A-List: Top Five Baseball Movies
By J. Don Birnam
May 14, 2015
The blockbuster movie season is in full swing, which means the summer is finally here. Aside from the Cineplex and barbecues, however, there is another obvious summertime hobby that we revel in - baseball. Football may be a more watched sport today, but baseball remains unambiguously America’s pastime. As the mercury rises and the ballparks fill up, then, the obvious question is: what are the best baseball movies of all time?
When it first came to me, this project was entitled “Five Best Sports Movies.” I had, in the past, found frustration with trying to settle upon, say, five best musicals of all time, or five best New York movies. But all of that angst paled in comparison with the task of trying to list the five best sports movies of all time.
First, what counts as sports? Is The Hustler, the Paul Newman pool classic, a sports movie? What about 127 Hours, a movie about hiking? Second, even if we can agree that a movie is about a sport, what counts as a movie about that sport? Is Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy a movie about sports? What about Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait? Is that a movie about football or is it really about…something else? Is Jaws a movie about boating?
And, even if we could somehow agree on what counts as a bona fide sports movie (by the way, do amateur sports or college sports count?), the list would be interminable. In boxing alone one would have an obvious candidate for the best sports movie ever - Raging Bull. And Million Dollar Baby and Rocky, two Best Picture winners (boxing being the only sport with a Best Picture winner, as far as I can tell), would demand their own recognition. The basketball classic, Hoosiers, may also lay claim to the title, but few other basketball movies would share a list with that film. And from Seabiscuit to Chariots of Fire, one-offs of several particular sports would be worthy additions to an already long list.
It only made sense, therefore, to turn this into a list about the sport I know best, and the one that has been front in center of American culture from its inception - baseball. Indeed, if American movies are the sine-qua-non of the culture we export, baseball is front and center when it comes to the sports we take to other societies. More important, it became immediately obvious in researching this article that movies about baseball abound in numbers twice as large as movies about all other sports combined, no matter how loosely you define the sport.
Baseball and movies, it seems, share a connection that is unchallenged (other than, perhaps, by courtroom dramas and, today, superhero movies) in the history of both genres.
So the rules are simple: if baseball features prominently, the movie is eligible. A movie like The Town doesn’t count. Although a pivotal scene occurs at Fenway Park, the movie is not about baseball in any way. On the other hand, Fever Pitch, really a romantic comedy, counts because baseball furthers the plot each step of the way.