And I was good at it... real good.”
Eight Men Out – Besides being life, baseball is also a teacher and this movie focuses on the lesson we learn when we cheat. This movie is about the darkest era of modern baseball history, the 1919 Back Socks Scandal where the Chicago White Socks threw the World Series that year. The eight team members were banned from baseball because of it and one, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has never made the Hall of Fame despite deserving such an honor based on his performance on the field. In an odd tip of the cap to the current era, Pete Rose showed us that the “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it award” goes to him for betting on baseball and not being allowed in the Hall of Fame despite fine batting credentials that would have made him a hero under any other circumstances.
“Regardless of the verdict of juries... no player who throws a ball game... no player who undertakes, or promises to throw a game... no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a ball game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it... will ever play professional baseball again.”
Field of Dreams – Of all the movies mentioned, this is the one that always brings a tear to my eye. This is the movie that seals the “Baseball is life” meme in me. When Ray Kinsella has the opportunity to play catch with his father again, it never fails to touch a part of my own life, my relationship with my father, regrets about that relationship and the healing power of baseball that I have hoped I have passed on to my own son. Corny, perhaps, but real in every sense of that word. I also tear up when Dr. Graham, as a kid steps out of the field of dreams to save Ray’s daughter, perhaps one of the greatest fictional acts of kindness ever filmed.
“Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Next up, a look at the films that did not make the Hall of Fame for me in the film department