Second only to my passion for the Minnesota Twins & Vikings is my love of cinema. When the World Series sees its final out recorded, and then especially when the final tick comes off the Super Bowl clock, I turn to film (and television) to get me through the long February & March slog until Opening Day. With cinema’s championship event—the Academy Awards—taking place tonight, this seems like a good time for those two worlds to collide, with me handing out some little gold statues to my favorite baseball flicks in certain categories.
(Full disclosure before the ceremonies begin: I have indeed seen The Sandlot, Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, and Major League. I’m not forgetting they exist. However, I don’t necessarily consider them to be especially great at any one thing, and thus they don’t make this list. Excoriating comments welcome below.)
I would call myself your host for this event, but apparently the Academy doesn’t do that anymore. I won't be presenting any of these awards during the ad breaks either. So, without further ado...
Best Acting: Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
Mr. Hanks is truly the Jimmy Stewart of the current movie generation: he can play anything. This line has become so iconic that it is now accepted as part of the sport’s lexicon. Best YouTube comment on this video: “All I hear is Woody”.
Best Biopic: 42
In the history of baseball, there may not have been a more important event than Jackie Robinson’s integration of the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers. This film honors that legacy by not shying away from the harder, more emotional material. Plus, whoever thought to hire Harrison Ford for Branch Rickey needs to be promoted within the casting department.
Best Pure Cheeseball (That Still Gets Me Every Time): For The Love Of The Game
If you go back and watch this film again, I can almost guarantee you’ll like it a little less each time. The whole thing is melodrama laid on thick, while Costner’s Billy Chapel is about as unlikeable of a lead character as you’ll ever see. But when he’s on that mound at Yankee Stadium, firing fastballs to home plate, with Vin Scully providing the impeccable narration, it still gets me every time.
Best Comedy: Fever Pitch
To me, all the best comedies are rooted in real-life situations. I can relate to Jimmy Fallon’s character (minus the sweater vest) rearranging his personal life schedule “because it’s a big series and Pedro is pitching on Saturday”. Plus, that 2004 BoSox team will always hold a special place, I think, for those who lived through it.
Best Music: The Natural
Maybe the biggest slam-dunk of any category on this list. This soundtrack is iconic not only in “sports movie” circles, but all cinema. Try to imagine the famous “light tower power” scene without those orchestral strains in the background. Impossible.
Best “Rare Gem”: Fear Strikes Out
This tale of Jimmy Piersall’s battle with bi-polar disorder is one you may not have heard of, but it packs quite an emotional wallop. Sure, it can get a tad over-the-top at times, but considering it was made in 1957 I’ll excuse that for its overall staying power. It certainly doesn’t hurt having Anthony Perkins (of Norman Bates Psycho fame) in the leading role.
Best Odd Duck: Cobb
Tommy Lee Jones as Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Just let that sink in for a second. There’s absolutely no reason for this film to work, yet somehow it does. Fans of early baseball history will find a great deal of enjoyment in this one.
Most Emotional: Angels in the Outfield
Okay, so you have to remember here that I was 9 years old in 1994 at the time this movie came out. When the kid (Joseph Gordon Levitt!) signals the manager (Danny Glover!) that the pitcher (Tony Danza!) may have an angelic helper and the music swells...did it just get a little dusty in here?
Best Overall: Field of Dreams
Basically the standard by which all other baseball movies are now judged. The cornfield, Shoeless Joe, the epic speech, and the tear-jerker ending are all iconic in their own way. It helps to have actually stepped on the hallowed ground itself...
Personal Favorite: Little Big League
I could have picked any scene from this movie to show here. Literally ANY SCENE. The plot of this movie: 12-year old baseball-whiz Billy Heywood inherits the Minnesota Twins from his grandfather and installs himself as manager of the ragtag bunch. Filmed in the Metrodome and featuring the vocal talents of John Gordon. How did they know my greatest fantasy in life?
That concludes this year’s ceremonies. Sorry I ran long (another Oscar tradition, come to think of it), but I had no violins to play me off stage.