clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What’s the Best Baseball Movie of All Time?

New, comments

Missing Hall of Fame talk? (OK, you’re not.) Hop into our weeklong vote on the best diamond flick ever.

The Great Escape
No, The Great Escape didn’t make the cut this year.
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Sure, you may be getting ballot box fatigue, with our Veterans’ Committee vote, Hall of Fame ballot, upcoming White Sox Hall of Fame, Top Prospect Polls, and whatever other joke poll I can insert into a story. But cinch it up and strap it down for a fun late-week foray into baseball on film!

We’ve asked some of your favorite South Side Sox writers to summarize our Top 16, which you’ll be voting on all week in our mini-tournament. Brett determined the seeds, so blame him ... his notes to me: the seeds were determined by a nonsensical mash-up of IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and Google user ratings.

This will be a speedy procedure, one round per day, so the whole shebang ends early next week, before the White Sox Hall of Fame vote. So don’t dally, sally.


Moneyball (2011)
Kristina Airdo

If you haven’t seen the masterpiece that is Moneyball, I just have one question … HOW HAVE YOU NOT?! Plus Brad Pitt is in the movie, which is honestly a win for everyone. Am I biased? Yes … but we’re not talking about me right now!

The movie focuses on general manager Billy Beane and the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who embark on a journey to rebuild a once-competitive, small-market baseball team with a VERY limited budget. Statistics were often overlooked by an industry that focused on basic stats such as AVG/HR/RBI, which may not show the whole picture of a player’s value on a team. Assistant GM Peter Brand, an econ grad, pitches a seemingly radical idea of focusing on unique player metrics, such as OBP and SLG%, as a way to better understand a player’s potential value to a team. A lot of feathers were ruffled within the organization and the clubhouse, believing that taking an analytical approach would destroy the team (spoiler alert! It didn’t).

While the A’s had a slow start to the 2002 season, they quickly turned things around and went on a record-breaking, 20-game tear to win the AL West. As a baseball fan, it’s sad that we don’t get the happy ending of a World Series title as Billy Beane intended, but this new “Moneyball” approach would go on to impact the game in a way no one expected. The 2004 Boston Red Sox were able to utilize these tactics to break their 86-year World Series drought, and since then teams have been constantly working to stay ahead of the curve and find the next edge in baseball.

As White Sox fans, we argued all season long about whether or not Yasmani Grandal is a valuable player to the team, many noting his low BA in the .100’s ... but he had something you couldn’t SEE in the stats. Let’s not forget his insane slash line with a nearly .400 OBP, which showed his hidden value by still getting on base at a high rate, and eventually made him one of the most impactful players for the White Sox. If you love baseball as much as I do, my homework for you is to watch Moneyball ASAP, and if you’ve already watched it, well … you love baseball right? Watch it again.

I leave you White Sox fans with one final question: Why do we like Yasmani Grandal?

The Natural (1984)
Adrian Serrano

“You were right, Memo. We have met before.”

Baseball is magic. It’s what keeps us coming back year after year. Any single game can erupt into a moment of wonder, forever carving out a small niche directly in your psyche. Not something meek like a memory, but a beacon of light, growing stronger and brighter as the surrounding visions dim: vegetative myth. The players and coaches change, but the mythology of the game remains.

In some ways, The Natural is every baseball movie. The story has every single archetype you would expect from a baseball film. A down-on-their-luck team and manager, young phenom, comeback story, money-hungry owner, femme fatale, gatekeeping and self-absorbed journalist, the bonds of father and son. At the end, the characters’ names and histories matter less the impression that the moment left on you.

That is what keeps us coming back to baseball: The magic of the stories. Each year, the homers get longer, the diving catches more acrobatic. There is always going to be another young phenom who comes from the obscurity of a midwest farm to do things on a baseball field that we can only imagine, fully ready to be someone’s “best player I have ever seen.”

There is always going to be another story to tell for years to come, and The Natural will continue to the best baseball movie I have ever seen.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Moneyball
    (109 votes)
  • 48%
    The Natural
    (102 votes)
211 votes total Vote Now

The Sandlot (1993)
Delia Ritchie

The Sandlot provides a nostalgia-laced glimpse at how baseball can unite even the most unlikeliest of people, especially youths. Although the film takes place in 1962 primarily, it ends in a similar, but slightly different way to Stand By Me (1986); two of the main characters, Scottie Smalls and his sandlot mentor, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, are shown as adults and still loving the game of baseball. Because to Benny, “baseball was more than just a game.”

