Of all American sports, baseball tends to lend itself to film like no other. Maybe it’s the sport’s unique position in our collective history as a storytelling medium from one generation to the other — the special way a parent can tell a child about the majesty of eras gone by — or maybe it’s the fact that so little actually happens during the game, the gaps in action are easy to fill with movie stories. Maybe it’s just easier to film, or more plausible to make movie stars look like baseball stars than football stars.
For some reason, the ’90s were a ludicrously fertile ground for baseball movies involving children in particular. People just couldn’t get enough of kids impacting Major League Baseball games, whether with divine intervention (Angels in the Outfield), a bizarre injury that gets them a roster spot (Rookie of the Year), or an inheritance that gives them dictatorial control (Little Big League). There were others, of course, including the greatest one, and not all of them came in that ’90s heyday, but they’re all worth mentioning. And if they’re worth mentioning, they’re worth ranking. We at Uproxx pulled together and gave our takes on the baseball movies of our childhood (and in one special case, our sexual awakening). Ranking them was tough, because every writer loved their film. Last place does not mean it’s a bad movie (although, in this case, it might).
BANSKY: First off, R.I.P. G-Baby. No fictional movie death has ever rocked me to my core like this besides Marley the dog, so there’s that. Second, although this isn’t a traditionally “good” film, there is so much to enjoy here. There’s the comedy of Keanu Reeves deadpanning an entire movie, a rather impressive feat for even the notoriously wooden Keanu. There’s Michael B. Jordan with an afro, and more importantly, there’s a kid who wants nothing more than to listen to Biggie Smalls. The kid only plays well when he hears Biggie’s “Big Poppa,” and when they take his headphones away, his teammates and Keanu Reeves sing it for him. Incredible moment, incredible film.
5. Rookie of the Year
BRIAN SHARP: Rookie of the Year was certainly a flawed baseball movie. It didn’t quite care as much about the technical aspects of Major League Baseball as much as, say, Little Big League, the movie against which it will forever be judged. For instance, the way in which Henry Rowengartner got the first out after he lost his fastball-throwing abilities — by sneaking the ball to the first baseman, who tagged out the runner after he took his lead-off — is clearly a balk. Also, he got the second out by taunting a base-runner until the runner dared to attempt a steal.
So, yeah, this movie clearly did not even try to make sure it got the baseball details right. But at the same time, that wasn’t really the point. The theme of the movie is a common one: A young adolescent is thrown into an adult situation, and this is how he deals with it. Along the way, he finds a mentor, and he also learns that his mom will stick up for him every step of the way. But unlike Little Big League, Rookie of the Year also gives us a sweet, Hollywood ending. Which is okay, because every character throughout the movie who ends up with a happy ending was worth rooting for. Yes, even Gary Busey.
4. Bad News Bears (2005)
DANIELLE MATHESON: Okay. So. I like the Bad News Bears remake more than the original, and I might be the only person on the planet who does. I am not here to listen to your arguments about beloved baseball classics, how dare you blah blah blah, whatever. We need to address a few things. First: How awful were those f*cking Yankees? Every baseball movie needs a great villain baseball team, and smarmy Greg Kinnear is at the head of the worst one. They wear those long-sleeved skintight Under Armour turtlenecks under their jerseys, and you know who does that? F*cking douchebags is who does that. Well, them and Nick Saban, so… y’know. You wanna see these wormy little kids get their wormy little racist/sexist faces driven into the ground by such memorable characters as “funny fat kid in a wheelchair,” “girl who is good at sports that aren’t figure skating,” and “the other one, he might be black I think?” There’s a nice message about equality and redemption, and also some incredibly conflicting feelings about Billy Bob Thornton.
Okay, so I wouldn’t even f*ck him with someone else’s lady parts, but I would totally consider it. See, Billy Bob Thornton is a type. He’s the kind who is never fully clean-shaven, has tattoos bursting from the sleeves of his plain white t-shirt, and the faint smell of Evan Williams oozing out of his pores. He probably has some nickname for you like “killer” or “tiger,” and he says you’re his best girl, which makes you feel special in a way that supersedes the idea that there are other girls that rank below you. He conjures the idea of smokey dive bars, cheap beer under bistro lights strung between hickory trees, and endless summer nights. He can build engines from scratch, wiping the grease from his hands with the red handkerchief he keeps in his back pocket, blissfully unaware of the existence of the hanky code. He’s crude, but in a way that’s endearing for a time. Maybe deep down under the tobacco stains, the ripped jeans, and the latent alcoholism, there’s a heart of gold. There isn’t, but you’re still going to try to dig it out, anyways. At the end of the day, he’s a bad idea wrapped up in damaged packaging; the end won’t be pretty, but it sure as hell is gonna be fun on the the way there.
