(Editor’s note: another article that I essentially wrote in Feb of 2011 but never got around to publishing; this has been a good couple of weeks of cleaning out the drafts).
Right around the time of the Academy Awards in 2011, Jim Caple wrote a fun pre-2011 Oscar review of historical baseball movies from an Academy Award perspective (where he picked the 6 major Academy Awards for baseball movies). Caple’s awards for the “major” Oscar nominations were:
- Best Picture: “Bull Durham“
- Best Director: Barry Levinson for “The Natural“
- Best Actor: Walter Matthau from “Bad News Bears“
- Best Actress: Susan Sarandon from “Bull Durham“
- Best Supporting Actor: Vic Morrow from “Bad News Bears“
- Best Supporting Actress: Madonna from “A League of their Own“
(Other interesting movie links related to baseball I’ve stored over the years: Caple subsequently wrote a Moneyball review in September of 2012, and SBNation posted a list of the Greatest Baseball Movie Lines in history around the same time. Here’s a recent link 50 Fun facts about sports movies that includes some Baseball trivia, and here’s a list of the Top Grossing Baseball movies of all time; the leader isn’t that surprising).
Being a fan of baseball movies myself, I’d quibble with some of Caple’s winners ( you have to see his list of “nominations” to really argue) but the article is a great read. And it got me thinking: what other “Award Categories” for Baseball movies make sense to debate?
Here’s my Categories, and here’s a great list of baseball-themed movies to choose from. Its a bit dated but gets most of the major films you need. I fully admit that I have not seen every single baseball-related movie in the history of Hollywood, so feel free to debate the nominees that I’ve selected below.
Best Baseball Action Depicted
Nominations: Bull Durham, Major League, The Natural, Eight Men Out, 61*
Discussion: Eight Men Out was a fantastic period piece and did a great job. Major League was a baseball movie for sure, but wasn’t nearly as good in terms of action as Bull Durham. Billy Crystal‘s pet project 61* did a great job as well. I loved The Natural, its old-time baseball stadium shots, and the old school uniforms. This is a tough call, but the winner goes to the one movie among all of these that was actually directed by a former minor league ball player. Winner: Bull Durham. (Note: I considered and didn’t use Moneyball because of the actual footage intermixed in, and the general lack of baseball action in the movie).
Best Actor as a passable Baseball Player
Nominations: Kevin Costner (any of his several baseball movies), Robert Redford (The Natural), Randy Quaid (The Rookie), Thomas Jane (61*), Charlie Sheen (Major League), Dennis Haysburt (Major League), Jon Cusack (Eight Men Out), Ray Liotta (Field of Dreams).
Discussion: I nominate Liotta only because of the fact that Shoeless Joe Jackson batted lefty and Liotta spent months learning how to hit lefty for the role, only to have the director discard his abilities. Similarly, Jon Cusack learned how to hit lefty and several of the baseball action scenes depict him swinging and hitting baseballs for long drives. Quaid did an admirable job as Jim Morris and is quite an athlete, but did a far superior job as a quarterback in “Any Given Sunday.”
Dennis Haysburt deserves special mention by creating his iconic character, Pedro Ceranno. He looked realistic at the plate and running the bases. Redford was clearly a player, talking in the past of how he fashioned his game after fellow San Diego native Ted Williams, and his baseball scenes both hitting and pitching in the Natural are fantastic. He comes in a close third.
The award comes down to Costner and Sheen. Sheen (per his IMDB page) was a baseball pitcher in high school and could throw mid-80s naturally. He looks great on the mound. But for me, the fact that Costner could legitimately switch hit, played a convincing catcher throughout Bull Durham and a pitcher in For the Love of the Game give him the award. Winner: Kevin Costner.
Worst Actor attempting to pass as a Baseball Player
Nominations: Tommy Lee Jones (Cobb), Tom Berenger (Major League), Tom Selleck (Mr. Baseball), Gary Cooper (Lou Gehrig), Tim Robbins (Bull Durham), John Goodman (The Babe), Brendan Frasor (The Scout). Wesley Snipes (The Fan or Major League).
Discussion: Apparently actors love to do sports movies, because they all think they can, you know, play sports well. Every guy who used to play pick up basketball thinks they can do “White Men Can’t Jump” and every guy who played little league thinks they can be in “Bull Durham.” I list a number of guys here, all of whom struggled in some way or another to appear athletic in a baseball movie. In all fairness, most of these guys did decently well. Berenger was in a tough spot, appearing as a catcher who threw like a girl. Robbins did a pretty good job and was athletic enough to pass. But the winner is most likely Gary Cooper, who apparently was so un-athletic that they gave up having him appear to be lefty, let alone make him look like Lou Gehrig. This topic recently appeared again in some popular baseball blogs, with the researcher doing some pretty in-depth analysis to determine if this is actually a hollywood myth. In any case, the Winner is Gary Cooper.
