With Spring Training now in full effect, the Major League Baseball regular season is right around the corner – and that means warm weather, cold beer and consuming encased meats outdoors. For our money, there’s no better sport to watch in person, thanks to the individuality of the stadiums, the relaxed pace of the game and the amount of outstanding food that’s readily available. But baseball isn’t just the best sport to watch in person, it’s also the best sport to watch at home, on the couch.
There have been more amazing baseball films than any other sport, so we thought we’d pick the 10 greatest of all-time. If you need some help getting ready for the season, just watch a couple of these classics and you’ll be ready to celebrate every Bryce Harper dinger and every Jose Altuve stolen base.
Honorable Mention – Cobb (1994)
In the early part of the 20th Century, Detroit Tigers centerfielder Ty Cobb carved out a name for himself as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Cobb focuses primarily on the Georgia native’s latter years – a time when the Hall of Famer’s legacy was tarnished with racist and violent allegations – when he hired sportswriter Al Stump to write his official biography, in the hopes of setting the story straight. The film came and went, earning little at the box office because of a limited release, but did earn praise from critics. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Cobb is brilliant, often humanizing the old curmudgeon and while many question the authenticity of much of the film’s content, it provides a fascinating look at one of the more bizarre athletes to ever play professional sports.
No. 10 – 42 (2013)
If you’re not familiar with Jackie Robinson, you’ve probably lived under a rock most of your life. In the late 1940s, Robinson became the first baseball player to break the color barrier when the Brooklyn Dodgers started the Georgia native at first base in 1947. 42 follows the life of Robinson, focusing primarily on his days in the minor leagues and leading to his days with the Dodgers, a time that was filled with race-fueled hate from many fans and fellow MLB players. It was really the first time the world was introduced to Chadwick Boseman, whose breakout role as Robinson has served him well, though it was Harrison Ford’s portrayal as Branch Rickey – the man who really gave Robinson a shot – which provided some much-needed love in a film so deeply rooted with hate. In its first week, 42 earned $27.3 million – the highest opening for any baseball film ever – and it went on to earn nearly $95 million.
No. 9 – The Sandlot (1993)
Many children of the 1990s will agree with us on this one. The Sandlot is one of the most fun baseball films ever – and offers some aspects we could all relate to when we were children. It follows Scotty Smalls who is new to the neighborhood as he befriends a bunch of baseball nerds and learns the game. After losing their baseball of a fence, Smalls grabs his stepdad’s ball, so they can keep playing but, unfortunately, he wasn’t aware of who had signed the baseball – some “lady named Baby Ruth.” Now, the group has to find a way to outsmart the neighborhood’s meanest dog to get the ball back before his stepdad kills him. While it earned more than $32 million at the box office, it really earned cult-like status when it was released to home video. Don’t let the mixed reviews scare you, its nostalgia-laced and a true classic – and, man, does it offer a whole slew of legendary quotes.
No. 8 – Eight Men Out (1988)
One of the biggest scandals in MLB history was that of the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, when several of the team’s players took bribes to purposely lose. Eight Men Out tells the story, with some Hollywood fabrication of course, of how the White Sox were fed-up with team owner Charles Comiskey, who pinched ever penny he could. Many of the players wind up getting a lot less than promised for throwing the World Series – a series which they almost won after a 3-1 deficit and a change of heart – and cost all the players involved, including legend Shoeless Joe Jackson, a lifetime ban from the sport and no shot at Hall of Fame eligibility. Chock full of stars such as John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, Clifton James and Michael Rooker, it wasn’t enough to save the film from being a box office flop, failing to earn back its $6 million budget. Still, it provides an interesting look at how it all went down, one that will leave you Googling more information after the film is finished.
No. 7 – A League of Their Own (1992)
The only film on this list that doesn’t focus on a men’s baseball league, A League of Their Own combines history with humor in explaining the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which highlighted women’s ability to play baseball during World War II, when men were fighting overseas. Though the league flounders in the beginning, it eventually blossoms into a legitimate moneymaker, despite lasting just one season because of the war ending. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of manager Jimmy Duggan is arguably one of the best of his career, while Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna all do a great job representing the challenges of women during that time period. Honestly, we really couldn’t imagine anyone else in those roles. A League of Their Own was a box office success, earning more than $107 million, along with the love of most critics. It’s different than most, but so much fun.
