Play Ball! Retro Baseball Movies to Watch During Spring Training

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The temperature is still dipping below freezing and snow is on the ground. But there’s a bit of relief theses days; the boys of summer are down south and getting back in shape for the upcoming baseball season. That’s right, Spring Training 2020 is underway!

Baseball is easily my favorite sport to watch on TV and see live. Nothing beats a nice sunny day at the ballpark, the vibrant green grass, the hum of excitement as you wait for the game to begin, ready for your team to take the field. Singing the National Anthem with 50,000 people and hearing the Ump yell ‘Play Ball!”  The snap of a fastball hitting the catchers mitt for strike three! The crack of the bat and the crowds restless anticipation as they watch the ball leave the yard with a thunderous uproar of cheer and joy. Drinking an ice cold beer, eating a hot dog and sharing a bag of peanuts with the kids while explaining a 4-6-3 double play is the best way to spend a summer afternoon.

Rogers Hornsby quote

Here in Denver, we have the Colorado Rockies playing at Coors Field. Which boasts seats over a Mile High and gorgeous views of the mountains from the almost every seat. In the thin air home runs fly out of the park like jets leaving the airport and when the home team goes deep, massive water fountains shoot high into the air behind center field. Coors Field puts on one of the best 4th of July fireworks shows as well. You can even go out on the field and watch the fireworks! If you’re ever in Denver during the summer, do yourself a favor and go see a Rockies game!

I’m already excited for the season to start! But first we need to get through spring training. While the teams are working out new players and getting the veterans back in shape you can watch the movies below to beat the winter doldrums and enjoy America’s Pastime.

Baseball Movies from the ’80s and ’90s

A League of Their own (1992)

Set during World War II, A League of their Own tells the story of the first women’s baseball league. In 1942 over 500 Major League Baseball players entered the war leaving baseball in a vulnerable position. Philip Wrigley (of Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field fame) founded the league in 1943 and the most successful franchise was the Rockford Peaches, winning four championships. A league of their own is a fictionalized account of the league’s formation and the start of the Rockford Peaches. Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a former home-run king whose glory days are long behind him, is hired to manage the newly formed Rockford Peaches.

Tom Hanks is still in his comedic phase and delivers in this movie. Support from Gena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell keep the movie light and funny, while keeping the struggle of World War II in perspective. Released July 1992 A League of Their Own finished 2nd at the box office it’s first weekend behind Batman Returns. The quote the movie is best know for…”There’s no crying in baseball” is ranked #54 on the AFI (American Film Institute) Top 100 Movie Quotes list.

The Sandlot (1993)

I rented this one back in the 90’s and enjoyed it. It reminded me of a wholesome version of Stand By Me. It did OK in the theaters but has gained ‘cult classic’ status since its release on video. Last year I showed it to my youngest son, who is now playing baseball and he loved it, especially the chewing Tobacco/Amusement park scene! The movie is a classic coming-of-age movie set around baseball in 1960’s California. Scotty “You’re Killin’ Me” Smalls spends the summer with a new group of kids trying to fit in. While playing, the boys lose their last ball to ‘The Beast,’ a dog so big and so fierce no one dares enter the yard to get the ball back. Smalls’ offers his stepdad’s baseball to keep the game going. What he doesn’t realize is the ball is signed by Babe Ruth, The Bambino, The Sultan of Swat!

When that ball is taken by ‘The Beast’ the boys set out to retrieve it. The Sandlot takes place over the course of the summer and explores the developing friendships between the boys. Throughout the summer the boys discover they can conquer their fears, whether it’s facing down the Beast or pursuing the beautiful Lifeguard.  The Sandlot is a coming-of-age movie focusing on friendship and growing up, with baseball as the glue that holds it altogether.

This is a prefect movie to watch with the kids while waiting for the snow to melt. There are rumors that Disney+ has a Sandlot series in development. The series will take place in 1984 and focus on Smalls, Benny and the rest of the boys as adults and their children.

Field of Dreams (1989)

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) owns a farm in Iowa and hears voices talking to him while walking through the cornfield. This could go a few of ways…growing up in Iowa my first thought turns to Children of the Corn! Thankfully this movie isn’t a horror movie. Ray is determined to quell the voice in his head and decides to plow up a portion of his cornfield and build a baseball field. As Ray finishes the field Shoeless Joe Jackson appears from out of the cornfield to play ball with a few of his friends. Ray continues to hear the voice “ease his pain” … “go the distance” and sets out to finish what he started. In the end the ‘he’ isn’t Shoeless Joe as Ray thought, it’s something more magical.

Field of Dreams is on the AFI lists in a few categories. It’s ranked #28 in the Top 100 Most Inspirational movies. The quote “If you build it, he will come” is ranked #39 in the Top 100 Quotes list and the movie is ranked #6 in the AFI Top 10 Fantasy movie category. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2017. Field of Dreams was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, losing out to Driving Miss Daisy.

Major League Baseball announced this year an official MLB game will be played at the Field of Dreams. The New York Yankees face the Chicago White Sox on 12 Aug 2020. While the White Sox are the perfect choice, Shoeless Joe and the others played for Chicago White Sox, infamously known as the ‘Black Sox.’ The MLB should have found a way to make the game against the Cincinnati Reds, the team Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox lost to in the 1919 World Series.