One of my favorite scenes is likely one of yours, when the kids all get together on the Fourth of July to play baseball with fireworks blasting around them. Benny hits a home run, but everyone is focused on the sky. With Ray Charles’ perfect cover of “America the Beautiful” illustrating the fireworks, the picturesque, dirt-covered sandlot felt just like a Major League Baseball stadium and the most Americana 60’s outlook on life — especially the wonder from all of the infielders staring at the reds, whites, and blues exploding and cracking as the scene plays out.

Although there’s plenty of witty exchanges and a unique cast (notably, Denis Leary and James Earl Jones), this movie is lauded (and rightfully so) as one of the best baseball movies, especially amongst my age demographic of college-age adults who cling to childhood memories of saying “you’re killing me Smalls!” to aggravate our non-baseball fan friends.

The Sandlot provides an outlook at the way baseball can alter our lives in the most unexpected ways, even if some of the players grew up in mysterious circumstances.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)
Year of the Hamster

A baseball musical? And one centered around a team that’s not the Black Sox or the Cubs. Oh, yeah.

Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams stud this film with stars, with the dictatorial Kelly directing and wearing ex-Olympic swimmer Williams out. The Chicago Wolves (no, not the hockey team, a fictional 1909 team) take on the Senators, A’s, Red Sox and Cleveland en route to success on the diamond and song in their hearts. Yeah, go figure: Rather than a team filled with players first and offseason touring vaudevillians second, this movie reverses the moonlighting, making Sinatra and Kelly performers first, players second.

Sound silly? Sure it is. But the film is fun, hummable, and toe-tapping.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    The Sandlot
    (156 votes)
  • 12%
    Take Me Out to the Ballgame
    (22 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now

Eight Men Out (1988)
Joe Resis

This film is a fascinating depiction of what many refer to as the biggest scandal in MLB history. Before the players’ union existed, the culture surrounding player vs. owner issues was entirely different. Mainly, players had very little leverage in 1919, which the film clarifies. As a result, viewers can grasp the decision-making process of the players involved in the scandal.

The film also shows the brief aftermath, which includes how Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, received power and set a precedent for future commissioners. After being granted the large amount of power he demanded, Landis later received credit for restoring integrity to MLB and taking a stand against gambling by those affiliated with the league. However, he has earned criticism for the controversial lifetime (and now post-lifetime) bans of Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson. (Weaver, especially, played at most, a minimal role and was banned for awareness of foul play and failing to “promptly tell his club about it.”) The scandal essentially laid the groundwork for Landis to take control of baseball, and the scandal was so large that owners were desperate for someone to restore order.

Regardless of where viewers fall on the appreciation scale regarding Landis, however, the film does a nice job showing how seriously owners were about making sure nothing of that sort would happen again. One minor critique of the film is that other teams’ players’ treatment is not addressed adequately. Charles Comiskey, who is vilified, was hardly an unusual owner compared to others of that era in that respect.

42 (2013)
Nello Rubio

When it comes to portraying historical figures in film. Not many did it quite like Chadwick Boseman, whether it be as Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up or Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. Boseman brought a conviction and authenticity to each of those roles that not many others could.

Boseman’s portrayal of Robinson was his true breakout role. The way Boseman was able to capture the grit, hustle, muscle and inspiring tale of Robinson as not only an athlete, but a man. That, coupled with Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey, with a Southern drawl, rubbery grin and anger of a man who was trying to help Robinson’s teammates see how much the first Black player had to go through, perfectly portraying a great father and mentor mentality, made 42 such a great film.

At its heart, 42, is not only a biopic on how Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, but also an inspiring and motivationally-powerful tale of an American inspiring others to go after their dreams — no matter their race, creed, nationality or skin color. It’s not only one of the best baseball or sports movies ever, but among the most inspiring and motivational movies you will ever see.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Eight Men Out
    (107 votes)
  • 39%
    42
    (71 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now

Major League (1989)
Zach Hayes

Look, Major League has a lot of problems. Like many films of, well, even today, it conflates stalking with romance, it’s filled with boorish, inappropriate humor, and employs a fair share of racial tropes that certainly don’t stand the test of time.