No. 6 – The Bad News Bears (1976)
When we think of baseball movies, one of the first that comes to mind is The Bad News Bears. This film was kind of The Sandlot before The Sandlot, focusing on a bunch of foul-mouth children on the worst team in their Little League who get a coach that is, in many ways, similar to them. There’s little talent on the team but coach Morris Buttermaker – who is brilliantly played by Walter Matthau – finds a way to turn them into winners – well, almost. The trophy scene is among the best of any sports movie ever. It did well in theaters, grossing about $42 million, so much so that Paramount Pictures decided to remake the film in 2005 with Billy Bob Thornton. Watch this one and stay away from the remake, however.
No. 5 – Moneyball (2011)
The best baseball film of the last 20 years, Moneyball is based on a book of the same name about Billy Beane, the General Manager for the Oakland Athletics – played by Brad Pitt – who became a league trailblazer in the early 2000s when he used analytics to determine the value of baseball players. No other film on this list is quite like Moneyball, which offers more of a look at the front office aspect than the game itself. While the film doesn’t end with an amazing victory, it does show the importance statistics continues to play in the sport and why franchises don’t need a huge payroll to achieve success. Speaking of success, the film grossed $75 million – a very nice take home for a sports film.
No. 4 – Bull Durham (1988)
Perhaps the only true romantic comedy on the list, Bull Durham follows the life of minor league baseball player “Crash” Davis – portrayed by Kevin Costner – who is a veteran catcher brought in by North Carolina’s Durham Bulls to help prepare a rookie pitcher –played by Tim Robbins – for the major leagues. It’s often considered not just the greatest baseball films ever but also the greatest spots film ever. The best scene of the film is probably when Costner’s character tells Robbins’ character to throw the ball at the bull mascot, at which point he warns the batter at the plate that he’s really not sure where the next one is going to wind up. Bull Durham really helped propel Costner’s career and made more than $50 million in the process – it’s definitely a must-watch during Spring Training.
No. 3 – Major League (1989)
Major League is the funniest baseball film ever made – there, we said it. The film focuses on a cellar-dwelling Cleveland Indians team whose new owner wants to move the team to Miami but can only do so if the team plays bad enough. To help with the process, she assembles the worst players imaginable, who somehow manage to prove their owner wrong and climb the standings during the regular season. Young star power like Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen and Dennis Haysbert, provide amazing performances of dysfunctional players and real-life Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker provides the commentary for the Indians and, because of that, it’s easily one of the most quotable movies on the list. It brought in almost $50 million at the box office but has since taken on a life of its own and grown into a classic through television and home video. There’s still talks of another sequel.
No. 2 – The Natural (1984)
Based on the novel of the same name, The Natural – a story about the shooting incident and comeback of Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus – follows Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, in the late 1930s as the 35-year-old rookie is signed by the New York Knights. It comes almost two decades after Hobbs proves his value by striking out Major League Baseball’s top hitter before becoming smitten by a woman who eventually shoots him and then commits suicide. Now with the Knights, Hobbs can’t seem to get a chance to prove his value – though when he does, he makes the most of it. The final scene, where Hobbs’ home run hits one to the lights, is among the most classic scenes in all of film and worth watching alone, though it’s a much different ending as compared to the book. Redford amazes in the performance, as well as Glenn Close and Robert Duvall, which might just be why The Natural raked in more than $47 million.
No. 1 – Field of Dreams (1989)
No film has managed to leave more grown men crying then Field of Dreams. Its story focuses on a man’s relationship with his father and getting the chance to spend just a little more time with him. Field of Dreams follows Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, a novice Iowa farmer who hears voices in his corn one evening and then decides to build a baseball field in his cornfield, which could potentially bankrupt him. The players behind the voices wind up leading Kinsella on a journey to Boston in the hopes of finding Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones. In the end, others see the baseball players behind the voices, as they play each other on the field in what is one of the most poignant scenes ever. It brought in $64 million at the box office and is an essential film for any hardcore baseball fan. Field of Dreams should be at the top of every similar list and it’s really not even a discussion, if you ask us.