I grew up a couple hours drive from the Field of Dreams and never went to see it. After all these years I need to plan a trip the next time I’m back in Iowa. Much to my kids (and wife’s) chagrin whenever we go back to visit the first thing out of my mouth is “Is this Heaven? It’s Iowa.” Field of Dreams is a must-watch movie, no matter what time of year, but Spring Training is the perfect opportunity.

The Bad News Bears (1976)

I watched this movie as a kid and probably shouldn’t have. But having older sisters has some benefits, I was able to watch movies with them as long as I didn’t bug them…hard to do as a little brother!  Walter Matthau plays a drunken, washed up ball player, illegally hired to coach a little league team. The team is a bunch of uncoordinated misfits that have little skill on the diamond. While “coaching” the kids Matthau mixes beer and whiskey right in the dugout.

The language is pure 1970s, it’s profanity laced, abusive, racist and that’s just the kids! As the movie progresses Matthau starts to sober up and actually teaches the kids how to play and brings in a ace picture, Amanda, played by Tatum O’Neal. As the kids get more competitive, the misfit Bears actually have a chance to win the championship.  The Bad News Bears is a refreshing change from the safe G-rated kids movies today.  Really, what movie can you watch nowadays where a coach gives 11-year-old kids beer to celebrate 2nd place! Rotten Tomato gives it a 97% fresh rating.

Bull Durham (1988)

Bull Durahm is a baseball movie wrapped in a Rom-Com, which, on the surface wouldn’t seem like a good baseball movie but baseball overshadows the romance, mostly. Minor League veteran “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner) is sent to the Durham Bulls to groom rookie superstar “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) for the Big Leagues. Throughout the season the two vie for the attention of baseball groupie Annie (Susan Sarandon), who likes to take in one lucky ball player every year. Baseball is the focal point and Crash grooms Nuke with his own tough love style, like when Nuke shakes off to many pitches, Crash tells the batter what is coming and he hits it outta the park!

Writer and Director Ron Shelton played Minor League baseball for five years and wrote the story based on his experience. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year, losing to Rain Man. The movie has an air of authenticity to it, told by someone who has lived through the turmoil.

Bull Durham ranks high on a lot of list for sports movies. Sports Illustrated ranked it the #1 Greatest Sports movie of all time! The Bravo channel puts it at #55 in its top 100 Funniest Movies list, AFI put it at #97 on their Top 100 list and Rotten Tomato has it as #53 for bet reviewed sports movie. It also receives a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomato. Anyway you look at it Bull Durham is a fantastic movie.

Minor League baseball has some of the best team names going. Maybe the best known, thanks to Cpl Klinger on M*A*S*H, is the Toldeo Mud Hens, but it gets better. You have the Rubberducks, Sod Poodles, RiverDogs, Stone Crabs, Jumbo Shrimp, Iron Pigs, Sea Dogs, Lugnuts, Trash Pandas, the list goes on and on.

Don’t be a lollygagger! Watch Bull Durham this spring and you’ll know what all those young players at Spring Training are going through.

Major League (1988)

Major League is the classic underdog story. The new owner of the Cleveland Indians, Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), wants to move the team to Miami. In order to do so, she needs the team to lose to drive down attendance and trigger the escape clause of the contract with the city. To ensure low attendance she gathers a bunch of players passed their prime and players who will never amount to anything. Using the Indians as the losing team wasn’t a far stretch in the 1980s, they were horrible the entire decade! In the 1980’s there were 7 teams in the AL East. Cleveland finished in 6th or 7th place every year except 1986, that year they finished 5th. It was not a good decade for the franchise.

The misfit roster includes aging catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), Rookie Pitcher and convict Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) and Prima Donna third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernson). As expected the team starts out the worst in the league, but once they discover Phelps’ plot to move the team they are motivated to prove her wrong and turn the season around. Arguably the movie is stolen by an unknown talent…the announcer Harry Doyle played flawlessly by Bob Uecker.

Robert George “Bob” Uecker was a catcher in Major League Baseball for six years in the 1960’s and won a World Series with the 1964 Cardinals. He retired in 1967 and began a broadcasting career as the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1971. He’s still the broadcaster for the Brewers today! For you wrestling fans, Uecker was the ring announcer at Wrestlemania III and IV. Throughout the movie he deadpans some of the best one-liners; Wild Thing throws a pitch 4 feet off the plate, Doyle states, “Juuust a bit outside.” Willie Mays Hays gets picked off at while a foot off the bag, Doyle retorts, “Personally, I think we got hosed on that call.”

Can the team pull together and win? Will the Indians move to Miami? Only one way to find out…sit down and watch Major League!

Oil up the glove and crack open a cold beverage. Then plop down and watch one or all of these great baseball movies. Let us know in the comments below your favorite baseball movie (or team).

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About Pitfall Gary 31 Articles
Just your average Gen X'er. Born in the 70s and raised in the Decade of Decadence! I rode my bike without a helmet and was home when the street lights came on. I love to reminisce about the good ol' days; Movies, TV, music, if it happened in my childhood I'll share it with you.