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I don’t remember whose it was, but I saw an opinion on Twitter this week that got me thinking. “We don’t make good baseball movies anymore,” was the gist of it, and that’s the truth.

We used to make baseball movies all the time—many of them good, some not—and if you came of age in last 15 years of the 20th Century, you couldn’t swing a bat without hitting a squinting Kevin Costner. I don’t know if anyone else calls it this, but I call it the Golden Age of Baseball Movies, starting with The Natural in 1984, going on to The Rookie in 2002. Within that golden age was a second subset, the golden age of children’s baseball movies, in which Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield and Little Big League came out in 1993 and 1994 alone, alongside numerous other films about kids playing sports. I was getting into baseball for the first time around then, and I remember feeling like a new baseball movie came out every week.

It was great.

I’ve compiled a list of 20 such films that I believe make up the Golden Age of Baseball Movies. Not all of them are great, but they are of an era. You can quibble with the endpoints, or with particular additions or omissions, but if you do, I respectfully invite you to bugger off and make your own list. This is my list.

The Golden Age of Baseball Movies (1984-2002)

The Natural

Bull Durham

Eight Men Out

Field of Dreams

Major League

The Babe

A League of Their Own

Mr. Baseball

Rookie of the Year

The Sandlot

Angels in the Outfield

Cobb

Little Big League

Major League II

The Scout

The Fan

For Love of the Game

61*

Summer Catch

The Rookie

My first thought was to determine which actor from the Golden Age had had the best fictitious baseball career. I suspected it was Wesley Snipes, who played not one but two star outfielders: Willie Mays Hayes in Major League and Bobby Rayburn in The Fan. That’s not the case, as it turns out, but it’s also not the point, because it turned into this:

That’s a chart of the overlapping actors among these 20 movies. Here it is in Google Doc form if you want to, you know, read it.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

1) The actor with the best movie baseball career is not Wesley Snipes but Art LaFleur, the rugged, square-jawed character actor you’d remember from whatever films have featured rugged, square-jawed men since 1980. LaFleur played Babe Ruth in The Sandlot, which ties him with John Goodman, whose performance as the Babe in the 1992 film of the same name can only be described as “unique.” LaFleur also played Chick Gandil in Field of Dreams, upping his career fictional WAR total to around 200, plus whatever his character in Mr. Baseball produced.

2) But in my heart, Geena Davis had the best on-screen playing career.

3) This is because—in addition to Babe Ruth just being that much better than most baseball players—many of the actors who played starring roles in two or more movies didn’t play a ballplayer every time. David Strathairn plays Eddie Cicotte in Eight Men Out, then an executive in A League of Their Own. In Field of Dreams alone, Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Timothy Busfield, all of whom played pro ballplayers in other movies, all played normal guys.

4) I’d prepared elaborate workarounds in case I couldn’t link each of these moves to at least one other with one actor, and it turns out I needed it, because nobody from The Natural appeared in another movie. That said, Barbara Hershey was in The Natural, but she was also in The Right Stuff with Dennis Quaid, who was in The Rookie, and Fred Ward, who was in Summer Catch. The Right Stuff features a scene in which Chuck Yeager plays catch with his son at a barbecue, and is therefore a baseball movie.

5) The most common threads among these movies’ IMDB pages is not in the case, but in the crew. I didn’t have an exact count, but a helicopter pilot named Al Cerullo, an oboist named Tom Boyd, a French horn player named James Thatcher and a music contractor[1] named Sandy DeCrescent all worked on at least half of these films. That’s not surprising—all of them have worked on hundreds of movies, and Boyd and Thatcher both have in excess of 1,000 IMDB credits.

6) James Andelin only appeared in 20 movies in his career, three of which were The Babe, Field of Dreams and Rookie of the Year.

7) Don S. Davis played a generic manager in A League of Their Own and The Fan. Ken Medlock played a generic umpire in Mr. Baseball and Major League II.

8) Six of Medlock’s 37 IMDB acting credits are for playing “Umpire”—seven if you count his one-episode run on Numb3rs, in which he played “Ref.” Medlock also played Grady Fuson in Moneyball.

9) Many real-life baseball figures made multiple cameos as themselves. Bob Costas and Tim McCarver appeared in both The Scout and Mr. Baseball.[2] Ken Griffey, Jr., played himself in Little Big League and Summer Catch, while Bob Sheppard and John Sterling were both in For Love of the Game and The Scout, while Sheppard also appeared in 61*. David Courtney, the late Angels PA announcer, also appeared in 61* and Angels in the Outfield.