Best Movie Coach/Manager
Nominations: James Gammon (Lou from “Major League“), Tom Hanks (Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own“), Trey Wilson (Joe Riggens from “Bull Durham“), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher from “The Natural“), Walter Matthau (Bad News Bears), Philip Seymore Hoffman (Art Howe in “Moneyball”).
Discussion: A great set of character actors and performances here. Lou from Major League has some memorable lines but wasn’t much of an acting job. From a purely acting/role preparation perspective its hard to argue with Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the legendary Jimmie Foxx. Pop Fisher was a good ole grandfather but didn’t exactly test the range of Wilford Brimely. Hoffman is a fantastic actor in his own right, but by all accounts Art Howe isn’t even remotely like the character he played.
Walter Matthau probably put in the best pure acting job. But the late Trey Wilson’s fantastic portrayal of the manager of the Durham Bulls, including his interaction with Crash Davis, his shower scene speech and his fighting with the umpires were legendary. Winner: Trey Wilson.
Best Biopic of a player
Nominations: Cobb, Pride of the Yankees, Hustle, The Babe, The Rookie
Discussion: Honestly I didn’t really care for any of these movies that much. The most recent of them (The Rookie) was interesting but not really that well done frankly. Dennis Quaid was just a hair too old for the role and isn’t that good of an actor. The Babe and Cobb were the two best shots, but both were such bad movies that one cannot pick them as the winner. I think sentimentality dictates the winner here. Winner: Pride of the Yankees.
Best Representation of Actual Baseball Events
Nominations: Eight Men Out, Soul of the Game, 61*, The Perfect Game
Winner: Eight Men Out. Doesn’t romanticize the events, presents them relatively slant-free. I liked 61* in this respect, but Billy Crystal didn’t have the budget he really needed to compete with the excellent period piece about the Black Sox scandal.
Best Baseball Movie to trick your Wife into seeing
Nominations: How Do You Know, Fever Pitch, Summer Catch
Winner: Fever Pitch, but do you really want to see any of these movies?
Best Baseball Movie to take your kids to see
Nominations: Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield, Little Big League, Air Bud: 7th Inning Fetch, The Sandlot
Winner: Air Bud 7th Inning Fetch. Any movie where a dog gets to play baseball is a winner in my book.
Creepiest Baseball Movie to see
Nominations: The Bad News Bears, The Fan
Discussion: I put in the “Bad News Bears” as slightly “creepy” since our ideals of parenting, racial relations and what-not have changed so much since this movie was made. So there are many parts that will make you cringe.
Winner: The Fan: Robert DeNiro plays an obsessed fan of SF Giants outfielder Wesley Snipes. This wins almost by default, since I can think of no other thriller/suspense baseball films.
Worst Baseball Movie
Nominations: Major League III Back to the Minors, Hustle, The Benchwarmers, Hardball
Discussion: There’s some pretty bad movies in here. But nothing was as insufferable as the third edition of the Major League franchise. It was bad enough that they made the second edition, with Omar Epps badly attempting to recreate Wesley Snipes‘ character. But it went downhill in the third; the writing was bad, and all the leading stars from the first two installments declined to participate, leaving Corbin Bernsen and Dennis Haysbert as the last remaining characters from the original. Winner: Major League III.
Nominations: The Natural, Bang the Drum Slowly, Field of Dreams, Pride of the Yankees, Moneyball
Discussion: Moneyball is the late entry here, garnering several Academy Award nominations and getting major Academy street cred by virtue of being written by Aaron Sorkin. I’m a sucker for old school tear-jerkers like the rest of them, meaning that Bang The Drum Slowly gets a nod. Field of Dreams doesn’t hold up as much for me (though I fully admit I cannot watch the last scene without crying). Up until Moneyball’s release, the winner for me was the excellent The Natural, despite its modified ending from the classic novel of the same name. Winner: Moneyball.
Nominations: Major League, Bull Durham, A League of their Own, Mr. 3000, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
Discussion: There’s three very quality finalists here, if I may immediately cut the Bernie Mac vehecile Mr. 3000 and the obscure Bingo movie. Lets talk about them one by one.
A League of their Own depended on the slapstick sexual references from Madonna for its comedy most of the time, with thinly-veiled references to her nude portrait book or the fact that “most of america has seen her naked.” Major League was a great comedy and had a great setup. But for me nothing matches the subtleties and quality of the writing in Bull Durham. Winner: Bull Durham
I KNOW this will generate discussion and disagreement. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.