Nobody wants to f*ck Walter Matthau.
3. Angels in the Outfield
BILL DIFILIPPO: Angels in the Outfield is the most “sports movie” movie of all-time. Consider the following:
- It features a down-on-its-luck franchise where nobody cares about anything because oh my god the team is so bad you guys.
- Someone/thing unrelated to the team shows up and makes it better, not necessarily because they’re an insane athlete, but because of something intangible. (Although I suppose the angel in the movie has tangible effects on the team, so maybe it’s not intangible? I’m not sure.)
- The team’s performance has direct impact on another thing unrelated to the sport. In this case, the team’s success has a direct impact on the relationship between Roger Bomman and his dad… well, at least until Roger finds out that his dad is a bad person.
- Something heartbreaking happens – in this case, when Roger tries to hold his dad accountable for the “we’ll be a family when the Angels win the pennant” thing and his dad walks out on him. The movie came out 21 years ago and that still hurts.
- It ends with everyone happy because the team won the pennant and Danny Glover adopts Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Milton Davis Jr.
- It has one of those actors who you have seen before in a million things and like a lot, but don’t know his name (in this case, Neal McDonough, who plays Whitt Bass).
- The baseball names are outstanding; pitcher Mel Clark, owner Hank Murphy, broadcaster Ranch Wilder [Ed. note: Ranch. Wilder.], catcher Triscuitt Messmer, pitcher Whitt Bass. They all sound like the names of people who are in the running for FIFA’s presidency. The cast for this movie is insane, as Glover, JGL, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Adrien Brody, Matthew McConaughey, and Dermot Mulroney are all in it.
- It’s also insanely heavy, as SI documented here when it ranked the film’s 13 most depressing lines. It touches on the existence of heaven, the foster care system, drug abuse, child abandonment, and being terminally ill.
Seriously, what other zany sports movie will give you all of that? It’s deep enough that it got its very own 30 for 30.
2. Little Big League
MATTHEW ROTHSTEIN: The concept of a kid, Billy Heywood, being the owner and manager of a pro baseball team isn’t any less ridiculous than that of a kid playing, but it’s easier for a child watching the film to convince him or herself that it’s doable. After all, an obsessive baseball fan of any age already plays those roles from the couch. Little Big League is deeply silly (the whole team solving a middle school math problem together?), but it packs in a surprising amount of human moments, like the death of Jason Robards’ grandfather character — I wanted Robards to be my grandpa growing up because of this — and the two-sided heartbreak of a roster cut:
But this movie approaches classic status because of all the real-life baseball players in it, most importantly Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey was the golden boy of baseball in 1994, still rocking the backwards cap and the sweetest swing anyone’s ever seen. And he played the damn villain:
Look at that stoneface! I wasn’t even a Mariners fan, but it still blew my mind to think that Junior could ever be scary, but he embodies the inevitable force of superior talent that beats down plucky underdogs and good strategy when he robs Timothy Busfield (!) of the pennant-winning homer. What a cold movie. (Also, Dennis Farina absolutely chews the scenery as the wise-ass manager who gets fired 30 minutes in. He’s incredible.)
1. The Sandlot
PETE BLACKBURN: For me, The Sandlot is the obvious choice for number one. While a lot of other baseball movies are based on pretty ridiculous plots, The Sandlot keeps it simple and manages to turn a story about a bunch of neighborhood kids playing ball in an abandoned lot into an all-time classic. It’s a movie that withstands the test of time because A) it’s really, really great, and B) it does a wonderful job evoking summer, as well as the spirit of baseball and its roots. The variety of great characters is really what makes it work, but of course Wendy Peffercorn and the awesome soundtrack don’t hurt, either.
And finally, it doesn’t quite qualify as a kid’s movie, but we still had to have DANGER GUERRERO OFF THE TOP ROPE WITH THE BONUS PICK: Mr. Go:
The are many good baseball movies, but there is only one baseball movie about a circus gorilla named Mr. Go that becomes a professional baseball player after a teenaged girl from China trains him to mash dingers. Mr. Go is the best baseball movie.