10) I’m not sure any actor—including Kevin Costner—benefited more from the Golden Age of Baseball Movies than Michael Papajohn. As you might imagine, these movies require a lot of filler, actors who can play a ballplayer convincingly and deliver a couple lines, then shrink back into the scenery. Sometimes you get real actors to play these guys,[3] and sometimes you just round up some ex-ballplayers and stick them in front of a camera.

One of those ex-ballplayers is Papajohn, who played in the College World Series for LSU twice in the 1980s, then appeared in The Babe, Mr. Baseball and Little Big League for three of his first five IMDB credits, then five years later, For Love of the Game. That means that Papajohn, with four appearances, is the best-represented actor in the Golden Age of Baseball. He parlayed that success into a nearly 30-year acting career that continues to this day.

Not bad for a guy who started out doing this:



[1] Whatever that is.

[2] And BASEketball. BASEketball not winning an Oscar, by the way, is the one thing standing between us and a Trey Parker/Matt Stone EGOT, in case you were wondering.

[3] Sometimes, as in the case of Angels in the Outfield, you get multiple future Oscar winners—Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey—to fill out the fictional 25-man roster.

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summoner
5/06
An old Boston friend and I got many odd looks when we broke into wild applause at the appearance of "Sibby Sisti" in the closing credits of "The Natural." It was his only acting credit.
Phillies113
5/06
RE: the footnote about Trey Parker/Matt Stone not getting Oscars; they were nominated for Best Song for "Blame Canada" but they lost to Phil Collins, who did Tarzan that year.

They proceeded to make fun of Phil Collins in an episode of South Park shortly thereafter.
dbiester
5/06
Blame Canada absolutely deserved the Oscar over "You'll be in My Heart" and the other nominees. And it deserved a Grammy. Because.
LlarryA
5/06
I always liked the real ballplayers playing out of position, like Yeager and Vuckovich in Major League.

Also, check out Juan Nieves' IMDB entry. He had a part in "For Love of the Game", but is also credited with playing himself (as Chicago White Sox Bullpen Coach) on Sunday Night Baseball in 2010.
Oddibe29
5/07
I've had this argument in the past but I dont think Field of Dreams should be classified as a baseball movie. There's almost zero baseball in the film.
sneugebauer
5/07
Tim McCarver is also in "The Naked Gun", which while not being a baseball movie per se is probably still my favorite baseball movie.
frank522
5/09
The Naked Gun's climactic scene took place in a stadium during a ball game, and the game was integral to the plot. I say it is a baseball movie, and and one that deserves a spot on this list!
CrashD
5/08
I realize it was made well before the Golden Age, but can I be permitted one more cheer for Bingo Long, and the hope that it stays in our memories as long as any other? (Check out my handle, and guess what my very close second choice was.)
jnossal
5/09
Not sure you can really call that a "Golden Age" other than maybe by volume.

Since 2000 and just sticking to the more well-known and/or better films, I count:

Million Dollar Arm
Mercy Rule
108 Stitches
No-no: A Dockumentary
Trouble with the Curve
Parental Guidance
Ballplayer: Pelotero
Charlie St. Cloud
Chasing 3000
Moneyball
42
The Perfect Game
Calvin Marshall
Sugar
The Benchwarmers
Everyone's Hero
Beer League
Fever Pitch
The Sandlot sequels
Bad News Bears (remake)
The Upside of Anger (Costner again)
Mr. 3000
Hustle (TV, but so is 61*)

I'd agree the 84-02 list (19-yr span, btw, thank you arbitrary endpoints) is superior in overall quality.

What the 70s might lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality:

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Bad News Bears (1976, plus two sequels)
Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976)
One in a Million: the Ron Leflore Story (1977)
The Glory of Their Times (1977)
jnossal
5/09
Excellent: The Natural, Bull Durham, Major League, A League of Their Own, The Sandlot
Good: The Babe, Little Big League
Average: The Fan, 61*, Summer Catch
Fair: Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Angels in the Outfield, For the Love of the Game, The Rookie, Mr. Baseball
Poor: Rookie of the Year, Cobb, Major League II, The Scout

So, 5-7 decent films over nearly two decades. Not that great, really. If you really wanted to narrow down a Golden Age, it would be the decade 1984-1994 and yes I know that's 11 years.






Summer Catch

The Rookie