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WHEELER: Top Ten Baseball Movies of All-Time

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The only thing I left out of the headline was the phrase “according to me” so keep that in mind as you read. I know there is no subjective measure for things like this…

This topic comes up today for two reasons:

One, the debut of “42” last Friday and the discussion Mark Reardon and I had relating to that, and other baseball movies, with the Cardinals’ manager during the Mike Matheny Show on Tuesday.

Two, an e-mail I got recently linking me to IMDB’s (Internet Movie Data Base) “Top 10 Greatest Baseball Movies of All-Time.” You can read that list HERE if you’re interested in checking it out.

I haven’t seen “42” yet so it’s not on my list. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to add it to my Top 10 at a later date because that would mean they did the job right.

Without any further adieu, here’s my list (in reverse order for the purpose of building up suspense!):

10) The Bad News Bears

Okay, I was a kid when it came out so it probably seemed better than it was but most Top 10 lists have this one so it can’t just be me. It’s funny, it sends some positive messages to kids and it’s all done with baseball as a backdrop.

9) Cobb

The movie was okay, nothing too special, but I’ve always been fascinated by Ty Cobb and I’ve always liked Tommy Lee Jones so that certainly helped get this on in my Top 10. Cobb, the player, was the best player of his time and was also a lot of bad things too. Makes for interesting story lines.

8) The Sandlot

This movie was great! As a kid I spent just about every free minute (weather permitting) playing baseball with my friends just about anywhere we could. We had a few encounters with creatures like “The Beast” from this movie so it definitely brought back memories. That said, any kid who was a true baseball nut would NEVER use a ball signed by Babe Ruth no matter how much he wanted to fit in. Other than that, the movie nailed it.

7) A League of Their Own

There’s no crying in baseball! Before this movie I never knew about women playing professional baseball during World War II. So I learned something and I got to laugh during this one. I thought most of the actresses did a nice job of looking like ballplayers, with an exception or two (I’m talking to you, Lori Petty aka Kit Keller). Tom Hanks was just awesome.

6) Bull Durham

I liked Bull Durham a lot but have always thought it was overrated. So, good enough for my Top 10. No doubt. But not “the best baseball movie of all-time” or even worthy of the Top 5 in my book. Loved the comedy, thought they captured some of what life was like in the minors during that time period (Matheny said as much on Tuesday), and Nuke LaLoosh is like so many pitchers I’ve been around so that made it fun. The downside? Too many cliches (“Hey, meat!”) and the guys really didn’t look like they could play ball. Not even a little bit.

5) Major League

Yes, I liked Major League more than Bull Durham. Because it’s funnier. I didn’t care all that much for Tom Berenger as the main character (Jake Taylor) or Charlie Sheen (Wild Thing Ricky Vaughn) as the cocky young kid. The side characters stole the show. The best were Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), the manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) – “You may run like Hayes but you hit like…” – and Harry Doyle (Bob Eucker). Randy Quaid was awesome as one of the hecklers, too. Way funnier than Bull Durham.

4) Eight Men Out

I loved this one. Covered the greatest scandal in baseball history, even greater than the “steroid era” because if the integrity of the competition is compromised then there’s no point in anyone watching. Fixed outcomes are much worse than messed up record books. Seeing the difference between owner-player relationships then compared to now was really interesting. Good acting too.

3) Field of Dreams

It was a little sappy at times but overall I thought it was a fun movie that had a few laughs but most importantly captured what it’s like to be a baseball fan. Kevin Costner may not be the greatest actor of all-time but his love of baseball comes across in this movie and that’s what made this work. I don’t hear voices in my head telling me to build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere but I do know what it’s like to be almost mystically drawn to the sport I’ve loved as far back as I can remember.

2) 61*

This is a vastly underrated movie. Barry Pepper as Roger Maris, Thomas Jane as Mickey Mantle. The baseball was believable, the behind-the-scenes story was fascinating and the actors did a great job of “becoming” the people they were playing. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen this in a while. I may need to go back and watch it this weekend. Billy Crystal did a great job of bringing this story to life.

1) The Natural

I don’t care what anyone says, The Natural is the best baseball movie of all-time. I’ve seen it a million times and it never gets old. Robert Redford pulls off the baseball part really well and like Field of Dreams it really captures what it’s like to have that spiritual attachment to The Game. We all know that the light standards wouldn’t explode into fireworks if they got hit by a home run but that didn’t make the movie’s defining moment any less amazing. I might have to watch this one again over the weekend as well…after all the real games are over, that is!

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