Baseball Movie Ethics:The New York Times Comes Up With A Perfect List

There are three reasons for this post:

#1 is that I criticize New York Times reporters and writers so often for bias and incompetence that it is only fair that I give credit when one of them does something not only right, but exactly as I would have done it.

#2 is that the “something” is a list of the best baseball movies to watch while trying to endure both the anxieties of the Wuhan virus disruption and the delay of the baseball season.

#3 is that I am trying to scale down Part 2 of the Ethics Alarms inspirational films list (Part I is here), and this helps: I can remove the baseball movies now.

Times film critic Bruce Fretts picked what he called the ten best baseball films of the last 50 years. I would call them the best baseball films of all time. The one borderline pick he left out would be “The Lou Gehrig Story,” which is more a biography than a true baseball movie, and it’s also sad. Only two films on Fretts’ list are sad. Baseball movies shouldn’t be sad, though I agree with him on the exceptions.

I would add two more baseball movies if it was a Top 12: “The Sandlot” (1993), which brings back memories of my own pick-up baseball gang (and my late English Mastiff, Patience) and “Fever Pitch” (2005), which perhaps is more of a Red Sox movie than a baseball movie. (It had me from the moment Jimmy Fallon kissed his hand and deposited the love on a picture of Tony Conigliaro.) These, however really are the ten best.  Fretts listed them alphabetically, and I wouldn’t try to rank them.

The Bad News Bears (1976): It’s also a great ethics movie, with the final game against the hated Yankees (Little League-version) being perhaps the best climactic game on the whole list.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973): The novel is also wonderful, and the stage version, which my theater company produced under the excellent direction of Ellen Dempsey. Yes, it’s sad, but the movie is about kindness and our shared humanity as well as baseball. The last line of the book, movie and play is a beautiful expression of the Golden Rule.

“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings”(1976): Billy Dee Wiliams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor in an ode to barnstorming baseball teams and segregated baseball before Jackie Robinson

“Bull Durham”(1988): former minor leaguer The weirdness of minor league baseball is exploited to the max is this romantic comedy. The film deserves immortality if only for the fact that its screenplay, authored by Ron Shelton, reveals what  mound conferences are really like.

“Eight Men Out” (1988): The other sad movie on the list, this is the story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, a human tragedy and an ethics cautionary tale.

“Field of Dreams” (1989): Yes, it’s shamelessly manipulative, and some of the speeches from the novel needed to be loosened up, but if “Dad? Wanna have a catch?” doesn’t choke you up, something’s wrong with you.

“A League of Their Own” (1992): Here’s how good this film about the short-lived All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is: even the fact that Rosie O’Donnell is one of the players  can’t hurt it.

“Major League” (1989): The funniest baseball comedy if you don’t count the hilarious baseball sequence in “The Naked Gun,” which I guess you can’t. Fretts says this is generally considered the favorite baseball movie of Major League players. I didn’t know that, but I can see why.

“Moneyball” (2011): A fascinating movie about baseball management and team building, I was shocked at how good it was, and I already knew the story.

“The Natural’ (1984): It’s not perfect, but “The Natural” is probably my favorite movie on the list, for the beginning, for the ending, for Randy Newman’s score, for some of the lines, for the many references to baseball history, and mostly because it captures what those rare and special moments feel like to a passionate baseball fan, when the impossible comes true, and you hear “The Natural’s” Wonderboy theme echoing in your head even if you never heard it before.

11 thoughts on “Baseball Movie Ethics:The New York Times Comes Up With A Perfect List

  1. Major League is my all-time favorite sports movie, period. I grew up around professional athletes (football coach father) and the dialogue and camaraderie expressed in the writing feel authentic. The scene where Ricky Vaughn walks out in relief with an entire stadium singing “Wild Thing” is one of the best movie pieces, ever.

  2. I’m not even a baseball fan, and I have seen almost all of these. I love The Natural with all my heart, even as I find Robert Redford revolting in real life. In that movie, he is my hero. My favorite as well as yours.

    A League of Their Own is another masterpiece. It has humor, drama, pathos… all while being irreverent, playful, and sincere. it is everything a movie should be and more, and Rosie O’Donnell, another loathsome human, actually plays arguably her best possible part. Sometimes, the secrets of synchronicity are too profound to deny.

    Major League is just one of those rare movies that is great from start to finish. It is uncomplicated, unpretentious, and totally successful in a way that makes it unforgettable to me. My favorite line is, “It is very bad to steal Jobu’s rum… Very bad!”

    The only one I think I have not seen is The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. I’m afraid I missed that one.

    • “The only one I think I have not seen is The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. I’m afraid I missed that one.”

      You and 20 million others. One of my favorite all-time movies, period. Hard to categorize. All about everything about how renegades from the “slave-like” strictures of the Negro League became an indy league of their own (which is another movie altogether), an invisible league working in the shadow, beside and finally against the visible leagues who wore the face of the sport, clowning and outplaying each other, their skills bursting out of a closet of building frustration and budding championship worth. Flawed men who didn’t start out to be popular heroes, who just did what they did out of sheer passion, who couldn’t help the feeling, who were here one day, gone like a transient carnival the next, not realizing how much they were fighting for. It’s a slick ride that veers from ecstatic heights to tragedy and back again in minutes, riding on the rhythms of the music (the film borders on ‘stage musical’). Songs by Thelma Houston of 70s disco fame sound occasionally almost unpleasantly out-of-range – for my ears – but they’re laced with real “step up and follow the parade” pizzazz.. The “Stars,” with roles written wonderfully for their screen personalities, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor echo (suggests Wikipedia) bits of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. Made in 1976 for a relatively measly 9M and without the seamless reality a 40-year-later technology might have given it, it still leaves a powerful impression of what Baseball, itself, is all about.

  3. What a great list. Why is it that there are more great baseball movies than there are great movies about all other sports combined? Maybe it says more about us than it does the movies.

    Can we at least give some sort of mention to Ken Burns’ Baseball? Watching that documentary is a great way to kill a couple of days during this hiatus to life.

  4. +1 on the Sandlot. I’ve probably seen it a half dozen times at least and it makes me laugh out loud every time.

  5. One interesting thing about Fever Pitch. Back in the day I lived in NY, and I’m a Mets fan. One of the games I was at Shea Stadium, they had all these signs and announcements that they were doing work for that film. Between some innings, they would ask the crowd to do all sorts of reactions as if baseball plays were going on (mostly stand and cheer loudly). It was mostly for sound, not for the filming. So some of the sounds of that movie at the ballpark are probably raucous NY’ers 🙂 (Hope that doesn’t ruin the film for you).

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