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Scene Top Five: Baseball Movies

Kevin Noonan | Thursday, April 26, 2012

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The smell of pine tar and freshly landscaped grass is in the air. The Yankees just purchased a small country in order to secure the rights to a single prospect. My Kansas City Royals have already decided that they’ll be darned if the future is going to be this year. It’s baseball season, a six-month-long Christmas season for all fans of the country’s pastime.

Somewhere in the tomes of history, the gods of baseball and (usually) soul-sucking heathens that run Hollywood got together to form on of the greatest creations of mankind- the baseball movie.

Baseball movies can define childhood (“The Sandlot”), teach us a little math (“Moneyball”) or even give the world a few hints about a movie star’s future personality disorders (Charlie Sheen in “Major League”).

But which ones are the best? It would be impossible to make a definitive list. Who could be arrogant enough to think he could make such a thing? Well, here’s the top five.

“Rookie of the Year” 1993

It’s the movie that gave hope to a generation of young pitchers that they could one day fall down and somehow gain the ability to throw a 100-mph fastball because of it. Henry Rowengartner, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas, is a 12-year-old Cubs fan who breaks his arm trying to catch a fly ball. The arm doesn’t fully heal, and results in a funky arm motion that gives him a triple-digit heater.

The Cubs quickly pick him up as a publicity stunt, but he proves to be a lights-out reliever. The season provides a growing experience for Rowengartner, as he learns from veteran Chet Steadman (Gary Busey), but also teaches Chet a little about how to enjoy life as well. The arm eventually heals, forcing Rowengartner to go back to his normal life (preventing him from being the youngest-ever Tommy John surgery candidate), but the journey provides for a family classic, and one of the best baseball films of all time.

“The Natural” 1984

Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud of the same name, “The Natural” brought to life the idea of a larger-than-life hero – Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs is almost a mythological figure in the world of sports. The whole story is told as a biography, but has the feel of an oral history of early 1900s baseball. Hobbs builds his bat out of a tree that was struck by lightning, strikes out a fictional version of Babe Ruth at a carnival event, takes a bullet and mysteriously disappears but resurfaces with a different team, turns down a bribe to throw the big game and comes out of the hospital to play for the pennant. He’s like a walking, talking fable of how life is supposed to be lived, and how baseball is supposed to played.

“Major League” 1989

One of the more irreverent baseball films, “Major League” pays tribute to the lowly Cleveland Indians. If this film were made today, it would be about the Royals (a single tear rolls down my cheek as I make this realization).

Their owner, a conniving and horrid woman, is determined to move the team to Miami, but needs to keep ticket sales low in order to do so. Her strategy is to put together the worst and cheapest team possible, with has-beens and never-will-bes, as the players comment in the film. Charlie Sheen is a slightly deranged ex-con with a rocket for an arm and Tom Berenger as an over-the-hill catcher with bad knees trying one last time to win it all lead an ensemble cast of unique characters that make the move hilarious.

“The Sandlot” 1993

In the opinion of some, the quality of a childhood can be quantified in a direction relation to the number of times you watched “The Sandlot.” Whether or not that’s true (I think it might be), it’s still a fantastic film and a must-see for any young kid who’s trying to fit in. Scotty Smalls moves into a new town in the summer of 1962 with his mother and stepfather, and must integrate himself into the neighborhood on the sandlot where the local boys play baseball. He’s terrible at sports in general, but Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez teaches him what he can, and he begins to fit in. The film created a number of popular cultural references (see: P.F. Flyers) and has inspired a generation of young baseball players, in addition to being a heartwarming story about growing up and making friends.

“Field of Dreams” 1989

“If you build it, he will come.” It’s one of the most famous lines in movie history, and belongs to, in my humble opinion, the greatest baseball film of all time. The film is an ode to baseball in many ways, and follows Kevin Costener on his quest to find out who’s going to come when he builds whatever it is. It turns out to be a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield, and the man he’s waiting on turns out to be his father. It’s another wonderful story of reconnection and bonding through baseball, but more importantly it’s a great story about baseball.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.