Bull Durham (1988; Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon)
I want to preface this by saying that whether baseball is your favourite sport or not, baseball movies make the best sports movies — both comedies and dramas. Bull Durham is maybe the most rewatchable sports movie ever? It’s a classic ‘oh it’s on at 3:00 p.m. on a Sunday I’ll watch half an hour’ kind of movie.
Kevin Costner once again nails the lead man in a sports movie as Crash Davis, the grizzled veteran catcher who mentors the young, talented but wild pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh (Robbins). Throw in Annie Savoy (Sarandon), a lifelong baseball fan who routinely sleeps with the Single-A Durham Bulls’ players and you’ve got yourself one heck of a big-three (it is a little funny to see Andy Duphrane get together with Louise in hindsight).
There’s just so many great scenes and lines in this movie, most notably the interactions between Davis and LaLoosh. When LaLoosh is throwing a two-hit shutout, he suddenly shakes off Davis’ signs, causing Davis to tell the batter what pitch is coming.
“This son of a b***h is throwing a two-hit shutout and he’s shaking me off, do you believe this?” he says to the batter. “Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.”
The batter proceeds to crush a homer, prompting Davis to jog out to the mound to continue his teasing: “Man, that ball got out of here in a hurry. Anything travels that far ought to have a damn stewardess on it don’t you think?”
There are so many other great lines, including LaLoosh’s desire to “assert his presence with authority” by throwing the heater. The at-bat also ended in a home run, allowing Davis to smugly say, “well he really hit the shit out of that one!”
Bull Durham is just a fun movie, super easy to watch, has a great cast and does a good job of showing what 80s minor league baseball was probably like. It has a relatively happy ending too, with LaLoosh getting called up to the big leagues (although it still bugs me that he went straight from A-ball to the majors) while Davis and Annie finally get together after Davis’ retirement.
Moneyball (2011; Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt)
As someone who watches well over 100 MLB games on TV and goes to a dozen MLB games a season, including four stadiums in six days this past summer, it’s fair to consider myself a dedicated baseball fan. As a true fan of the game I appreciate underlying stats that casual fans might not know the meaning or be aware of.
Moneyball deals with the financially limited Oakland Athletics as their general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), attempts to remain a contending team. After losing former MVP Jason Giambi and playoff standout Johnny Damon in free agency following the 2001 season, Beane must look for hidden gems by looking at the stats that most teams and old-fashioned scouts overlook. Beane, along with his assistant general manager Peter Brand (who is loosely based on the real life Paul Depodesta, played by Jonah Hill), greatly value on-base percentage (OBP) for a reason easily summed up by Brand:
“People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, it should be to buy wins and in order to buy wins you need to buy runs.”
And to score runs you need to get men on base, hence why they so heavily valued OBP. This lead them to many players that made their scouts scratch their heads, including the ill-mannered Jeremy Giambi (Nick Porrazzo), aging David Justice (Stephen Bishop) and oft-injured Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt).
The look into the management side of baseball is the main reason I love this movie, however, the acting is great too. Pitt and Hill do phenomenal jobs as their respective characters, but even with some of the players being portrayed by former professional players, it’s Chris Pratt who steals the show, as his performance as Hatteberg makes you truly believe he is a professional baseball player.
A League of Their Own (1992; Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Lori Petty)
Penny Marshall’s, A League of Their Own is a largely fictionalized retelling of the early years of one of the first women’s sports leagues, the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League.
It follows two sisters, Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) and takes place during World War II. With the men overseas, a wealthy investor sees the opportunity to form a girls’ baseball league in their absence. Dottie and Kit are recruited to join the Rockford Peaches after a scout sees them play in a small town softball game. At first the scouts don’t want Kit but Dottie tells them that she won’t play unless her sister, a pitcher, is allowed to play for the Peaches alongside her.
The best sports movies are ones that are about so much more than just sports, and this movie is. It’s about the challenges of sisterhood, friendship and found family. It’s a comedy but it’s one that pulls on your heartstrings and puts tears in your eyes. The ridiculous things that the players are forced to do, like attend beauty and charm school on the weekend, wear skirts instead of shorts, and uphold a strict moral code, are brilliantly played for jokes even though they were realities that these real life women had to put up with.
Tom Hanks gives a brilliant performance as Jimmy Dugan, a one time home run king, turned alcoholic. Dugan manages the Rockford Peaches and slowly but gradually learns to appreciate his players. He went from a man who drunkenly slurred, “These aren’t ball players, these are girls,” to a man who proudly and soberly took a team to the World Series. A man who, despite popularizing the “no crying in baseball” phrase, learned to lead with a kinder hand.
The movie ends when the players are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some of them are well into their 80s, some of them have died. I am not ashamed to say that I get teary eyed every time I watch it. The idea of these women finally being rewarded for their hard work after decades, bringing their children and grandchildren to see their accomplishments hits me right in the heart.
Even if you haven’t seen A League of Their Own, this is me telling you that you absolutely should. Even if you hate sports, even if you don’t watch baseball, this movie is worth a chance.