If, like me, you’re a huge baseball fan, you’ve probably had to put up with your fair share of ridicule. In the past several years, it’s come to seem as though merely not enjoying baseball isn’t enough for some people. Instead, they must constantly remind those of us still devoted to America’s Pastime that the NFL gets better ratings, NBA stars are more popular, and the best athletes no longer choose to play baseball.
All of that is probably true. But it’s also true that the game itself is probably as good as it’s been at least since the strike in 1994, and possibly stretching back a couple of decades before that. Young stars like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, Giancarlo Stanton, and Andrew McCutchen have grown into their potential and are leading a resurgence in baseball’s marketability.
Now, none of this matters to ESPN, who would lead SportsCenter in July with new of Tom Brady’s latest hangnail as soon as they’d lead with a great baseball game. And it probably doesn’t matter to the casual observer, to whom baseball is that boring thing that their parents forced them to do every summer between the ages of 6 and 10. Football is king. The NBA is cooler. Baseball may be the nation’s pastime, but it feels like a relic a little more each day.
Whatever. Maybe baseball’s losing the popularity contest held daily for the hearts and minds of America’s sports-inclined, but you know what? It’s already won something nearly as important, something that comes to mind every summer when it’s the only game in town. It’s already won the title of the Greatest Movie Sport of all-time, and it’s not giving up its belt any time soon.
Quick, what’s the greatest football movie of all-time? Rudy? Almost certainly. Now, some of you younger folks (or those who have no use for historical accuracy) might say Remember the Titans. Those of you with a soft spot for Burt Reynolds vehicles might argue for The Longest Yard. I mean, you’d be wrong in both cases, because Rudy is the only answer here. And you in the back: stop shouting Any Given Sunday. That speech at the end is awesome. The rest of the movie? Meh.
How about the greatest basketball movie? There’s actually a little more competition here. Hoosiers is probably the front-runner, but He Got Game has its advocates, as do White Men Can’t Jump and Juwanna Man (kidding). The real answer is probably Hoop Dreams, which is maybe also the best documentary film ever.
Now, what’s the best baseball movie? This is a much, much more difficult question to answer. If comedy is your thing, you could reasonably say Major League, Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, or A League of their Own. If you enjoy more serious fare, then you’ve got Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, The Natural, The Pride of the Yankees (at this point, most people probably think Gary Cooper is actually Lou Gehrig), or Moneyball. That’s right, a movie about baseball analytics is better than just about any film made about another sport. And that’s not all. If unrepentant nostalgia is your bag, then The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, or Angels in the Outfield might come to mind.
Why are baseball movies so often excellent? And why does Hollywood keep mining a sport that so many are doing their best to dismiss and ignore?
Don’t know. Don’t care.
All I care about is that so many of these movies remind me of why I love baseball in the first place, that they all make me think about dirt and grass stains, humid summer nights, and that perfect moment of tension between the moment the ball leaves a pitcher’s hands and the moment it gets to the plate. The movies listed above are good for a laugh, a cry, or a trip down memory lane. They feature sharp writing and beautiful camera work and legendary performances. If the job of a movie is to distill a subject down to its essence and convey that essence honestly to an audience, then I think these movies have done baseball a great justice.
It’s July 1st. The start of new football and basketball seasons are months away. The smell of fresh cut grass and burning charcoal and storm clouds and AMERICA, DAMMIT! are in the air. Baseball is a part of that. And these movies are a part of baseball. If you need a reminder of just how great they are, feast your eyes on these:
YES! Baseball movies are freaking awesome!
See. I told you. C’mon. C’moooonnnn. Open the windows, let the smell of summer drift through the house. Pop some popcorn, and settle in with a baseball movie. No sport has availed itself so well on the big screen, and nothing conveys the American ideal quite like baseball.
And who knows? Out of your little movie night might grow the desire to check out a game some time, check back in with that club you stopped following around the time you quit playing Little League, sit back and while away the hours to the easy rhythms of our National Pastime.
Go on, Ray. Do it.