Reel Baseball

"And who can say that the Mets didn't sense this, too—that they didn't know all along that this year (1969) at Shea life was imitating not just art but a United Artists production?" ~ Roger Angell The Summer Game (1972)

In the Big Inning ~ the first baseball movies
In 1898, Thomas Edison released what many consider the first baseball movie. The movie, depending on the source, is listed as either The Ball Game orThe Ballplayer. The short film was actually a series of disoriented pictures of baseball. Casey, a short film with no relation to the famous baseball poem by Earnest Thayer, was released a year later.

The first documented baseball movie with an actual plot was the 1906 short, How the Office Boy Saw the Ball Game, also filmed by Edison. Other sources argue that the first baseball movie with an actual plot was really the 1906 short entitled Baseball on the Beach.

Here are a few other, more recognizable, early baseball movies.

Right Off the Bat (1915) Starred New York Giants outfielder Mike Donlin as himself and was the first feature-length baseball movie.

The Busher (1919) One of the first baseball classics. A young pitcher in the bush leagues gets the call to the “bigs.”

Alibi Ike (1935) Comedy film based on the Ring Lardner short story.

Most baseball movies over the past 60 years or so tend to fall into one (with a few exceptions, more than one) of five main classifications. Below is brief description of each and some recommended movies.

Comedy of Errors
A light-hearted romp around the bases and look at America’s Favorite Pastime.

It Happens Every Spring (1949) A college chemistry professor invents a substance that resists wood and then becomes a star pitcher by rubbing his new creation on baseballs.

•Take Me Out To The Ballgame (1949) A top rate baseball musical that reunites Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra (from Anchors Aweigh). A pretty, new owner turns a baseball club upside down.

•Rhubarb (1951) A delightful comedy/fantasy about a cat who inherits a baseball team and takes them to the pennant.

•Damn Yankees (1958) Big screen adaptation of the highly successful musical of the same name. In exchange for helping the Senators beat the Yankees for the pennant, a diehard Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil.

•The Bad News Bears (1976) The misadventures (mostly on the field) of a hapless little league team, their girl pitcher and hard drinking coach. Spawned two sequels and a television series.

•The Bingo Long Traveling All~Stars and Motor Kings (1976) A group of African American ballplayers decide to start their own team and then barnstorm around the country in the late 1930’s.

•Major League (1989) A fictional tale about a Cleveland Indians team that, despite their new owner’s best intentions to try to prevent it, wins the pennant. Gave birth to two sequels. The last installment, though it has some leftover characters from the previous two movies, drops its affiliation with the Indians.

•The Sandlot (1993) An entertaining and sentimental yarn about a group of boys playing sandlot ball in 1962.

•The Scout (1993) Based on a story by Roger Angell, it tells the tale of a New York Yankees scout banished to Mexico where he stumbles upon a wacky fireballer with some unresolved issues he needs to sort out.

•Little Big League (1994) A twelve-year-old inherits the Minnesota Twins from his Grandfather. Despite the initial misgivings of the players, he appoints himself manager who reminds them how the game should be played, just for fun.

•Mr. 3000 (2004) After collecting (what he thinks) is his 3000th hit, a player retires only to find out that there was a mistake and he was actually short of 3000.

Fantasy Baseball
Teams, players or in some cases, a farmer from Iowa, seek and get help from the supernatural.

•Angels in the Outfield (1951) Angels (who can only be seen by an orphan girl) come to the salvation of a bungling Pittsburgh Pirates team. Remade by Disney in 1994. In this version, a boy in foster care sees the angels and the team is now fittingly changed to the California Angels.

•Rhubarb (1951)

•Field of Dreams (1989) “If you build it, he will come” the voice instructs. Upon hearing the voice, an Iowa farmer decides to “go the distance” to “ease his pain” and builds a baseball diamond amongst his cornfield. Based on the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe.

For Love of the Game
These movies recapture the innocence and timelessness of the game. These movies are “classics.”

•The Pride of the Yankees (1942) The true story of the original Iron Horse- New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig. Gehrig, died in his prime at the age of 37 from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) which become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after his death.

•Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) Based on the Mark Harris novel of the same name. The emotional story about the friendship between a star pitcher and his simple-minded and terminally ill catcher.

•The Natural (1984) Despite a Hollywood ending, the movie is based on the Bernard Malamud classic. A mysterious woman shoots a young, up and coming pitching phenom. He resurfaces and launches a comeback 16 years later.

•Bull Durham (1988) An authentic glimpse of life in the minors.

•Field of Dreams (1989)

•For Love of the Game (1999) Tigers pitching legend Billy Chapel takes the mound with something to prove after learning that he is going to be traded after the game and that his longtime girlfriend is leaving him. Baseball action sequences are interspersed with flashbacks retelling his relationship with his girlfriend.

These movies are either biographical or historical in nature.

•The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

•The Stratton Story (1949)
The tale of rising star Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton who lost his leg after a hunting accident and his comeback.

•The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) Robinson portrays himself and shows what he endured (before and after he made it) to become the first African American player in the Major Leagues.

•The Pride of St. Louis (1952) The story of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean.

