Baseball is great right now because the Cubs are good and have been playing a pretty historic pace. But the sport as a whole has given us another benefit: some really great films. You think of baseball movies and the classics come to mind. Pride of the Yankees. Major League. Bull Durham. Field of Dreams. The Sandlot. So this poses a question: What is the greatest baseball movie of all time?
Well, obviously, that’s a controversial question. But I sought to find the answer.
I took to the Twitters and Facebooks and asked the people of each medium to send me their top 10 baseball movies. I collected each response and tracked the rankings in an Excel sheet. I assigned the #1 movie on each list 10 points, #2 got 9 points, etc. I realized only too late that I had failed to keep track of the demographics of the participants. Off the top of my head and basically a pure guess, I’d say there were about 30-40 people and a pretty decent mix in terms of age and gender.
I didn’t include documentaries, nor were very many selected. We could do best baseball documentaries as a thing of its own because some very good ones are available (if you haven’t seen Knuckleball, get on it or Phil Niekro is going to come after you).
Back to the results. In addition to the opinions I collected, I tracked down the IMDB ratings for each to see whether and how they lined up. Here is your first look at the data:
|Field Of Dreams||146||7.5|
|League of their own||129||7.2|
|Rookie of the Year||83||5.9|
|Bad News Bears||46||7.3|
|Angels in the Outfield||39||6.0|
|Eight Men Out||36||7.3|
|For Love of The Game||32||6.5|
|Pride Of the Yankees||28||7.8|
|Million Dollar Arm||14||7.1|
|Major League 2||9||5.5|
|Little Big League||8||6.0|
|Bang the Drum Slowly||7||7.0|
|It Happens Every Spring||4||7.0|
|Trouble with the Curve||2||6.8|
|The Perfect Game||2||7.0|
And now the visual that will make everything easy to understand.
For your reference, here is the Excel sheet that has everything I used to throw all this together.
I know you can see it all above, but I wanted to make note of a few things. Field of Dreams came in first place by 6 points. The Sandlot was next and the drop off from there to third, A League of Their Own, was 11 points. But as decisive as things were at the top, they were even more so after nine. The drop from nine to ten was 35 points. Feel free to have fun with the data. Play around with it. Do math things to it that I don’t know how to do. Share your results. After all, this project was fan-driven.
I find it interesting that Moneyball did so well. Most of the top 10 is older “classic” movies. Moneyball and 42 are the only movies in the top 10 made after the turn of the century. On the other hand, The Pride of the Yankees didn’t do as well as I would have expected. I would assume it’s because and older and in black and white, thus leading to not as many people having seen it. Which, if you haven’t seen it, what are you doing with your life? Get on it. I mean, Babe Ruth plays Babe Ruth. How much more awesome does it get?
Number and graphs are cool to show what I wanted to do but I wanted to make this a little more personal. I asked Evan Altman, the Editor-in-chief here at CI, and Todd Johnson, who does a majority of the minor league work seen here, a few questions about their most and least favorite baseball movies. And, of course, I had to included my own answers as well.
What is your top 10?
Evan: Major League, The Sandlot, The Natural, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, 42, Bull Durham, Rookie of the Year, Moneyball, For Love of the Game
Todd: Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, Major League, Eight Men Out, Field of Dreams, Moneyball, Trouble with the Curve, A League of Their Own, Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, The Sandlot
Brandon: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, The Natural, Pride of the Yankees, Moneyball, A League of Their Own, Bad News Bears, The Sandlot, Rookie Of The Year, Eight Men Out
Why is your #1 movie at #1 (acting, script, etc.)?
Evan: I remember when Major League came out and wanting to see it, knowing I couldn’t because it was rated R and I was too young. So there was this illicit appeal that lingers to this day. It’s the traditional goofy underdog story laced with all kinds of profanity and other adult humor, so it’s a nice twist on the time-worn tradition. We used to watch that and The Sandlot all the time as kids in between our own backyard baseball games, which is why I love them so much. For me, it’s as much about how those movies anchor me to a certain time in my life as it is the script or the acting or any of that.
Todd: I love the dialogue [in Bull Durham], the mentor/mentee relationship, and the attitude of Crash Davis. I still use those line some 27 years later.
Brandon: I’m with Todd on this one. Crash is like the explicit version of David Ross. There is a scene when the team goes on a road trip and he explains his 20-day appearance in the Majors and it is one Kevin Costner’s best scenes he’s ever done. Susan Sarandon also kicks ass.
Has your #1 changed as more and more movies have come out?
Evan: As you may notice, mine are pretty much from a certain point in time and really trend toward stuff that came out when I was younger. Give me The Natural over Moneyball any day of the week.
Todd: No, it has been pretty steady for 25 years.
