Okay, I’ll admit I’m probably putting my ass in the jackpot for this one, but I would like to have a conversation about the best baseball movies of all-time.
Best baseball documentary:
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014) – In the ’70s, Portland had a minor league team that was unaffiliated with any MLB club. It’s a classic ragtag, outcast story. And this doc gets bonus points because Portland played in a weird stadium (that has since been refurbished to host the Portland Timbers of the MLS).
Best baseball docuseries:
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994) – America’s preeminent documentarian takes on America’s national pastime.
I’m sorry, but no:
People will make arguments for the following movies, but they’re wrong:
Any of the spate of kids’ baseball movies that came out in ’93 and ’94 – These are all great for what they are, but we’re trying to have an honest conversation about the best baseball movies of all-time. I know a lot of people will disagree with the exclusion of The Sandlot from my top 5, but it has some really problematic parts (do not point out how many problematic parts there are in the other films in my top 5!) and the storytelling is just plain lazy.
Moneyball (2011) – Aaron Sorikin has his stench on so many shitty cultural touchstones of my generation. Chief amongst them, of course, is the bloodless brand of liberal wonkism that believes politics is fast-paced, exciting, sexy, and always honorable, as opposed to tedious drudgery required to build coalitions on the ground, where real lives and, indeed, generations are rendered destitute by policies of barbarism enacted by ghoulish legislators misdirecting constituents from their barbarism with sleek, snappy, and endlessly quotable speeches. Anyway, Sorkin also made this film about sabermetrics. And now that I think about it, Moneyball features the same shitty technocratic ideology that gave us a computer program that told Hillary Clinton not to campaign in Wisconsin. Sorkin isn’t critiquing any of these things. He’s celebrating them. Yes, I rely on traditional statistics. Have I displeased you, you feckless thug?
The Top 5:
Bull Durham (1988) – A romantic (hmmm unconvinced so far) sports (okay now we’re talking) comedy (what? are you friggin kidding me?). This film is pretty much the only thing informing 99% of the general public’s cognitive frame for minor league baseball. Bonus points for the fact that Crash Davis eventually joins the Asheville Tourists, who were one the Savannah Sand Gnats primary rivals in the Sally League (RIP Gnate the Gnat).
Major League (1989) – Although Caddyshack explored the “slobs vs. snobs” trope to greater effect, Major League is nonetheless serviceable and often very funny. It’s also incredibly problematic, but most everything that came out of the 1980s was (DO NOT SAY, “LIKE YOU?”).
A League of Their Own (1992) – A captivating wartime tale about the home front, human potential, and our capacity to carry on and carry each other. Two things: “there’s no crying in baseball” and Kit > Dottie *shrugging emoji*.
The Natural (1984) – Both of the top two baseball movies of all-time are magical realist meditations on American myth-making and American masculinity. They both play out on that liminal space between sleep and wake, where there’s still some sweetness in the dreaming. I love them both dearly.
Field of Dreams (1989) – Field of Dreams edges out The Natural simply because the first time I saw it, at my grandma and grandpa’s house in Westerville, Ohio, it spun my head around in a way that only a magical story can do to a young child. “If you build it, they will come” did a number on me. I wanted to build it. I wanted them to come play baseball. It is one of the great contemporary father-son fables, and it only becomes more meaningful, and more heartbreaking, with time.