With the possible exception of baseball books, movies may be the best antidote for games postponed by pandemics, storms, or unsettled labor relations.
Thousands have been produced over the years, dating back to “Right Off the Bat” and “Spitball Sadie” in 1915, but most of the best coincided with the rising popularity of the game over the last three decades.
Rating them is rough, since it invariably involves separating fact from fiction, but here’s our Top 10 and a few others worth watching between innings:
1. “Eight Men Out” (1988) – The most realistic and error-free baseball film ever made covers the evolution, execution, and exposure of the Black Sox Scandal. Eight players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox, accused but acquitted of taking bribes to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, were ultimately banned for life anyway by iron-fisted Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the game’s first commissioner.
2. “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (1998) – Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner tells the story of the towering Tigers slugger, who was Hammerin’ Hank before Hank Aaron and a pioneering minority before Jackie Robinson. The first man to win MVP awards at two different positions, Greenberg was an inspiration to American Jews when he refused to play a World Series game on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
3. “The Spy Behind Home Plate” (2019) – Babe Ruth once said Moe Berg could speak 16 different languages but couldn’t hit in any of them. An eccentric but brilliant catcher who spent 15 years in the majors, Berg made his biggest hits as a spy before and during World War II, as Aviva Kempner shows in this documentary, released a year after the Hollywood drama “The Catcher Was a Spy.”
4. “A League of Their Own” (1992) – Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, and Tom Hanks headline this humorous take on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created in the ‘40s when most male players wore service uniforms.
5. “Fever Pitch” (2005) – Another film full of laughs, this outing pits Jimmy Fallon as a rabid Red Sox fan torn between baseball and his new-found love interest (Drew Barrymore). All is well during the offseason, when they meet, but things change once spring training begins.
6. “The Natural” (1984) – In one of his greatest roles, Robert Redford comes out of nowhere to star for the New York Knights, fending off gamblers and Glenn Close in the process. The sets and sound are sensational, especially when Redford uses Wonderboy to bang one off the clock.
7. “Field of Dreams” (1989) – Baseball fan Kevin Costner starred in this fantasy about an Iowa cornfield that comes alive with long-gone players from the Chicago White Sox. If not for the mistake of showing Shoeless Joe Jackson as a right-handed batter, this film would rank higher.
8. “42” (2013) – The most inspirational film on this list shows the obstacle-littered path Jackie Robinson navigated en route to breaking the long-standing baseball color line in 1947. The film does a good job depicting the depth of segregation and Robinson’s difficulty in enduring widespread prejudice – even among his Dodger teammates.
9. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” (2018) – Created out of thin air, this actual team of Jewish castoffs – most of whom had never been to Israel – used unexpected success in the World Baseball Classic as a springboard to the Olympic Games. Even their mascot was entertaining, as he should be with a name like Mensch on the Bench.
10. “Moneyball” (2011) – Big-league teams suffering huge losses from fan-free ballparks this year should watch this movie again. It’s the story of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane made maximum mileage from a very limited budget.
Just missed Top 10:
“Pride of the Yankees” (1942) – Bring tissues before sitting down to watch this story of star-crossed slugger Lou Gehrig, who called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” when he knew he was dying. Gehrig, played by Gary Cooper, died at 37 a year before the movie came out.
“Fear Strikes Out” (1957) – Anthony Perkins makes a terrific Jimmy Piersall, a talented but troubled player plagued by mental problems. The colorful Piersall followed a fine career as a player with a solid run in the broadcast booth.
“The Winning Team” (1952) – Ronald Reagan plays Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose heroic relief outing in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series gave the St. Louis Cardinals their first world championship.
· “Bull Durham” (1988)
· “Damn Yankees” (1957)
· “For the Love of the Game” (1999)
· “61*” (2001)
· “Cobb” (1994)
· “The Bad News Bears” (1976)
· “The Trouble with the Curve” (2012)
· “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973)
· “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings” (1976)
· “It’s Good To Be Alive” (1974)
Long-time SCD contributor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has covered baseball for 50 years. His latest book is “The New Baseball Bible: Notes, Nuggets, Lists & Legends From Our National Pastime.”