Static Media invited me to rank fourteen baseball movies, and then explain myself. I’m not sure why the counting was to fourteen, no more and no less, but that was the only rule the editor gave me. (Also when he asked if I was available to write anything at all, he asked which topics interested me, then immediately followed that sentence with “Please nothing about Star Wars.” I do not think he appreciated my earlier article suggestion that proposed a 7000 word, frame-by-frame analysis of Pedro Pascal and Ewan McGregor interviewing each other for Variety.)
The first order of business here was to find fourteen; you’ll not be surprised to hear that this was a list I needed to narrow down. I didn’t have to hunt for a second. There was no consideration of including that bizarre Cincinnati-set version of Babes in Toyland in which Pete Rose gets a mention. I did cheat somewhat by including the documentary installment “Catching Hell,” but if you think I was going to pass on an opportunity to point at Cubs fans in their worst possible moment, you don’t know me at all.
I ranked, but lightly; I don’t have the emotional bandwidth of making moral distinctions between #9 and #11, and all that matters is the bottom and the topper, anyway. If you’re grievously offended that I favored Major League one place over Bull Durham, please humbly believe me when I say: Good.
What struck me as I worked through the list was how many movies I needed to sift through; I didn’t even consider the obnoxious Fever Pitch, or the subpar Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but they were there if I wanted them. Despite our clutch of horseracing and football movies, there cannot be an American sport so insistently enshrined on film.
In fact, in order to broaden the topic to “sports movies,” one must pull in Cool Runnings, all the hockey movies (the entire list consists of Slap Shot and every available form of Mighty Ducks), all the basketball movies (Space Jam, the fake Space Jam, and Hoosiers), and the smattering of offerings on gymnastics, figure skating, and soccer. We will never want for sports movies in this nation because the structure of sport fills the template so easily: There’s an underdog, and then the underdog wins.
But in baseball, that formula can twist and shift every which way, even within the space of an inning. There’s no clock to speak of. A game can last an hour or a day, sprawl across a front yard or a billion dollar stadium. Movies about baseball are, in the end, movies about us. We’ll hold up the mirror again and again, because even though the game might change, our feelings about the core of it won’t.
So, when my brother-in-law and my godson lined up with their gloves on the grass of Great American Ball Park at a Family Catch event, the crowd of parents and offspring were understandably subjected to the final scene of Field of Dreams on the scoreboard. This was a dirty trick on the part of the Reds, and well they knew it, because it worked. Standing in the concrete upper reaches of the stadium–I was on duty for the Hall of Fame– I saw the little faces and the teetering-on-middle-age faces looking up at the flickering images of a dad and his son playing catch. Before the scene was done, I grabbed a crappy concession stand napkin. No reason.
I asked my brother-in-law what the reaction was on the grass. “It got really quiet,” he said. It usually is when we look in the mirror.