Brandon: I’m younger than most, so the answer for me is yes. One of the first movies I ever saw was Field Of Dreams. It was at #1 until I saw Bull Durham a few years ago. Since then? Not even close.
Is there a movie or two you didn’t list that just missed?
Evan: I’m not sure why, but I was never a big Bad News Bears fan. I almost added it to the list just so people wouldn’t be irrationally upset by my choices, so maybe I’ll put it there in the edits to avoid the ire of the masses.
Todd: I think 42 is very good. It may grow on me over time. Also, I showed my history classes “The Soul of the Game” a few times about the decision to pick Jackie Robinson.
Brandon: Major League is the main answer to this for me. I really don’t get the love. It’s funny. It has moments. It even has like two great moments. But other than that? It gets a massive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The other movie I find campy good is The Benchwarmers. It’s by no means a top 10 movie but I do enjoy it. Campy as hell but kinda fun.
Kevin Costner has been in a lot of baseball. Which is he best in? Worst?
Evan: I really like Field of Dreams, man, I can’t lie. I take very serious issue with the idea that a farmer plowing under such a small portion of his land would cost him the ability to pay his mortgage or that they needed to bring an old doctor back from the dead just to pat a girl on the back to save her life, but playing catch with your old man is pretty cool. I get close to welling up at that scene every time, especially when I started to realize that the dad probably did know it was his son with whom he was playing.
I have it on the list, but I just think Costner was so cheesy in Bull Durham. But his worst baseball move was easily Waterworld.
Todd: I think Bull Durham is easily his best. He is funny, passionate, and he looks like he could actually play unlike most other actors (John Goodman, Garry Cooper, etc). I think “For the Love of the Game” was the worst movie. However if you take out the scenes with Kelly what’s her name, it’s actually much better.
Brandon: Field of Dreams. Listen, Kevin Costner is brutal in pretty much everything he does. He has done two movies I find an exception to that principle: The Untouchables and Field Of Dreams. And even in the Untouchables he has bad moments. But in FoD, he’s pretty much perfect. His line delivery is great. He really really got in touch with the role and like Evan said, the end is just heart-wrenching every single time.
Baseball movies have some seriously good soundtracks. Favorite?
Evan: The Sandlot
Todd: I don’t really have one.
Brandon: I’m a soundtrack geek. I think the music in the movies can sometimes be the difference. Imagine Jaws without the John Williams theme. That being said, The Natural has the best score by far with Field of Dreams in second. The piece Thomas Newman (Brother of Randy, wrote the soundtrack for The Shawshank Redemption also) wrote for the famous homer scene in the Natural, is one of the best pieces ever to be heard on the big screen.
Do any of the movies you have mentioned have any sentimental value?
Evan: I think I have basically answered this in previous questions, but Field of Dreams is definitely one of those. Same for The Sandlot, which I first saw as a pay-per-view in a hotel while on vacation with my family. My parents really liked The Natural too, and I remember watching that as a little kid, so it’s got strong ties for me.
Todd: Bad News Bears. These movies came out in when I was in little league and junior high ball. To us, Kelly Leake was almost a mythic figure. He was just an inspiration as much as Reggie Jackson.
Brandon: Not really. I think for my dad he would say Field of Dreams because of the father-son connection, but for me, I don’t really have any memorable or meaningful experiences with baseball movies. If I had to give an answer it would be Moneyball. I went to see it with my grandparents and got a call the next day because I forgot to say thank you. Whoops.
If you could make a movie about the Cubs, what would it be based on?
Evan: Probably a junior high kid who hurts his shoulder and is suddenly able to throw so hard that the team finds a way to disregard convention, immediately putting the youngster on the Major League roster. But then they trade for some new guys who don’t like the idea of a kid being in the locker room with them, so they take the problem to management. Flash forward 15 years to the kid now being a burly man with a full beard who travels the globe saving young women from sex trafficking operations. Either way, it’s gotta use the phrase “Funky butt-lovin’.”
Todd: I would do two. The first one would be about the hiring of Joe Maddon. I think it would be cool, a buddy type movie with lots of amazing decisions and characters. [Ed note: Someone cast the role of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman.]
The second would be when the Cubs when the World Series, for real. It would follow four different people throughout that last game; there’d be a player, a fan at the game, a kid, and a waitress working. It would also have two old people commenting on the game like those Muppet Show old farts.
Brandon: I think a biopic of PK Wrigley or of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. Wrigley owned the team for such a long time and was a fascinating man. You could do a coming-of-age type thing with Brown having to overcome the farming accident and how he managed to stick with baseball.
That pretty much wraps this up. There is a good discussion in all of these questions, so let’s have some more of it. Share your own top 10 and your own answers to the questions down below. And just remember, “If you build it, he will come.”