Like most Homo sapiens, I sleep. Rest is essential to my well-being, and sleep helps prevent wrinkles and unsightly bags under the eyes. My modeling career hinges on it. So when the Red Sox head on these Left Coast swings, I tend to miss most of the games. It’s a morale victory if I make it past the fifth inning.
Another subsequent effect of playing West Coast teams is the giant hole in my schedule each night from 7-11 p.m. As the Red Sox have bopped from Anaheim to Seattle and back to Dodger Stadium, I’ve been using this 7-11 p.m. slot to watch baseball flicks.
Let’s face it, people like lists; they’re all over the internet—“Top 10 Most Offensive Remarks made by Donald Trump” or “16 Regrettable Prom Photos” or “25 Videos of Animals Copulating That You Must See!”
So below is my list of the “Top Four Baseball Flicks of All-Time.” Granted, there’s an element of subjectivity to the list but I’m pretty sure I’m right.
4. Major League (1989). So the characters are drawn razor-thin, the plot is flimsy—the love story is corny and predictable—and after his epic “winning” collapse beside his porn-star “goddesses,” it’s really hard to take anything starring Charlie Sheen seriously. And by the end of the movie, you find yourself half-hating Jack Taylor (Tom Berenger), the journeyman catcher with a big heart, hoping the bunts rolls foul.
But there are some huge upsides that place this borderline B-flick that place it in the Top Four.
The first reason: Rene Russo playing a sexy librarian. She certainly gets the blood pumping as the mousy sexpot who drops her pretentious lawyer boyfriend for ole’ big-hearted Jake.
Also, the secondary characters are amusing. Willy Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) is a loveable loser for most of the film, and Pedro “Fuck you, Jabu” Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), who can’t hit a curveball, is quotable.
And the scene where Ricky Vaughn (Sheen) comes into the game to “Wild Thing,” while viscerally cringe-worthy, is also pretty awesome.
But mostly it’s all about Rene Russo.
3. The Natural (1984). Roy Hobbs’ (Robert Redford) story is not only the quintessential baseball story, it’s the quintessential underdog story. While Hobbs’ character is almost antithetical to the character in Bernard Malamud’s novel—in the book, Hobbs is an anti-hero, ornery and aloof, who strikes out in the end—your average moviegoer doesn’t want to leave the theater bummed out (they’re less likely to consume products when they’re sad). And there are few characters as likeable as Hollywood’s Hobbs. He’s “awe-shucks” handsome and unassuming, a moral stalwart and inspiration for aging people everywhere.
I guess there is still time for me to make something of my life.
And if you’re not wet-eyed when Hobbs’ hits that final bomb into the lights, with the booming soundtrack and the slow motion trot, you might not have a soul. Go check.
2. Field of Dreams (1989). Spoiler alert: all of my picks were released in the 80s and half of them star Kevin Costner. Field of Dreams is based on WS Kinsella’s brilliant magical-realism novel Shoeless Joe. The title was changed by some studio suit (although Kinsella originally titled his novel The Dream Field) and due to litigious threats by Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger, his character was changed to Terence Mann (James Earl Jones). Still, the film manages to capture most of the book’s larger existential themes. No small feat.
In other words, the movie is about a lot more than baseball, while it manages to celebrate the game’s pastoral beauty. Ray Kinsella (Costner) struggles with the same essential question we all struggle with: What makes our lives meaningful?
The answer is, of course, our families and our dreams.
It’s also a story about fathers and sons, and if you don’t cry when Ray plays catch with his father at the end of the movie, you likely suck as a human being.
1. Bull Durham (1988). Costner? Check. Filmed in the 1980s? Check. Walt Whitman quotes during the voice-over at the beginning? Check.
Former Red Sox manager Grady Little, who managed the Durham Bulls at the time, was a consultant for the film and the character of Skip (Trey Wilson) was loosely-based on Little. I know, I know, this alone should disqualify the movie, but I can’t.
Bull Durham braids some the best qualities of the other films on this list. Crash Davis (Costner) is most of us. He has a dream but reality and age is keeping it in check. Unlike Roy Hobbs, there are no lights blowing up for Crash when he has the “dubious distinction” of setting a minor league home run record. Tell me about it, Crash. On top of it all, he is forced babysit Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh (Tim Robbins), a talent with a “million-dollar arm” and “a five-cent head.”
The consolation prize is he gets to sleep with the sultry Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) for days on-end in a cringe-worthy 80s montage that threatens to sink an otherwise stellar script.
Still, bang for your buck, it’s the best baseball movie ever made.
Honorable mentions: The Sandlot (1993), Eight Men Out (1988), and 42 (2013)