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Nine major-league movie hits

There are no major-league baseball games to watch on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday because of the All-Star Game. So in honor of the midsummer classic, and to give you some ideas for what you could do during those three offdays, here's a look at our picks for the nine best baseball movies ever made. Why nine? Well, you have nine innings and nine players to a side, so we give you nine movies.

1. Bull Durham (1988)

Writer-director Ron Shelton took his experiences as a minor-league ballplayer and turned them into the best baseball movie ever made. It's the classic minor-league story with all the little baseball touches, right down to casting Max "The Clown Prince of Baseball" Patkin to play himself. We won't bore you with the plot details because most of you have seen this flick, but we do want to take a moment to point out our two favorite things about this movie. One is the baseball prowess of Kevin Costner. He looks like a real ballplayer, including being able to swing the bat from both sides of the plate. (By the way, on the other end of the spectrum, Tim Robbins is especially funny as Nuke, but he hardly looks like a real pitcher.) The other thing we love about this movie is Susan Sarandon. She's a great actor who won an Oscar for Dead Man Walking and was nominated for Atlantic City, Thelma & Louise, Lorenzo's Oil and The Client. But we think her best performance has been as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham.

2. Field of Dreams (1989)

I watched this movie for the umpteenth time the other day, and it still pulls the heart strings as hard as ever. Even a guy's guy can't help but start blubbering when Kevin Costner asks his dad to play catch in the final scene. Although the film varies significantly from W.P. Kinsella's outstanding novel on which the movie is based, Shoeless Joe, Field of Dreams is loaded with great scenes. Every time you watch this movie, you discover a new part to love. For me, most recently it was the scenes with the legendary Burt Lancaster, who gave one of his final movie performances. (He died in 1994.) Two nits: Ray Liotta played Shoeless Joe Jackson as a lefty thrower and righty batter though he was the opposite in real life. And Costner's character's dad didn't catch like a real ballplayer. If you play or played ball, watch that last scene and you'll see what I mean.

3. A League of Their Own (1992)

Nothing derails a sports movie like actors who look like they've never played that sport in their lives. But Geena Davis (left), the star of this movie, throws, runs, hits and catches like the real deal, so much so that it gives the movie credibility. That can't be said for most of her castmates, but you're willing to overlook that because the story is so good. Most great comedies have memorable lines, and this movie is full of them:

"Marla Hooch, what a hitter." "See, how it works is, the train moves, not the station." And, of course, "There's no crying in baseball!"

Tom Hanks is sensational, Penny Marshall's spot-on direction takes you back to the 1940s, and best of all, you care about everyone in the movie. Then, after nearly two hours of laughs, the final 10 minutes turn into a poignant homage to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. A perfect ending to a nearly perfect movie.

4. Eight Men Out (1988)

John Sayles' movie from Eliot Asinof's excruciatingly detailed 1963 book about the 1919 Black Sox is so authentic looking that it's easy to get lost in the early 20th century. The look, the language, the clothes, everything is straight from 1919. Former major-leaguers Ron Santo and Ken Berry were brought in to coach the actors, who included, from top, John Cusack, Charlie Sheen and D.B Sweeney. For the most part, the baseball looks real, though the actors had to wear 1919-style gloves. Overall, the movie is a tad depressing because it's about one of baseball's darkest chapters. But it's fascinating simply for the look of the film. And it not only has style, it has substance.

5. The Natural (1984)

Has anyone, even Kevin Coster, looked more, pardon the pun, natural throwing a baseball and swinging a bat than Robert Redford? You have to suspend a bit of disbelief to buy the then-47-year-old Redford, top, playing a young 20-something, but other than that, Redford's baseball scenes are a pure joy. Throw in a little of that majestic Randy Newman music and some fireworks, and you have yourself a goose bump party up and down your arms. The ending differs a great deal from its source, Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel, which is a complete downer. The movie ending put the cap on 137 sensational minutes, which are highlighted, in my mind, by crusty manager Wilfred Brimley, who tells us all that he "should've been a farmer."

6. Moneyball (2011)

If someone told you that a movie about baseball's sabermetrics and a film based on the exploits of players such as Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford would have enough interest, drama, pizzazz and oomph to be nominated for six Academy Awards, you would think that fungoes have taken over the planet. True, the movie, based on the book of the same name about the Oakland A's, conveniently glossed over a few details, such as the 2002 A's being loaded with pitching and having a well-paid league MVP in Miguel Tejada. But Brad Pitt is so charming as GM Billy Beane that you can ignore those things and enjoy one of the most critically acclaimed baseball movies ever.

7. The Sandlot (1993)

This is one of those films that you think is a kid movie. So you sit down and watch with your rug rats, and you quickly realize you are enjoying it as much or more than your children. It's a familiar story of a shy kid (Scotty Smalls, played by Tom Guiry, left) who is new in town and trying to fit in. (Doesn't every kid try to do that at some point?) Through baseball and the neighborhood kids, he does just that. Famous film critic Roger Ebert called it summertime's version of A Christmas Story. To me, that's high praise — well-deserved and accurate. Plus, rarely a week goes by when I don't say to someone, "You're killing me, Smalls!"

8. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Michael Moriarty plays a pitcher. His catcher is Robert DeNiro (below), who wasn't really known before this movie. DeNiro's character, Bruce Pearson, is terminally ill with Hodgkin's disease. It's sort of the baseball version of Brian's Song or, even, Love Story. Except this is better than both. This movie goes much deeper than two best friends dealing with one's impending death. Make sure you have a box of tissues with you when you watch. Make that two boxes.

9. Major League (1989)

It's a poor man's Bull Durham. That is, this is a film full of cliches. There's the broken-down catcher trying to win back his ex-wife. There's the ex-con relief pitcher. There's the rich, lazy pretty boy, the aging pitcher and the voodoo-practicing Cuban refugee who can't hit a curveball. Oh, and don't forget the no-good evil owner, played deliciously by Margaret Whitton. But despite all the team-of-misfits cliches, the movie works for three reasons. The acting (Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo) is solid, there are several memorable lines ("Too high" and "Juuuust a bit outside") and Bob Uecker's announcer character, Harry Doyle, is hysterical.

Honorable mentions

Angels in the Outfield (1951), The Bad New Bears (1976), Damn Yankees (1958), It Happens Every Spring (1949), Little Big League (1994), Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Rookie (2002), Rookie of the Year (1993)

tom jones' two cents

Nine major-league movie hits 07/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 7, 2012 11:03pm]
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