For What It’s Worth: top baseball flicks
By Larry Hook
The Lookout Adviser
From April 25 to July 3 I watched 75 baseball movies in 70 days. I rated each on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best.
Following are the 16 movies I rated as the best baseball movies. All of these earned either 10 or 9 on my rating scale. I will also include the four worst baseball movies I endured. They rated 1 or 2.
BEST BASEBALL MOVIES:
- “A League of their Own” (1989) – With perhaps the best cast of any baseball movie (Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Geena Davis, Madonna and Jon Lovitz) and a great story about the women’s pro baseball league of the 1940s, this film tops them all. The opening and closing songs (“Now and Forever” by Carole King and “This Used to be My Playground” by Madonna) really tug at the heartstrings.
- “Major League” (1989) – Centered on the Cleveland Indians’ long-time bid for a championship, Charlie Sheen stars as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn and Tom Berenger plays veteran catcher Jake Taylor. The movie is the funniest pure baseball movie I have ever watched, and I have probably seen it a dozen times.
- “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988) – Although technically not a baseball movie, about 22 of the film’s 88 minutes take place at the ballpark. The baseball scenes are hilarious, with an outfielder’s head falling off, Leslie Nielsen doing the moonwalk as an umpire, and Reggie Jackson attempting to kill the queen.
- “The Rookie” (2002) – This one surprised me, as I’d never seen it before and hadn’t heard much about it. It is based on the true story of Jim Morris, who works his way to the Major Leagues as a rookie at the age of 35. Dennis Quaid is brilliant as the star of this Disney flick.
- “Taking Care of Business” (1990) – This has been one of my favorite movies for a long time, as I am a big Jim Belushi fan. Belushi stars as car thief Jimmy Dworski, who breaks out of prison so he can watch his beloved Chicago Cubs play in the World Series. A big case of identity theft by Dworski leads to plenty of mayhem and mischief.
- “Mr. Destiny” (1990) – Another Belushi movie, the story starts with a youngster named Larry Burrows (Belushi) striking out in a high school championship game. Later in life, when he stumbles into an unfamiliar bar on his 35th birthday, bartender (Michael Caine) fixes a special cocktail to send Burrows back to that pivotal moment, allowing him to live the life he thought he wanted.
- “The Bad News Bears” (1976) – One of the great baseball classics, Walter Matthau stars as Morris Buttermaker, a drunken baseball coach who leads a team of misfits to unlikely success in the little leagues. Tatum O’Neal co-stars as the female pitcher of the otherwise all boys’ team.
- “Little Big League” (1994) – This was the last of the 75 baseball movies I watched during my binge, and I loved it. Luke Edwards stars as 12-year-old Billy Heyward, who inherits the Minnesota Twins team. As owner, he names himself manager of the team, and success follows. The baseball scenes, and the cameo appearances by Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Mickey Tettleton and many others, are top notch.
- “Pride of the Yankees” (1942) – This is a wonderfully crafted movie for its era. It stars Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and Teresa Wright as his wife, Eleanor. This movie is as much a sweet love story as it is a tale about baseball’s “Iron Horse.” Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games in his career before retiring, and dying, due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (now best known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). An interesting note: Babe Ruth plays himself in this movie.
- “Moneyball” (2011) – Brad Pitt stars as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane in this true success story. With help from stats wizard Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), Beane successfully assembles a winning baseball team on a lean budget in the early 2000s by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.
- “The Sandlot” (1993) – This is a coming-of-age story in the style of “Stand by Me,” complete with a narrator. Set in 1962, a young team of neighborhood ballplayers encounter the challenges of baseball strategy, making friends, meeting girls and defeating a giant animal known as “The Beast.”
- “61*” (2001) – This is the story of the great home run chase of 1961, with both Roger Maris (played by Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) challenging the all-time home run record of 60 set by Babe Ruth back in 1927. There is plenty of intrigue and pressure as the chase comes down to the final days of September.
- “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950) – I rated this movie slightly higher than “42” because it stars none other than Jackie Robinson playing himself. The movie tells the story of how Robinson broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The baseball scenes are quite phony looking, but Robinson’s acting is actually very good.
- “42” (2013) – Chadwick Boseman plays the lead in this contemporary version of the Jackie Robinson story. The language is much cruder in this version than in the 1950 movie, which brings to light just how rough it was for Robinson to break through with such flare and success.
- “Fever Pitch” (2005) – Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore star in this love story about a huge Boston Red Sox fan and his girlfriend. As a big Barrymore fan, I had to include this movie on my list. Highlight: the movie includes a scene that was actually filmed during the Red Sox World Series celebration in 2004.
- “Chasing 3000” (2010) – Two teenage brothers run away from home and travel cross country from California in an attempt to reach Pittsburgh in time to see Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit. The younger of the two brothers has an illness, which makes the trip especially risky. It’s not a true story, but it’s still a good one.
WORST BASEBALL MOVIES:
- “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan” (1978) – The third in a trilogy of Bad News Bears movies in the ‘70s, this one put me to sleep. It stars over-the-hill Tony Curtis as a money-hungry agent trying to cash in by taking the Bears to Japan to play baseball. The problem with the movie is the boys hardly ever play baseball, although they do sumo wrestle and end up on a bad TV show.
- “Pitching Love and Catching Faith” (2015) – This one is a religious movie with bad acting and a predictable ending. Save two hours and don’t watch it.
- “Babe Ruth: Heading Home” (1920) – I give Babe Ruth an “A” for effort as the lead actor in this fictional baseball story. But this is a silent black and white movie that is very hard to watch due to the distortion and lighting issues of early films.
- “Beer League” (2006) – This mess stars Artie Lange, one of Howard Stern’s stooges, in a lead role. Enough said. It’s awful.