The Greatest Baseball Movies Ever (Countdown #5 to #1)
Continuing with my top ten countdown:
 Ken Burns: Baseball (1994)
Measured either by ambition or sheer volume, filmmaker Ken Burns’ nine-part film masterpiece on the history of baseball might convincingly be argued as the best movie of its kind ever made on the subject (I considered placing this artistic gem as my #1). I wasn’t sure it was fair to compare documentaries alongside mostly fictionalized stories, which comprise most of this list. But then I realized leaving them out would be a grave injustice. Ken Burns: Baseball originally aired on PBS back in 1994 over a two-week stretch. It became one of the most-watched public television programs ever. Nearly 25 years later, it continues to stand the test of time. Baseball was a daring follow-up to Burns’ epic breakthrough documentary series on the American Civil War which had been completed a few years earlier. Taking on something so sacred as “the national pastime” seemed an impossible reach. However, Burns stepped up to the plate and whacked our most lofty expectations out of the park. This film isn’t just about baseball. It’s really the story of American culture’s coming of age during the 20th century, manifested in its most popular sport — baseball. Unapologetically patriotic, informative, riveting, inspirational, and downright poetic in parts, this is the quintessential duel-purpose documentary that somehow satisfies both general movie audiences and academic purists. Burn’s storytelling techniques influenced a whole genre of documentaries for decades to follow, which remain with us to this day. This opening monologue, running about three minutes long, is absolutely brilliant. Watch HERE and see if you agree.
 Pride of the Yankees (1942)
What’s not to love and admire about the heroic story of the great Lou Gehrig, played by movie legend Gary Cooper? One year to the day before the film’s release, the ex-New York Yankee great died tragically from ALS, a dreaded and debilitating disease that not only took Lou Gehrig’s life but also his name. Gehrig is aptly idolized in Pride of the Yankees, which became the first great sports movie. It received ten Oscar nominations (more than any other film on my list). His relationships with family, teammates, and fans are sentimentalized in a way that likely wouldn’t be believed today. It might even seem a bit hokey. But back then, Americans badly needed something to cheer for. America desperately needed heroes in those dark months after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the outbreak of the war wasn’t going well for the U.S. and its allies and the future of the world seemed in peril. Even in death, Gehrig was a lighthouse of life, exhibiting class and dignity until the very end. With hundreds of thousands of servicemen about to be shipped off to battles in the Pacific, the Atlantic, Europe, and North Africa Pride of the Yankees was a reminder of just what exactly they all were fighting for. I really liked this musical montage with clips from the movie — check it out HERE.
 Moneyball (2011)
Moneyball has the added intrigue of being a true story. Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, the former real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics during a time when baseball’s playing field wasn’t level. Teams with fewer resources and small payrolls simply couldn’t compete with the far-richer mammoth franchises. Facing financial and competitive disadvantages, Beane (aided by a colleague perfectly portrayed by Jonah Hill) came up with an unorthodox idea that came to revolutionize baseball and later other sports too, focusing almost exclusively on the use of analytics. The book of the same title effectively explains the technical minutiae. But how does a movie intended to appeal to mass audiences make data-driven decisions in cramped offices seem interesting? Answer: Call Aaron Sorkin to write the script. As is typical with most of Sorkin’s work, Moneyball’s snappy dialogue becomes almost rhythmic. Somehow, we begin to understand why spreadsheets create singles. It’s not bats that put curveballs down the third-base line. It’s calculations and percentages. Still, the purists continued to have their doubts. Even Beane begins to doubt himself and questions his own system. Then during the middle of the 2002 regular season — lacking anyone on the roster who even remotely might be considered a superstar — Oakland goes on a 19-game winning streak, tying the American League record for most consecutive victories. Soon thereafter, every team in baseball wants to hire Beane. Even clubs that don’t offer contracts adapt his brilliant use of sabermetrics. Hence, baseball is a game changed forever. Unlike most of the other films on this list, there’s little sentimentality to Moneyball. It’s very likely the most accurate portrayal of what the game is today. See the trailer HERE.
 Field of Dreams (1989)
Field of Dreams has become so mythologized as a cinematic fairy tale that its most famous quote “If you build it, they will come” is now the motto of every believer carrying a dream. The film has come to symbolize the virtues of sticking with one’s own faith even when there’s compelling evidence to the contrary. Believe in yourself even with others who may not. Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer with a wife and daughter. However, these are tough economic times in the American heartland. Costner’s family appears to have run out of options. Their crisis is worsened by a crazy idea inspired by a vision one evening, a voice from the sky which instructs Costner’s character to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. The film seems preposterously implausible on the surface but somehow convinces us all that our subconscious gut instincts are both real and should even be pursued. Field of Dreams is made all the better by strong supporting roles played by Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster (in what most fittingly was his final film appearance). It’s hard to convey the mesmerizing quality of this film without seeing it. Many critics consider it the best baseball movie ever made. Hard to disagree. But I think there’s one film that’s even better. Watch the official trailer HERE.
 The Bad News Bears (1976)
If there’s one film that perfectly captures the times in which it was made, it’s the 1976 baseball classic, The Bad News Bears. It’s cynical. It’s profane. It’s joyous. It’s a double-barreled middle finger to the establishment. A scathing takedown of suburban American life in all its competitive-infested hypocrisies, the misfit Bears take a flamethrower and incinerate every common societal expectation. Against all odds, each individual, by working together as a team, manages to create his and her own self-identity. Incited by a heretical set of values preached but rarely followed, the film manages to incriminate what we normally define as success.
Walter Matthau plays an alcoholic loser and emotionally distant loner tasked with the undesirable role no one else wants — managing a last-place little league baseball team that’s terrible. The Bad News Bears works completely because it treats the kids (all ballplayers) as real people worthy of respect, instead of cute muppet-like caricatures often portrayed in similar movies. It’s hard to appreciate just how scandalous the anti-PC script and characters were 42 years ago when this movie was released. Yet instead of a movie degraded by bratty kids cursing gratuitously and even being subject to several instances of emotional abuse, what we see instead is the very first movie which shows how most kids growing up in America really talk and behave. Rolling Stone wrote in its review: “These pre-teens are unwashed, obnoxious, cynical, fractious, gleefully profane, unrepentantly juvenile, and deeply untrusting of any sort of authority — in other words, just like the kids you probably played team sports with.”
There numerous metaphors throughout the film — some obvious, others more subtle — intended as a stinging social commentary. Yet oddly enough, The Bad News Bears is still often classified as a kids’ movie, when it’s really a blistering revelation of misbehaving adults. The movie also has an unusual and little-known connection to Field of Dreams — Burt Lancaster’s last movie. His son, Bill Lancaster wrote the script for The Bad News Bears. It’s often been said that baseball’s history is the story of America. If so, then this the chapter where we’re all forced to gaze into the mirror and decide whether or not we like what we see.
By the way, Chico’s Bail Bonds (which really did sponsor the team and branded the Bears’ uniforms) is a real company based in the San Fernando Valley, where the movie was shot on location.
WATCH MORE HERE: Here’s a one-minute clip that highlights the majesty of this movie.
SEE MORE HERE: Watch this 3-minute clip of a film critic who explains more about the genius of The Bad News Bears.
Note: Do not be confused by the horrid 2005 remake of this movie, starring Billy Bob Thorton, which is unwatchable. Also, skip the two sequels missing Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal.
Finally, if you’d like to see what movies didn’t get on base, here’s a link to the IMDB WEBSITE PAGE with a nearly-complete list of all the films made about baseball.
This list first appeared HERE.