PEORIA — As Opening Day nears, baseball fans old and young are ready to take the sign from the catcher, wind up and launch headfirst into a new season.
With only a few days left until a Cubs and Cardinals tilt on Sunday night, followed by a day full of games Monday, a restless baseball fan can find solace in a treasure trove of baseball movies this weekend.
Redbox compiled this list of top baseball movies from its movie experts before filtering it through a survey of more than 1,000 American respondents who ranked them 1 to 10. The list below reflects the results of that survey, plus my own mini-review of each movie.
Is one of your favorite baseball movies absent from this list? If so, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with your favorites and we’ll publish them next week during the first week of the regular season.
1. “Field of Dreams” — Synopsis: An Iowa corn farmer, hearing voices, interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields; he does, and the Chicago White Sox come.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Gaby Hoffman, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster.
Thomas’ grade: B+. The more saccharine elements of the movie are overshadowed by Costner’s acting turn and the exploration of the humanity that powers the love of America’s pastime.
2. “A League of Their Own” — Synopsis: Two sisters join the first female professional baseball league and struggle to help it succeed amidst their own growing rivalry.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Tracy Reiner.
Thomas’ grade: A-. Spurred by dozens of quotable lines and a performance by Hanks during his strongest run of movies, “A League of Their Own” gives a riotous look at one of the overlooked parts of the sport’s history and shines a spotlight on women’s contribution to baseball.
3. “The Sandlot” — Synopsis: A new kid in town is taken under the wing of a young baseball prodigy and his team in this coming of age movie set in the summer of 1962. Together, they get themselves into many adventures involving rival teams, lifeguards and a vicious dog.
Starring: Art LaFleur, Tom Guiry, Denis Leary, James Earl Jones and Mike Vitar.
Thomas’ grade: A+. Baseball’s pull on American culture can often be traced to the childhood years of everyone donning a cap and glove. “The Sandlot” gives a perfect distillation of a moment in time; in this case, one summer for a group of middle schoolers whose whole life revolved around the game. It’s a bit of nostalgia that anyone can relate to.
4. “Major League” — Synopsis: The new owner of the Cleveland Indians puts together a purposely horrible team so they’ll lose and she can move the team. But when the plot is uncovered, they start winning just to spite her.
Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Margaret Whitton, Rene Russo and Denis Haysbert.
Thomas’ grade: B+. This bawdy depiction of the game replaces the sentimentalism attached to most baseball movies with a subversive sense of humor. It’s good for quite a few laughs and some memorable scenes, not least of which from one of the best baseball announcers of all time, Bob Uecker.
5. “Angels in the Outfield” — Synopsis: When a boy prays for a chance to have a family if the California Angels win the pennant, angels are assigned to make that possible.
Starring: Danny Glover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, Matthew McConaughey, Adrien Brody and Brenda Fricker.
Thomas’ grade: B-. “Angels in the Outfield” works best as an inspirational movie for children but does feature some entertaining sequences from actors Tony Danza and Christopher Lloyd.
6. “The Bad News Bears” — Synopsis: An aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits in an ultra-competitive California Little League.
Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Vic Morrow, Jackie Earle Haley and Joyce Van Patten.
Thomas’ grade: B. Matthau shines in this portrait of youth baseball, a sort of polar opposite to “The Sandlot.” It gets at the truth of the at-times absurdity of Little League ball, where the joys of the game can be drowned out by the uber-competitive coaches, with a great sense of humor.
7. “The Natural” — Synopsis: An unknown comes out of seemingly nowhere to become a legendary player with almost divine talent.
Starring: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey and Michael Madsen.
Thomas’ grade: C+. Perhaps the cheesiest baseball movie of the bunch, “The Natural” plays out more like a Robert Redford movie than a baseball movie. The scenes on the field depicted here are comical at best, but if you’re a Redford devotee you might elevate this movie a little higher on the list.
8. “Bull Durham” — Synopsis: A fan who has an affair with one minor-league baseball player each season meets an up-and-coming pitcher and the experienced catcher assigned to him.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl and William O’Leary.
Thomas’s grade: B+. Most baseball movies have an eye toward the majors. “Bull Durham” fixates on the far less seductive reality of the sport set in the minor leagues, where only a few rise up the ranks and most see their ballplayer dreams die. There’s comedy and romance and exceptional performances abound in “Bull Durham,” with a special shoutout reserved to Limestone head basketball coach Eddie Mathews, who makes a cameo as the stand-in for Tim Robbins.
9. “Rookie of the Year” — Synopsis: When an accident miraculously gives a boy an incredibly powerful pitching arm, he becomes a major league pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
Starring: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Albert Hall, Amy Morton and Bruce Altman.
Thomas’ grade: B. This is pure fairytale storytelling, which isn’t necessarily absent from this list. But “Rookie of the Year” takes it to another fantastical level, lending it more credibility for youngsters than older baseball fans. Additional props for setting the movie with the Cubs during a particularly wretched stretch of baseball for the franchise.
10. “Moneyball” — Synopsis: Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Robin Wright and Brent Jennings.
Thomas’ grade: A. On its face, the front office story about Billy Beane and his upheaval of traditional roster norms does not seem like an overly compelling story. It takes some extensive creative liberties but does so in service of a more cohesive film. The dialogue is whip-smart and the characters crackle with wit. And there’s still a little bit of that ol’ baseball romanticism that creeps into the statistics that dominate the story.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.