Summer is finally here, and the baseball season is in full swing. Even if you can’t make it out to the ballpark, you can still take in plenty of baseball from the air-conditioned comfort of your living room. With a full roster of great films to choose from, what better way to organize them than by position? Here’s your starting nine, along with some bonus choices.
Pitcher: “The Rookie” (2002)
Like so many great sports movies, “The Rookie” is an underdog tale. Starring Dennis Quaid, the movie is based on the true story of Jim Morris, a flame-throwing lefty whose career stalled out in the minors due to a shoulder injury. Now a high school science teacher and baseball coach, Morris promises his players that he’ll attend a professional tryout if they make it to the state tournament.
Aided by the extra motivation, and their coach’s 98 mph batting practice fastballs, the team turns its season and Morris’ life around. A true feel-good movie, “The Rookie” is a heartwarming way to start the summer.
If it turns out that rookie pitchers are your thing, you can try “Sugar,” a realistic story about the minor league struggles of a 19-year-old Dominican pitcher. Or you can try “Rookie of the Year,” a slightly less realistic story about the struggles of a 12-year-old who throws 103 mph pitches.
Catcher: “A League of Their Own” (1992)
From “Bull Durham” to “Bang the Drum Slowly,” there’s no shortage of great movies about catchers across all leagues. “A League of Their Own” is a genuine baseball classic with a star-studded cast that includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Bill Pullman, and Jon Lovitz.
In this fictional story about the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Davis plays Dottie Henson, star catcher of the Rockford Peaches. The movie follows the Peaches from the league’s opening tryouts to the 1943 World Series, with brief stops along the way for sibling rivalries, redemption stories, and yes, the iconic assertion that “There’s no crying in baseball.”
Though the AAGPBL closed down in 1954, “A League of Their Own” lives on, with a TV series slated to premiere later this year.
First Base: “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942)
This biographical drama tells the story of Lou Gehrig, Hall of Fame first baseman and baseball’s “Iron Horse.” Gehrig was known for his decency and for playing most of his career in the shadow of Babe Ruth. He played in a record 2,130 consecutive games until ALS cut his career short at age 36 and his life at age 37.
The legendary climax recreates the emotional speech Gehrig gave to the Bronx faithful shortly after his diagnosis, the words, “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” reverberating around Yankee Stadium. Gary Cooper portrays Gehrig with earnestness, and Babe Ruth, really exploring the limits of his range, plays himself.
Second Base: “42” (2013)
The movie “42” begins in 1945 with Jackie Robinson playing for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. It follows him through his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, facing brutal racism and relentless scrutiny as he breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Chadwick Boseman brings characteristic intensity to the role of Robinson, and Harrison Ford plays Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey. The vibrant movie focuses on the relationship between Robinson and Rickey through the tumultuous journey. It even bears the approval of Robinson’s widow, Rachel.
If you’re looking for something a little more old-fashioned, you can always check out “The Jackie Robinson Story,” released in 1950 and starring Jackie Robinson himself.
Shortstop: “The Sandlot” (1993)
This is where things get awkward. Even though most Little Leaguers long to play shortstop, that dream has somehow never been translated to the big screen. Since there just aren’t any movies about shortstops, this entry goes to a movie about small fries.
“The Sandlot” is a tale as old as time. A boy moves to a new town. His mom forces him to go outside and make friends. He learns to play baseball to fit in with his new friends. The boy hits a home run into the yard of a neighbor with a ferocious guard dog. The home run ball turns out to be autographed by Babe Ruth, so the boy and his friends risk life and limb to retrieve it. You know, that old story.
If you’re looking for a baseball movie that screams summer, this is the one. On the other hand, if you’re dead set on a movie about a shortstop, you’ll need to wait until July 18, when “The Captain,” a documentary about Derek Jeter, is scheduled for release.
Third Base: “Eight Men Out” (1988)
“Eight Men Out” depicts the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and is the rare baseball movie that ends as a courtroom drama.
Before the World Series, gamblers approach eight players on the heavily favored Chicago White Sox, offering to pay them for losing to the Cincinnati Reds. Underpaid and unappreciated, seven of the players agree to throw the game. Though not the most famous of the eight, third baseman Buck Weaver, played by John Cusack, is the film’s moral center. He refuses to participate in the scheme but is still banned for life.
Left fielder, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, also appeared in the movie, but this player’s time to shine really comes in the next film entry.
Left Field: “Field of Dreams” (1989)
Starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta, “Field of Dreams” is a baseball movie, a road trip movie, and a family movie. It’s also just one of the most beloved movies of all time. Based on the novel “Shoeless Joe,” by W.P. Kinsella, the film tells the story of Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who plows under his corn to build a baseball field after a mysterious voice tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” After a few more cosmic errands, a spectral “Shoeless” Joe appears as promised, along with the rest of the Black Sox and enough other old-time ballplayers to get a real game going.
An iconic tale full of heart, magic, and so much corn that in 2021, the White Sox and Yankees even played a game in the actual Field of Dreams in Iowa. Fanatics even has sports collectibles and memorabilia from the game.
If you’re looking for another movie about a left fielder and you’re willing to expand the definition a bit, you could always try “Moneyball.” Adapted from the book by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball” centers on Billy Beane, who played most of his big league games in left field but retired in order to work in the front office of the Oakland Athletics. The movie tells the story of the 2002 season as Beane builds the team into a winner by eschewing baseball’s conventional wisdom and embracing new-school analytics.
Center Field: “61*” (2001)
Directed by Billy Crystal, “61*” depicts the home run race between Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle and right fielder Roger Maris in 1961. In the spirit of embracing technicalities, this movie is listed under center field, even though the right fielder won the race. The asterisk in the title refers to the way Roger Maris’ home run record was listed in the record books, due to coming in a 162-game season, longer than the 154 Babe Ruth needed to hit 60 home runs in 1927.
Though these two were painted as rivals in the press, the movie details the budding friendship between Mantle and Maris throughout the 1961 season. It does a wonderful job at both depicting baseball action accurately and capturing the pressure that built up on the misunderstood Maris and the beloved but troubled Mantle.
Right Field: “The Natural” (1984)
If you like your exposition delivered via spinning newspaper, “The Natural” is your kind of movie. Based on the novel by Bernard Malamud, “The Natural” tells the story of Roy Hobbs, who sets out on a train to the big leagues, and, after a few slight delays, arrives 16 years later. Featuring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, and a host of other stars, it’s a story of fate, perseverance, and a whole lot of baseball montages.
There are plenty of iconic moments to choose from, but particularly moving is the origin story of Wonderboy, Roy’s bat and talisman. He makes it himself, out of wood from a tree struck by lightning, and carries it around in a bassoon case. The film’s final scene, replete with explosions and flying sparks beneath Randy Newman’s soaring score, is enough to give anyone goose bumps.