Unfortunately, this is true of most baseball movies. So as far as the actual baseball goes, no film has ever quite managed to capture the thrill, the suspense, the essence of the day-to-day grind of baseball like Major League. There’s no manufactured drama, nor is there any need: With characters like Ricky Vaughn, Willie Mays Hayes, Pedro Cerrano, and Roger Dorn, you don’t need to try very hard. Say what you want about Charlie Sheen — and there’s a lot to say — but he’s certainly got more entertainment value than Kevin Costner.

Rachel Phelps may or may not have been a mishmash of real-life figures, but anybody who’s watched Ted Lasso knows the endurance of such a character. The irony of Clu Haywood might be lost on some, but not those who recognize 1982 Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich in the role of the Yankees’ beefy slugger.

And, of course, there’s Bob Uecker. Juuuuuust a bit outside. What more needs to be said?

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Jacki Krestel

How do you even begin to tell the story of the one of the most iconic and prolific players in the history of the game? The Pride of the Yankees is a sports biography that does just that, paying homage to the life and career of Lou Gehrig. Gehrig played first base for the Yankees in the 1920s and 30s, amassing baseball’s longest consecutive game streak, one that stood until Cal Ripken broke the record in 1995. Gehrig’s career was cut short by a devastating diagnosis of ALS — a disease which would go on to bear his name.

My father showed me this movie while all four of my grandparents were still living, so I think this may have been his way of introducing me to the concept of mortality. (Yay baseball dads?) The movie itself is pretty awesome and was nominated for a bunch of Oscars, including Best Picture. Babe Ruth appears as himself, and his acting chops aren’t half-bad. They wrote Gehrig’s mother as an endearing heel, but while reading up on the film to write this, I read that Gehrig’s mother and wife actually hated each other. So, that’s spicy.

This movie is worth a watch, if for no other reason because it features a fantastic Bettye Avery version of the song “Always.”

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Major League
    (134 votes)
  • 29%
    The Pride of the Yankees
    (55 votes)
189 votes total Vote Now

The Stratton Story (1949)
Brett Ballantini

I finally saw this biopic of the ill-fated White Sox hurler Monty Stratton (depicted here by the incomparable Jimmy Stewart) for the first time last year, and yeah, it’s pretty good. If nothing else, this movies answers curios like, “hey, why do pro sports contracts have provisions forbidding certain activities?” (Although, come to think of it, there are tons of pro athlete hunters, so this movie doesn’t answer that curio at all.)

Stewart pulls off pitching roughly as well as Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, and seeing iconic White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes in a feature film is fun — as is seeing the lovely Comiskey Park used in some scenes. On the other hand, there are Yankees cameos, too.

The film won an Oscar for Best Story, if you want to be swayed by such. Or maybe, for some reason, you just hate Field of Dreams. Pity.

Speaking of ...

Field of Dreams (1989)
Brett Ballantini

What folks don’t seem to get about Field of Dreams is that it is a sports fantasy. There are ghosts. A reclusive writer (J.D. Salinger, changed for the movie because, well, J.D. was a bit of a curmudgeon, yeah) decides to join a farmboy stranger on a quixotic quest to “go the distance.” Yes, if you live in the boonies and your kid is choking on a hot dog, you may well need to summon a ballplayer ghost doctor like the delectable Burt Lancaster to save her. Ray Liotta turns Joe Jackson into a righthander. Dead players come to life. Father and son “have a catch.”

But hey, it’s a fantasy. Get past it. Sure, the movie trips a bit over a Hallmark line, but if you watched Ray Kinsella and his father “have” that catch toward the end without a tear in your eye, you are a robot.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    The Stratton Story
    (21 votes)
  • 88%
    Field of Dreams
    (164 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Brett Ballantini

Some of the best baseball movies don’t lead with sports as the hook, and this is one. Robert De Niro plays a catcher for the New York Mammoths, hiding a heartbreaking secret. The relationship between the battery of De Niro and a star hurler played by Michael Moriarty takes the team from a slumping start to the season, all the way to the World Series. De Niro was a virtual unknown when this was filmed; by the end of the year, with his performances here and in Mean Streets, he would never be unknown again.

