With the baseball season (FINALLY) being right around the corner, we here at Quixotronic got together to have a very serious discussion about baseball. Movies. Baseball movies. Our questionable upbringing brought us all sports primarily via the silver screen, despite us all being in great shape and athletic beasts. No need to stare.
Here we present a few of our favorites from over the years. Find them all on your preferred streaming services, digital download sites, and local libraries.
Take it away, Lasorda!
The Bad News Bears (1976) by Andy
I’m not sure if it’s the coronavirus blues that’s made the recurring image from my latest viewing of the The Bad News Bears be Walter Matthau’s whiskey-and beer-slobbered chin, which gets doused during the opening minutes of the 1976 movie.
Certainly, the Bad News Virus is to blame a little bit at least. But it’s also because of the
frequently downbeat nature of the movie, which focuses on an alcoholic former minor leaguer turned pool cleaner who is paid to coach a losing team of little leaguers because none of their parents are interested. Early on, they lose badly a lot, and Matthau, as Coach Morris Buttermaker, drinks a lot – in the car (driving with the kids), on the mound (also passing out there among a pile of empties) and in the dugout (where he throws a beer in the face of his 11-year-old star pitcher when she seeks more from him emotionally than pitching advice).
All that considered, the movie is a blast – wildly entertaining, endlessly quotable, often touching, even joyous, and my favorite baseball movie of all time. Matthau, who was on a string of iconic roles (A New Leaf, Charley Varrick, Taking of Pelham One, Two Three, etc.) in the period he starred in The Bad News Bears, is a perfect Buttermaker, a decent, selfish outsider in hate with himself but in love with smoking and drinking who manages to pull his dirty fingernails out of the bitter past just in time. The kids are all hilarious and often heartbreaking in their roles as well, especially Tatum O’Neal as Amanda Whurlitzer, French jeans wearer, Rolling Stones fan, stars map seller and knower of 11-year-old girls on the pill. Vic Morrow is terrific as always and believable (and gloriously mustached, v-necked and shorts-shorted) as opposing coach Roy Turner, a guy who puts winning above all else.
The movie is directed by Waukesha native Michael Ritchie, who effectively captures the fallout of a win-at-all-costs approach, a lesson still unlearned in 2020 by many in power in business and politics (insert picture of Robin Vos here). Ritchie, who also directed movies focused on skiing, boxing, football, political campaigns, and beauty pageants (among many others), reunited with Matthau in 1988 for The Couch Trip and the sport of baseball in 1994 for The Scout. He passed away in 2001. I am a big fan of his 1972 film Prime Cut unlike one of its stars: Lee Marvin, who called making the movie a mistake and told Rolling Stone about Ritchie, “I hate that sonofabitch.”
For my recent viewing of The Bad News Bears, I was joined by my 9-year-old daughter, who enjoyed the movie immensely but added, “Big wow.” She thinks she’s Catfish Hunter.
The Sandlot (1993) by Kyle
Though The Sandlot came out when I was a youth, it has endured nearly 30 years (oh fuck) and I still watch it to this day. Part of that is due to my own kids loving it, though they simply refer to the movie as “Baseball Kids.” As other parents will agree, we go through runs of “Baseball Kids” where we go months without watching it and then an entire month of watching nothing but it. Guess what last month was.
The Sandlot came out in 1993 and I was the same age as the kids in the movie, so of course my entire generation related to the film. It was one of several kids sports films of the era (The Mighty Ducks and The Big Green immediately jump to mind as they both shared actors with The Sandlot) but wasn’t even the only kids baseball film of 1993 as it came out 3 months before Rookie of the Year which had the advantage of proven kid-friendly actors Daniel Stern and legend Gary Busey. Writer and director David Mickey Evans came right out of the gate in the early 1990’s with this film and Radio Flyer, both framed with an adult (or Boomer) recounting a tale from their youth. Evans is also uncredited as the narrator and voice of adult Smalls. Unfortunately there isn’t much noteworthy beyond that except for the fact that he did direct The Sandlot 2 (2005), giving the unnecessary sequel an illusion of legitimacy. I have not seen it myself but it's on the to-see list at least. We shall not talk about The Sandlot: Heading Home.
Unlike every other kids sports film of the era, or even the other baseball movies on this list, the kids (or adult players) don’t have a coach-figure who comes in and teaches them how to win for better or worse with hilarious results. The kids run the whole summer themselves, getting into trouble and working through their problems on their own without adult supervision. At the time it was a dream come true! The plot even revolves around the lack of parents: Smalls, new to town, is pushed by his mother to go out and make friends. Benny, leader of the Sandlot, introduces Smalls to our rag-tag bunch and to the life of baseball, only for Smalls' naivete to get the best of everyone when he steals a Babe Ruth-signed baseball from his step-father (conveniently away on a business trip) and loses it over the fence of the field and into the clutches of the mythical beast.
While the directing is solid enough, the film’s lasting legacy will always be its endlessly quotable script. Instead of trying to explain the brilliance of several quotes I’m going to be lazy and simply quote them and end it there: “You play ball like a girl!” “You know, if my dog was as ugly as you, I'd shave his butt and tell him to walk backwards.” “Oooh a big doggie.” “For-ev-er. For-ev-er. For-ev-er.” “You want a s’more? Some more what? No, you want a s’more? How can I have some more of nothing. You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”
You’re killin’ me, Smalls, everyone.
A League of their Own (1992) by Tim
My original intention in saying something about the absolute classic that is a League of Their Own was going to be rating scenes according to the “Tim Cry-O-Meter” (Betty Spaghetti!!!!) but given the state of the world I couldn’t even hum the first few bars of “This Used to be My Playground” without going to pieces so let’s dispense with that. Suffice it to say I do find it to be an incredibly affecting movie about family, loss, and the beauty of finding and excelling at your vocation.
It’s that last part that gets me the most. On the one hand you have Dottie who has clearly been raised to put practicality first but there is a fire in her that she can’t deny. One she learns to love and embrace. On the other you have Jimmie who squandered his potential on frivolity and lived out his days wanting that time back. Both these characters struggle with their gifts in the face of the respective temptations of security and vice. These themes transcend the typical “heart of a competitor” sports movie tropes and make League a little something more.
All that and it’s also full of wildly funny performances and intensely quotable dialogue. Geena Davis and Tom Hanks obviously. Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell chew scenery. Do NOT forget that Jon Lovitz is also HILARIOUS in his small role.
All of my favorite movies are cross genre and League is no exception. I think most people would categorize it as a sports movie, followed by comedy but it’s also a drama about two sisters and a period piece about a very specific moment in American history.
League’s most important point on sisterhood and female friendship is still a theme sorely lacking in Hollywood output and until that changes I suggest you pop this one on. If for no reason other than to refresh yourself on the song because in a few weeks we’ll all be singing:
“Batter up. Hear that call. The time has come for and all… to plaaaaaaaay ball…”