Baseball is a staple of American culture. Baseball is uniquely American, and it embodies everything that is pure and good about America. Baseball is patriotic.
Speaking for Prager University, George Will recently made a wonderful video explaining everything in baseball that echoes the American way of life. Baseball truly is - and always will be - America's game. This is why we have made more movies about baseball than any other sport in the world.
Here are my top 10.
"For Love of the Game"
For his third baseball movie, Kevin Costner plays Billy Chapel, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who is at the end of his career. The team's owner has just sold the Tigers and the new owners are planning on trading Chapel at the end of the season. On top of that, his long time on-again/off-again girlfriend has taken a new job and is moving to London. As Chapel reflects on his career and his relationship with Jane, he doesn't realize he is throwing a perfect game.
"For Love of the Game" isn't just a good baseball movie, it's a great movie in general. It perfectly illustrates the camaraderie and team work involved in baseball while also telling a compelling and natural love story.
"Eight Men Out"
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were Major League Baseball's first real scandal, and "Eight Men Out" tells the story superbly. Told mostly from the point of view of Buck Weaver - who denied any wrongdoing until his death - "Eight Men Out" isn't just the story of eight players who threw the World Series, but of the circumstances that brought them to that decision. "Eight Men Out" is a very human tale of very human men and it's hard not to wonder what you would have done in their position.
"Pride of the Yankees"
"Pride of the Yankees" is the heart warming story of Lou Gehrig, an all-American boy who got the chance to live his dream. In many ways, Lou's story is the story of every boy in the country who aspires to greatness. Then, after achieving every young boy's dream of playing in the majors, Lou must cope with being diagnosed with ALS, soon to be known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."
Every kid played his first baseball game in a neighborhood sandlot. It's as American as the game itself. "The Sandlot" brings back memories of those simpler times and has often reminded many of us why we fell in love with the game in the first place.
Babe Ruth forever changed the game of baseball by making home runs - once thought to be a rare commodity - an every game occurrence. When Ruth set the single season home run record, many thought it could never be broken. That was until Roger Maris came along. Set during the 1961 baseball season, "61*" chronicles the friendly rivalry between fellow Yankees Marris and Mickey Mantle as they race to beat the home run record, hitting 61 in '61.
"A League of Their Own"
Everyone knows "Rosie the Riveter," but it wasn't really until "A League of Their Own" that Americans were reminded of "Betty the Ballplayer." During World War II there were very few men left who weren't sent overseas to fight the Nazis. Because of this, women were required to go to work in the factories, in the offices and even on the baseball fields. "A League of Their Own" is smart, funny, and gave us the priceless and often quoted like, "There's no crying in baseball."
If you're going to tell an underdog story, what better underdog than a team who hasn't won a World Series since 1948? And when the movie was made, they hadn't won an American League pennant since 1954. "Major League" is a funny movie that keeps audiences in stitches, but some of the funniest bits easily come from Bob Uecker's commentary.
"42" tells the story of the first African-American to play in the major leagues, and the trials he had to face not just to get there, but to stay there. The story of Jackie Robinson isn't just one to inspire black youths, but it's an inspiration to anyone who is determined to do that which society claims can't be done. It's also a shining example of how the market will correct inequality faster and better without unnecessary government interference. The government didn't integrate baseball, the Dodgers integrated baseball.
Loosely based on the life of Lou Gehrig, "The Natural" is also the story of an all-American kid who grows up to live his dream. Here, however, that dream is almost sidelined by Roy Hobbs' attempted murder. He recovers and finally makes it back to the major leagues almost 20 years later. With his magical bat, forged from the wood of a tree that was struck by lightning, Hobbs becomes one of the greatest hitters in the game. The real moral of the story, though, is not in the magic bat but that the magic comes from within. After breaking his magic bat on a foul ball, Hobbs still manages to hit the most iconic walk-off home run in baseball history.
"Field of Dreams"
"Field of Dreams" embodies everything that is magical about the game of baseball. This film is not only a well made supernatural drama, it not only explores baseball's influence on American culture, the film itself is an iconic part of American culture. Most anyone could identify this movie by its signature line, "If you build it, he will come." The best part about "Field of Dreams," though, has nothing to do with baseball. At its core, "Field of Dreams" is about teenage rebellion and the regret of that rebellion later in life, and a longing for missed opportunities. This is so powerful a message that not even the most hardened of men can hold back the tears when Kevin Costner asks the spirit of his departed father if he wants to have one last catch.
William Avitt will be appearing at Indiana Comic Con in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday April 30, 2016. He will be hosting a panel on film criticism at 9am in Rm. 133. If you’re in the area stop by the panel or look for him on the convention floor all day Saturday.
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