All right, let’s lighten things up a bit.
Our conversation about “Moneyball” yesterday was starting to turn in this direction, and I see the movie has inspired others to compile such lists — such as here and here and here — so here are my All-Time Top Five Baseball Movies:
- The Natural — American myth-making on the grand scale. If you wanted to put a movie on a spacecraft to explain to aliens what the game means, you’d choose this one. It’s perfect.
- Major League — Silly, yes, but a good complement to the reverential seriousness of “The Natural.” Hits all the buttons in explaining why the game is fun.
- The Sandlot — Maybe because it’s set in the days when I was a kid, and also spending hours on a sandlot — without uniforms, without adult supervision, just being kids — this really resonates as a depiction of the ball-playing experience of those of us who will never play in the majors.
- Eight Men Out — A masterly, credible evocation of how the game’s blackest scandal came about, told in a way that you can understand motives. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
- A League of their Own — This one’s about a lot of stuff other than baseball, but a great period piece with great characters. It would make the list if there were nothing in it but “There’s no crying in baseball!”
Actually, to be honest, I would have been happier with a Top Three list. There’s a drop-off for me after the first three. (But in keeping with the Hornby principle, I disciplined myself to come up with five.)
“Field of Dreams” almost edged out “A League of their Own.” But while it is emotionally affecting, and certainly invokes the love of baseball well, I find it hard to ignore its flaws. I’d read the book, and while it was awfully weird for the writer character to be J.D. Salinger, it was jarring when it was changed in the movie. And Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe (the title character of the book) was really disappointing, particularly as I’m such a fan of Liotta. It’s like he phoned it in, and it’s hard to believe the director let that happen. D.B. Sweeney’s characterization in “Eight Men Out” was much more persuasive. You actually believed in him as a conflicted illiterate from South Carolina.
As for the other Kevin Costner baseball movies — I never liked “Bull Durham.” It had a moment or two — a conference on the mound, the bit about “The rose goes in the front, big guy” — but beyond that it left me cold. Then, far less noticeable, there’s “For the Love of the Game.” All that has to recommend it is a pretty good evocation of what it’s like for a pitcher who realizes late that he’s pitching a perfect game. The rest of it I could do without.
There’s wonderful acting in it, but I never really got into “Bang the Drum Slowly.” And I should like “Pride of the Yankees” more than I do. Perhaps I should see if I can get it on Netflix, and try again.