Back in 1908, inspired by an advertisement for a baseball game at Manhattan's Polo Grounds in New York City, Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous songs in American history. Albert Von Tilzer gave music to the words and the 1934 World Series propelled a musical tradition that continues today.
So what does a song sung during the seventh-inning stretch have to do with movies?
Baseball and films have a long and storied relationship that has entertained viewers for generations. With new movie releases still being sporadic, and the abbreviated baseball season at about the midpoint, here is a list of films involving America’s pastime. Even though “take me out with the crowd” is definitely not advisable right now, I can take everyone “out to the ball game” with these classics that certainly will make you “root, root, root” for being home with some “peanuts and Cracker Jack.”
Leading off is Brian Helgeland’s 2013 biopic of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in 1947. Robinson debuted for the then Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, which normally is celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day, when every player on every team wears his number 42. It was observed Aug. 28 this year because of the pandemic.
Chadwick Boseman (who died Aug. 28 after a four-year battle with colon cancer) portrays the iconic player and, yes, he hits it out of the park. Though most will recognize him as Black Panther, Boseman is seamless as Robinson. Harrison Ford plays executive Branch Rickey who brings him to the team, Nicole Beharie is Robinson’s wife, and Christopher Meloni is manager Leo Durocher, and all give masterful performances.
Despite the theme of segregation and racism, the film is wonderfully put together and the subtle humor will keep viewers entertained. PG-13 is accurate; the film can be found on Prime for $3.99. And locally, the Regal Crystal Lake Showplace will show "42" beginning Friday, Sept. 4.
Batting second is David Mickey Evans’ hysterical 1993 film. In the summer of 1962, Scotty Smalls moves into town and takes up playing baseball with the local group of kids at the sandlot.
Sure, the film has baseball, but really it is about being a kid and enjoying being one. The hi-jinks that the group gets into deal with a “pickle” and the scary dog over the fence, a local travel team, and the heat of the summer in southern California (which leads to quite a “magic moment”).
The 101-minute film is a must-see for everyone, no matter your age (or your feelings about baseball). PG is correct; it's on Starz.
Third in our lineup is the 1984 masterpiece directed by Barry Levinson. The fictitious New York Knights are struggling when over-the-hill ball player Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is added to the roster. Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) refuses to play him until he has to, and when he does, the team's fortunes turn around.
Hobbs may be the best player to ever play the game, but he holds a secret that could cause problems for the team and Fisher. A-listers Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger and Barbara Hershey all perform as expected, and the story will captivate audiences until the dramatic conclusion.
The four Oscar nominations put it among the greatest sports movies in Hollywood history, the 138-minute run time is worth it, and the PG rating is appropriate because of a couple flashback sequences. It is free on Prime.
“The Pride of the Yankees”
In the cleanup spot is the 1942 epic starring Gary Cooper as the iron horse, Lou Gehrig. Acclaimed director Sam Wood navigates the second biopic on the list. The story is based on the life of Gehrig, who played in 2,130 consecutive games, eventually succumbing to the nerve disease ALS (commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Cooper, of course, is wonderful, even though he never played baseball before taking on the role. Teresa Wright would be nominated for the Academy Award for her performance as his wife (she would win the supporting actress award for “Mrs. Miniver” that year), and the great Bambino, Babe Ruth, plays himself, starting a long list of sports stars making appearances in films. It nearly tripled the Oscar nominations of "The Natural" with 11, though it was almost shut out by the before-mentioned “Mrs. Miniver.”
The film builds to an emotional climax that will certainly stir a reaction. The rating system was still being developed, but nothing in it is concerning. It is on Prime.
“A League of Their Own”
Director Penny Marshall turns in one of the funniest baseball movies on the list with her 1992 film about the World War II all-women baseball league. It is based on a true story and hits close to home, with the Rockford Peaches as the featured team.
The all-star lineup is nothing short of remarkable. Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and Jon Lovitz are funny and believable in each of their roles. Tom Hanks is the manager of the team, and gives us the most famous line: “There's no crying in baseball” – but it is the ladies who take center stage and hit a home run.
The PG rating is justified for the 128-minute film for a few innuendos and adult humor, but, overall, it's a fantastic way to spend a couple hours. Prime has it for $2.99.
The final film for this list is David S. Ward’s 1989 comedy about the Cleveland Indians. Using the good old ownership versus players trope, the film follows “a has-been and a couple of never-will-be’s” as they try to navigate a major league baseball season.
The comedy comes from the interactions among the stellar cast. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen, Margaret Whitton, James Gammon, Rene Russo and Dennis Haysbert all blend into a superb mix of laughs and baseball. Let’s not forget announcer Harry Doyle, played flawlessly by the one and only Bob Uecker. The lines are delivered with such natural wit, you’ll find yourself quoting them well after watching the 107-minute film.
Of course, the movie is really for adults and the R rating is spot on, yet the laughter from beginning to end makes it a must see. It can be found on Prime for $2.99.
Sure, there are more films that deal with baseball, but this winning list should make you think to yourself: “I don’t care if I never get back.”
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He looks forward to resuming the role of host for the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.