•The Winning Team (1952) The late and then future president Ronald Reagan portrays Hall of Fame pitcher (who was ironically named after a former president) Grover Cleveland Alexander and chronicles the struggles Alexander encountered on and off the field.

•Fear Strikes Out (1957) Recounts the story of young, promising Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall and his subsequent mental breakdown and return to baseball.

•Eight Men Out (1988) Top notch recreation of the 1919 World Series and the Black Sox Scandal that ensued. Eight players (including Joe “Shoeless” Jackson and Buck Weaver) were suspended from baseball for life after conspiring with gamblers to “throw” the series.

•The Babe (1992) Several films have been made about the life and times of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, the hard drinking, homerun slugging, right fielder for the Yankees. The most notable are The Babe Ruth Story (1948) which is widely dismissed by most as a “not see” and the other, The Babe which got more favorable reviews.

•A League of Their Own (1992) Chronicles the first season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940’s and early 1950’s that was formed during World War II.

•Cobb (1994) Sportswriter Al Stump is hired to ghostwrite Ty Cobb’s autobiography and becomes acquainted with the Tigers star’s darker side.

•Soul of the Game (1996) Chronicles the lives (on and off the field) of Negro League ballplayers Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Jackie Robinson and their determination and drive to be “baseball’s first” African American ballplayer in the Majors.

•61* (2001) Accurate recounting of baseball’s first homerun race, the controversy that surrounded it, and the effect it had the on Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.

(In) A League of Their Own
These movies acquaint baseball fans to other factions (Minor Leagues, Japanese, and women in baseball etc) within professional baseball.

•Bull Durham (1988)

•A League of Their Own (1992)

•Mr. Baseball (1992) A washed up, down and out New York Yankee is traded to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League.

•Soul of the Game (1996)

•The Fan (1996)
An obsessed, deranged fan stalks a star San Francisco outfielder.

Hollywood Players ~ Some Major Leaguers who have also graced the silver screen.

“I’m happy to sign a contract that doesn’t have a reserve clause in it.”
~ Vida Blue upon signing a movie contract for a small role in Shaft.

Ty Cobb ~ 1920’s movie Somewhere In Georgia
Bill Dickey ~ Pride of the Yankees
Roger Clemmens ~ Cobb
Joe DiMaggio ~ Manhattan Merry~Go~Round (1937)
Ken Griffey Jr. ~ Little Big League
Reggie Jackson ~ The Naked Gun
Randy Johnson ~ Little Big League
Peanuts Lowery: The outfielder appeared in: Pride of the Yankees, The Stratton Story and The Winning Team.
Rube Marquard ~ In 1912, the Giants pitcher won 19 straight. After the season, he starred in the aptly titled silent movie 19 Straight.
Jackie Robinson ~ The Jackie Robinson Story
Babe Ruth ~ Most remember him playing himself in Pride of the Yankees. But he also can be seen in: Babe Comes Home (1927).
George Steinbrenner ~ The Scout
The Dodgers (Tommy Lasorda and Bill Buckner) ~ The Godfather II
The 1948 Indians (including: Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Statchel Paige) ~ The Kid from Cleveland

Hometown Heroes ~ Catch your favorite teams as the protagonists (and in one case, antagonist) in these movies.

Anaheim/California Angels: Angels in the Outfield (remake), Talent for the Game
Boston Red Sox: Fear Strikes Out,
Chicago Cubs: Rookie of the Year,
Chicago White Sox: The Stratton Story, Eight Men Out
Cincinnati Reds: Hustle
Cleveland Indians: The Kid from Cleveland, Major League I and II
Detroit Tigers: Cobb, For Love of the Game
Los Angeles/Brooklyn Dodgers: The Jackie Robinson Story
Milwaukee Brewers: Mr. 3000
Minnesota Twins: Little Big League
New York Yankees: The Pride of the Yankees, The Babe Ruth Story, Damn Yankees, Bang the Drum Slowly, The Babe, The Scout, 61•
Pittsburgh Pirates: Angels in the Outfield
St. Louis Cardinals: The Pride of St. Louis, A Winning Team,
San Francisco/New York Giants: The Big Leaguer, The Fan
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Rookie

Washington Senators: Damn Yankees
Negro Leagues: Soul of the Game
Minor Leagues: Bull Durham, Major League III

Reel Baseball
The HBO trilogy When It Was a Game was a series of home movies of players of baseball’s yesteryears. The movies, shot by their teammates and fans from 1934 thru the 1970’s includes hard to find, up close and behind-the scenes-footage. A must see for any true fan of the game and its rich and glorious history and past.

Extra Innings
If you are thinking about starting a baseball movie collection, or perhaps you already have one, any of these movies would make a fine start or addition. Most of the titles are readily available on

The next time the boredom of a rain delay overcomes you, or you succumb to baseball fever (that tends to run from the final out of the World Series up until pitchers and catchers report) combat both with one or more of these movies, all of which are the next best thing to real baseball.

Wendy J Sotos is a Cleveland based writer who loves nothing more than a Jim Thome blast and an Omar Vizquel barehanded scoop. Both of which, she believes, will be Hall of Famers when their playing days are over.

Wendy can be reached at: designatedwriter@yahoo. com

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