Opening Day is a sacred time for hardcore baseball fans, that hopeful start of the season when every team’s got the same record and a World Series berth in sight.
Sadly, the coronavirus crisis has postponed Major League Baseball’s opening weekend, at least for now. That doesn’t mean you can’t get your hardball fix in other ways, however. Of all the sports movies Hollywood’s turned out over the years, baseball flicks have the best batting percentage on the awesome scale.
As James Earl Jones tells us in “Field of Dreams,” baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” That entire speech is worth revisiting if self-isolation has you down. Here are some other essential flicks that you’ll want to watch for the love of the game.
‘The Bad News Bears’ (1976)
The template for so many ragtag team flicks ever since, the original “Bears” cast Walter Matthau as an alcoholic coach and former player who turns a bunch of hapless youngsters into winners. A great early role for Jackie Earle Haley, “Watchmen” star and Oscar nominee for “Little Children,” as bad boy Kelly Leak.
‘Bull Durham’ (1988)
More romantic comedy than sports flick, it’s also got one of the best cinematic love triangles with Kevin Costner as lifetime minor leaguer Crash Davis, Tim Robbins as rookie hurler Nuke LaLoosh and Susan Sarandon as hot and bothered hardball devotee Annie Savoy.
‘Damn Yankees’ (1958)
The big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical put a Faustian spin on diamond high jinks. An old Senators fan is willing to sell his soul so his team can beat the Yankees for the pennant, and he gets turned into a star jock (Tab Hunter) to seal the deal. Come for the devilish plot, stay for Gwen Verdon as song-and-dance temptress Lola.
‘Eight Men Out’ (1988)
In the historical drama, Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Michael Rooker, David Strathairn and D.B. Sweeney (as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson) play members of the infamous Chicago “Black Sox” squad who were tossed out of baseball for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.
‘Field of Dreams’ (1989)
A fantastic choice for a double feature with “Eight Men Out,” since Kevin Costner’s Iowa farmer hears voices and builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield and Shoeless Joe (Ray Liotta) appears to play again. Of course, “Dreams” is about much more than the game, as anyone who’s cried through the last scene can tell you.
The racist way Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) is treated by fans and fellow players alike is bound to anger you while watching this biopic, which is the point. But it’s also a thrill to see Boseman round the bases as the iconic player and Harrison Ford steal scenes as grumpy but righteous Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey.
‘A League of Their Own’ (1992)
In her truly excellent ode to women’s professional baseball players during World War II, director Penny Marshall put together an all-star lineup featuring Geena Davis in arguably in her best role ever, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell as ballers and best pals, and Tom Hanks as their drunk coach in need of redemption.
‘Major League’ (1989)
A favorite comedy for a few generations of sports nuts, “Major League” centers on the lowly Cleveland Browns turning around their season thanks to the misfit crew of a convicted pitcher (Charlie Sheen), a self-centered outfielder (Wesley Snipes) and an aging catcher (Tom Berenger). All that AND Mr. Baseball himself, Bob Uecker, too!
Brad Pitt won his first Oscar this year but one could argue he should have won for this biopic, which centers on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Pitt), a fresh-from-Yale economics guru (Jonah Hill), and their efforts using statistics and calculations to field a winning team on a meager budget.
‘The Natural’ (1984)
Robert Redford heads up the epic baseball picture as Roy Hobbs, a batting savant who takes a long and arduous road to get to the majors. Not everybody loves his success when he turns around the season of the New York Knights – though you will during the rousing finale with one explosive home run.