As America’s pastime, baseball has been a boundary breaker for decades. It has leveled the playing field for different races and genders and is enjoyed by people of all ages, both as athletes and spectators. Of course, the one place where this is obvious is in film. We see the struggles of a league comprised entirely of women in A League of Their Own (1992). We observe the youthful exuberance of children playing pickup games of baseball in The Sandlot (1993). We even get a glimpse into the statisticians who can find the most efficient way to build a winning team in Moneyball (2011). Almost every facet of baseball has been covered in film, which is why some of the more fictional representations of this sport resort to more supernatural means. This week’s two films show that there’s more to the game of baseball than it would seem.
Field of Dreams
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s heralded a spike in the popularity of baseball. At the time, I was just entering elementary school and picked baseball as my sport of choice to play. Meanwhile, Hollywood was allowing Kevin Costner to start making films about baseball. While he started with Bull Durham (1988), he continued the trend shortly afterward with Field of Dreams (1989). Throughout the years, he would also star in For the Love of the Game (1999) and The Upside of Anger (2005). But with Field of Dreams, we all saw that baseball was a family affair. Other films also emphasized this point, such as Trouble with the Curve (2012) and Angels in the Outfield (1994), the latter of which also included a plot device that hearkened back to the ghostly apparitions of its predecessor, Field of Dreams.
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) was raised being told the story of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal by his father. This was partly due to his father idolizing “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). Inspired by a voice in his head, Ray builds a baseball field in his field of corn only to find one night that Jackson has arrived to play baseball. He and the other disgraced players, all long dead, appear on the field and begin to play a game. The voice returns to Ray, who then finds Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and Archibald Graham (Frank Whaley) and helps them come to terms with some of their lost, baseball-related dreams. Meanwhile, Ray’s family is in financial trouble because of his decision to destroy some of his crop, but after he reconciles with his dead father, the word about the famous players finally gets out and people come from miles around to watch these legends play ball.
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours
Over the years, many baseball players have made themselves household names due to a variety of reasons. Most of the time, it is due to their talent on the field, but sometimes it’s because of something that sets them apart from the rest of the players. For instance, Jackie Robinson being the first African American baseball player to play for a professional team placed him in the history books. His story was told in the film, 42 (2013). Lou Gehrig was a talented baseball player for the Yankees before he was diagnosed with ALS. His story was told in the film, The Pride of the Yankees (1942). Jim Morris entered Major League Baseball much older than other rookies. His story was told in the film, The Rookie (2002). And yet, sometimes the fictional talents, like in Rookie of the Year (1993) and The Natural (1984), are more entertaining to watch.
After Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) lost his father as a boy, the tree where he died was struck by lightning. From the glowing embers of the wood, Roy fashions a bat that he names “Wonderboy”. Years later, Roy is a promising baseball player who travels up to Chicago to try out for their team. On the way there, he strikes out “The Whammer” (Joe Don Baker) at a local carnival, piquing the interest of sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall). Unfortunately, after a failed assassination by Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), Roy’s baseball career is finished. Years pass and Roy is signed on to play for the New York Knights, where his batting skills are proven through the use of Wonderboy. Despite corruption, Roy brings his team all the way to the pennant, his pitching skills now having been rediscovered. Undeterred by another accident, it’s up to Roy to win the game for his team.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best baseball movies