Play Ball!

Many years ago, I got a job working as a circulation assistant at a library. My schedule on most days had me going to work at 11:00 a.m., taking an hour for “lunch” at 4:00 p.m., and then working the evening shift until the library closed at 8:00 p.m. Usually I got home about 8:30. I began this job in July, so when I got home, my mother was watching the Atlanta Braves game. I’d played softball as a kid, but it had been a while since those days and I wasn’t a big baseball fan. On the other hand, my mother was. (Where my parents were concerned, my mom, not my dad, was the bigger sports fan.) When I arrived home, I was beat. I’d been on my feet most of the day. But I wasn’t necessarily sleepy, so I’d sit with Mama for a while and watch the game.

One night we were watching and the batter hit a pop-up that was easily caught. I said to Mama, “He’s out.” She said, “But he advanced the runner.” Confused, I asked what she was talking about. She explained what a sacrifice fly was. My jaw dropped. “You mean there’s strategy to this game?!” I asked. Honestly, until then I had no idea. Of course my mom laughed. Well, since then I’ve been a baseball fan. I won’t claim to be glued to the tube whenever it’s on, but I do like the game. And I like movies about baseball.


  • The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) -- Jackie Robinson plays himself in this movie about his history-making transition into major league baseball as the first African-American player in the 20th century. Ruby Dee co-stars as Robinson’s wife Rae.
  • 61* (2001) -- Baseball fan Billy Crystal directed this TV-movie about the rivalry between Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and their race to break the season home run record in 1961.
  • Eight Men Out (1988) -- The story of the Chicago White Sox and the infamous “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, when the White Sox deliberately threw the World Series. Directed by John Sayles and starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, David Strathairn, and James Read.
  • Major League (1989) -- Outrageous comedy about a losing baseball team turned around by thoughts of revenge against their owner. Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen, Charlie Sheen, and the great character actor James Gammon.
  • Bull Durham (1988) -- Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins star in this romantic comedy about a woman who loves baseball players almost as much as she loves the game.
  • The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) – Classic movie about an ex-Negro League pitcher who forms his own independent team of ballplayers. Billy Dee Williams stars as Bingo Long, with Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones also starring.
  • Fantasy
  • Angels in the Outfield (1951) -- Short-tempered, profane manager Paul Douglas is reformed by the love of a female reporter (Janet Leigh), a little girl who sees angels (Donna Corcoran), and some of the greatest players of the game.
  • Field of Dreams (1989) -- An Iowa farmer learns about faith and forgiveness and to treasure the simple moments of his life, thanks to the angels in his own outfield. Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan, along with Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster.
  • Romance
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942) -- Yes, this is about Lou Gehrig’s rise as a baseball player and the circumstances that led to his early retirement. But the emphasis is the love story of Lou and Eleanor. Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright star.
  • The Stratton Story (1949) -- James Stewart plays Monty Stratton, a pitcher who came back to the game after losing a leg in a hunting accident. June Allyson co-stars as Stratton’s wife Ethel, the woman who helped him learn to pitch again.
  • The Natural (1984) -- Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, a man who was born to play baseball. Glenn Close is Iris Gaines, the woman who loves him and has waited for him. Who doesn’t remember Iris standing in the bleachers, silently willing Roy to lead his team to victory? Sometimes the most romantic scenes can happen when the characters aren’t even near each other.
  • Little League
  • The Bad News Bears (1976) -- Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Jackie Earle Haley star in a movie about a Little League team of misfits turned around by a cantankerous coach, a female pitcher, and a young biker.
  • Finding Buck McHenry (2000) -- Is their coach Mac Henry really the legendary Negro League player Buck McHenry? Jason and his teammates are determined to find out. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee star.
  • Honorable Mention
  • Damn Yankees (1958) -- Joe Boyd’s fantasy about becoming a baseball player can come true, but only if he barters with the Devil. Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon, and Ray Walston star in this fantasy musical comedy with choreography by Bob Fosse. The score includes classics like “You Gotta Have Heart” and “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.”
  • Frequency (2000) -- Okay, this isn’t really about baseball, but this fantasy about a father (Dennis Quaid) and son (Jim Caviezel) communicating across time is a great mystery/thriller and the 1969 World Series provides a backdrop for the action.
  • Parenthood (1989) -- The toughest job you’ll ever have is being a parent. Well, that and being a Little League coach when your kid’s on the team. But it can also be the most rewarding, as Steve Martin learns in this movie. You’ll always remember the big moment in the big game.
  • The Sandlot (1993) -- Baseball can be the most fun when it’s just a chance to play with the other kids in the neighborhood. But when a Babe Ruth autographed baseball ends up in the yard of the meanest man (James Earl Jones) on the street and he has the biggest, meanest dog in town, what do you do?

I could go on. Anyone else love the American pastime? What are your favorite movies about baseball and baseball players?