Bull Durham (1988)
Tommy Barbee

From the opening sequence, where Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) waxes poetic about the “Church of Baseball” in a way that combines bumper sticker wisdom and romantic optimism, it’s easy to see what makes Bull Durham a unique baseball movie. Yes, others are more realistic or even better at building the mythology of baseball, but I would argue none are as quotable — even 34 years later. While there are definite nods to nostalgia, the most obvious being a featured role of prominent baseball “clown” Max Patkin, it isn’t overdone and helps contextualize the romanticism with which Annie approaches baseball as an entity. To help ground her world is the cynicism and naivety of “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner) and “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). The chemistry of the three (Robbins and Sarandon went on to be a Hollywood couple for 30 years, thanks to the film) elevates an already-rich script into movie moments that are still critically-acclaimed today.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Bang the Drum Slowly
    (31 votes)
  • 82%
    Bull Durham
    (151 votes)
182 votes total Vote Now

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
Year of the Hamster

This is almost guaranteed to be the movie none of you have seen, and it is a pity. The title alone should suck you in, and if not, how about a cast centering around Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams? Williams, as pitcher Bingo Long (modeled on Satchel Paige), steals the show; tired of being exploited by Negro League ownership, Long breaks away to form his own barnstorming team, plucking All-Stars from every team in the league. The movie is a ton of fun, and mirrors real history (characters modeled on Willie Mays, Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson) enough to be resonant as well.

A League of Their Own (1992)
Jacki Krestel

A League of Their Own is the fictional account of two sisters who were founding members of the very nonfictional All American Girls Professional Baseball League. This movie is a bonafide classic. It literally has everything a baseball-loving moviegoer could want: a great cast, story, baseball content — and an added sprinkle of historical charm.

It’s also extremely quotable, from the iconic “There’s no crying in baseball!” to the less-appreciated “Well, it’d bruise the hell out of me.”

So wonderful is this movie that we can even overlook the ties it has to the team that plays on the north side of town. (Phillip Wrigley, fictionalized as “Walter Harvey” in the movie, was the founder of the AAGPBL.)

On a personal note, I chose to hype this movie because when I was a little girl, all I wanted to be was a ballplayer. It didn’t take long for me to learn that I wouldn’t always be immediately welcomed by sports culture at large. Women like me are often seen as novelties. A League of Their Own was released when I was 10 years old, and it made me feel a little more normal for loving the game so much — a little less like a novelty. As one character aptly put it: “I mean, look. There’s a lot of us. I think we’re all alright.”

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
    (26 votes)
  • 85%
    A League of Their Own
    (155 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now

Sugar (2009)
Tyrone Palmer

Whenever people ask me my favorite baseball movie, I always tell them Sugar. This is usually followed by them having never heard of the movie, and me begging them to watch it.

Sugar tells the story of a Dominican baseball player attempting to climb the ranks through the minor leagues in America. It is more than just a baseball movie — it is a bittersweet immigrant journey. It shows the challenges that come with trying to make it though the meat grinder that is the minor leagues. It is the rare baseball movie that does away with clichés, but keeps all of the heart. And for White Sox fans, it might give you extra appreciation for what some of the foreign-born players have experienced on their way to Chicago.

The Bad News Bears (1976)
Brett Ballantini

Well, on one hand, this movie dates very poorly, with children miming some of the ugliest racial epithets you’ll ever experience in a baseball, er, any movie. But, it is a product of its time, given that nary a critic winced, often praising the clever dialogue of the film. And if you are able to excise such language — perhaps watching an edited-for-TV version? — the film is pretty fun, perhaps even inspirational, as an underdog story.

Walter Matthau is the Bears’ crude manager, Tatum O’Neal the unlikely star hurler.

Think this movie wasn’t a phenomenon? There were two quick sequels, a short-lived TV series, and, 30 years later, a theatrical remake casting Billy Bob Thornton in the Budweiser-guzzling Matthau role.

Poll

Which is the better baseball movie?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Sugar
    (50 votes)
  • 70%
    The Bad News Bears
    (120 votes)
170 votes total Vote Now

Give us your feedback on the Top 16 below, including toughest matchups here in this first round, and movies we missed. (Back in the South Side Hit Pen days, Brett and WSM were hatching a plan for a 64-movie tournament in the offseason, so there’s room to expand if we ever do this again, and your feedback below could help drive the setup in the future.)