The Diamond Is The Best

diamondFor better or worse–better if you’re a Yankees fan, worse if you root for the Nationals, Pirates, Royals, et. al. — baseball season is here.

And nowadays, virtually everyone in the U.S. and adjoining territories is within an hour’s drive of a professional ballgame (and having seen some of those indy league games, “professional” is a little bit of a stretch), so there’s no excuse for not getting to the ballyard.

But if you don’t want to battle (a) squadrons of mosquitoes, (b) murderous heat and humidity, or (c) the umpire-baiter in the next row, there’s always the corner video store.

That’s because there have been more good movies made about baseball than any other sport, by far. Name a great hockey movie besides Slap Shot. Try to come up with a top-10 list of football movies. Try to name five movies, good or bad, about golf.

And as with anything related to baseball, there are dozens of Web sites out there to discuss the topic of baseball on film.

What’s surprising is that there isn’t that much debate on the top picks, with a few notable exceptions. Everybody’s list includes, in no particular order, Pride of the Yankees, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, The Natural, and Bang the Drum Slowly.

That, naturally, makes the oddities that jump onto Web lists the most notable.

The Baseball Almanac, clearinghouse of all that is baseball on the Web, has its own list [http://www.baseballalmanac.com/moviebat.shtml] www.baseballalmanac.com/moviebat.shtml], topped by Bull Durham.

But the Almanac-ers also have Bad News Bears and The Sandlot on their list, with pretty good arguments in their favor. BNB, a pretty funny effort, gets a bad rep because of those wretched sequels. The Sandlot, a movie about kids’ baseball, captures the spirit of a less-organized game that we in the over-40 generation played in our misspent youths.

Baseball Almanac also includes A League of Their Own, a fictionalized account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. League includes convincing athletic acting performances by Geena Davis (no stretch there), Madonna (that she can act like anyone but Madonna is stunning), and, yes, Rosie O’Donnell.

The movie geek at About.com [classicfilm.about.com/library/weekly/aa101800a.htm] has an interesting (euphemism for “What is he thinking?) choice in the Busby Berkeley musical Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The 1949 epic features Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin as an infield combination and Esther Williams as the team’s owner.

(Guess baseball movie fans are like baseball fans — there’s always somebody who’s going to root for some off-the-wall team like the Winnipeg Goldeyes or Los Tecolotoes de los dos Laredos.)

Speaking of odd (base) ball, one quasi-baseball movie snuck into several lists: The Naked Gun, on the strength of some fall-down-funny scenes of tough-guy-cop-sendup Leslie Nielsen going undercover as an umpire at an Angels-Mariners game at Dodger Stadium (or is it Wrigley Field?).

There were some choices from even further from left field. One bold picker [at nocryingbaseball.com/movies/movies.html] chose an HBO film called Long Gone as the best of all time. The little-heralded 1987 production is about a 1950s-era minor-league team’s run to the playoffs. The few people who appear to have seen it rave about it (search for it at amazon.com and see).

Not surprisingly, ESPN has gotten into this business of baseball movies as well. It surveyed Web visitors about their favorite scenes from baseball movies, with interesting results [at espn.go.com/page2/s/list/readers/baseballmovie/moments.html].

ESPN also conducted a “Sweet 16” tournament of the best, asking fans to vote on a series of matchups, down to a championship between Field of Dreams and The Natural at www.bostonbaseball.com/whitesox/movies2.html.

We’ll let you check it out for yourself–but no griping or crying allowed (there’s NO crying in baseball, except at Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech and Ray Kinsella playing catch with his dad and Roy Hobbs making the stadium lights explode).

If you can’t get to the diamond, get to the video store.

Our top five picks, by the way, in order: Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, The Natural, Eight Men Out, and 61*. But we’re hunting for Long Gone, and we watch A League of Their Own every time it’s on TV.

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