Like other sports, when it comes to baseball there’s the reality and there’s the myth.
The reality covers the game, the players, the business, the scandals, other history and such.
The myth sees players as larger-than-life celebrities, with plays and players immortalized in books, movies and personal anecdotes that grow more elaborate over time.
Perhaps the movie that best celebrates baseball as myth is “The Natural,” recently released on DVD in a fleshed-out version that gives the Robert Redford character more of a back story.
Based on the classic Bernard Malamud book, the film frames the story as the Arthurian legend, with Redford as the legendary king and his bat as Excalibur.
“Field of Dreams” celebrates love of the game and the way baseball connects fathers of sons – and the mythology.
Other movies, such as the William Bendix version of “The Babe Ruth Story,” put so much gloss on the athlete and the story surrounding him that the final product is often more fiction than fact.
Baseball movies that emphasize the truth more than wishful thinking: “Eight Men Out,” about the Black Sox Scandal; “Cobb,” a look at the legendary Ty Cobb (played by Tommy Lee Jones) with all his warts intact; “The Rookie,” with Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, out of the minors 12 years teaching chemistry and coaching his Texas high school team with he gives the majors a last, late-in-life shot (very cool film); “Fear Strikes Out,” with Anthony Perkins as former troubled Cleveland Indians outfielder Jimmy Piersall Story; “Pride of the Yankees,” with Gary Cooper as ALS-stricken Lou Gehrig; and “The Jackie Robinson Story,” starring the real Robinson.
Many fictional films capture enough of the flavor of the game to qualify as perennials.
Among them: “Major League,” the quintessential baseball comedy for Cleveland natives such as myself; “Bull Durham,”‘ by “Cobb” director Ron Shelton, about life in the minor leagues; “Bingo Long’s Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings,” about the Negro Leagues based on fact; “A League of Their Own,” about the women’s league developed during World War II; “Bang the Drum Slowly,” a Robert De Niro heartbreaker about best-buddy pros on a fictional team; “For Love of the Game,” with Kevin Costner as an aging pitcher looking back at his life the night he finally gets his chance to throw in the bigs; “The Bad News Bears,” first version, about life in Little League; and “Fever Pitch,” comedy about an obsessed Boston fan.
Other fictional comedies that are just plain fun include “Angels in the Outfield” and its update, and “It Happens Every Spring,” with Ray Milland as a chemistry teacher who invents a substance that makes baseballs avoid wood (bats) – and uses it to become a star pitcher.
I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty. Feel free to add your favorites in the “Post a comment” area below.
I’d love to see what I missed.