Guide to Baseball Films: The 1990s
- Angels in the Outfield. (1994) Dir. William Dear. An embittered major-league manager leads his team back into the pennant race after a kid sees angels descending to help them.
A fine performance by Danny Glover as the manager doesn't quite rescue this banal picture, a remake of the 1951 film.
- Babe. (1992) Dir. Arthur Hiller. John Goodman plays Babe Ruth in this biopic that spans from his days at St. Mary's to his disillusioned retirement from major-league ball.
Good period style and strong performances. The life of Ruth is presented here realistically and therefore somewhat undramatically, but this is an enjoyable picture.
- BASEketball. (1998) Dir. David Zucker. Losers create a new sport that America can take to heart.
Aimless and intermittently funny send-up of sport films in general.
- Cobb. (1995) Dir. Ron Shelton. A sportswriter gets the real story of Ty Cobb's life.
Way over the top from the first reel, this film sacrifices any possible dramatic interest for violent and clumsily-written slapstick. With Tommy Lee Jones as Cobb.
- Ed. (1996) Dir. Bill Couturiť. Ape plays minor-league ball.
- The Fan. (1996) Dir. Tony Scott. A failing salesman, obsessed with the Giants, wants his favorite player to do well, and is willing to murder several people in order to get the slugger hitting again. From the novel by Peter Abrahams.
By Taxi Driver out of The Natural . . . Robert De Niro's quieter moments as "the fan" are good ones, but as the film goes on it becomes noisier and more violent.
- For Love of the Game. (1999) Dir. Sam Raimi. Washed-up star pitcher pitches perfect game, wins love of feckless girlfriend. From the novel by Michael Shaara.
This may be the worst serious baseball film ever made; it is certainly the slowest-moving and most humorless.
- A League of Their Own. (1992) Dir. Penny Marshall. Two sisters from Oregon make good in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Good performances by an ensemble cast help to enliven a film that stretches out too long for its own good; but on the other hand, when is Hollywood going to make another movie about women ballplayers that alludes to Virginia Woolf in its title? It's welcome to as many minutes as it wants.
- Little Big League. (1994) Dir. Andrew Scheinman. Middle-school kid inherits the Minnesota Twins and names himself field manager.
Potentially cute idea, pleasantly made, and slower than Mo Vaughn running out a grounder.
- Major League II. (1994) Dir. David S. Ward. The Indians' group of misfits proves that it can deal with success as well as failure.
Ill-advised sequel to the agreeable Major League brings back most of the cast but few of the laughs.
- Major League: Back to the Minors. (1998) Dir. John Warren. Washed-up pitcher takes on the challenge of mentoring minor-leaguers.
Funereally-paced entry in the Major League series, with only Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert, and Bob Uecker remaining from the first film. Farce is replaced by light melodrama with very little attempt at laughs. The presence of Ted McGinley should be a heads-up.
- Mr. Baseball. (1993) Dir. Fred Schepisi. A fading big-league star takes a job in Japan, suffering culture shock but winning through to gain the love of the manager's daughter.
More thoughtful and complicated than its slapstick-loaded trailers promised, this picture was not as successful as it deserved. Tom Selleck is charming, leading a mostly Japanese cast in a picture that takes a foreign culture seriously--rare enough for Hollywood, but especially for comedy.
- Pastime. (1991) Dir. Robin B. Armstrong. A minor-league pitcher hangs onto a job and mentors a young prospect.
Attractive 1957 period detail and believable bush-league atmosphere; probably best described as an exceedingly low-key imitation of Bull Durham. An intriguing feature of the film is a set of fleeting cameo appearances by major-league stars including Don Newcombe and Ernie Banks. (Netflix says that Banks stars in the film, and the IMDb says that it's jazz singer Ernie Lee Banks, but both are incorrect; Mr. Cub appears very briefly as a spectator in the stands.)
- Rookie of the Year. (1993) Dir. Daniel Stern. Freak accident gives boy terrific arm strength, which he uses to help Cubs win pennant, in the process reviving several burnt-out and embittered lives.
Routine kids' magic-baseball-action formula picture, enlivened by some pretty good direction from Stern and dragged back to earth by an overdone, mugging performance by Stern as the boy's flaky pitching coach.
- The Sandlot. (1993). Dir. David Mickey Evans. A grown man narrates in flashback the summer of '62, when he moved to California, made lifelong friends, and got to know and love his stepfather, thanks to a sandlot baseball team.
Familiar story of a team of misfits bonding (the Bad News Bears formula), but above-average in script and execution; notable for its realistic portrayal of kids' language and concerns.
- The Scout. (1994) Dir. Michael Ritchie. A down-on-his-luck scout for the Yankees discovers the greatest baseball player in the world playing for a Mexican ballclub; bringing the player to New York is fraught with problems.
A comedy vehicle for Albert Brooks, who is dependably funny; also good are Brendan Fraser as the player and Dianne Wiest as a perplexed psychiatrist. Despite credit to a story idea by Roger Angell, the baseball in this picture doesn't bear any resemblance to reality; it's pure fantasy. May parody Talent for the Game (below).
- Soul of the Game. (1996) Dir. Kevin Rodney Sullivan. When Branch Rickey starts to scout Negro League players, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson assume they'll get the call; but Rickey has his eye on Paige's unheralded shortstop.
This film compresses history mightily to foreground a (largely imaginary) personal conflict between elders Paige and Gibson and the brash youngster Jackie Robinson. In doing so, it does catch some of the intergenerational tension that certainly existed between some veterans and the younger stars. Well-acted by Delroy Lindo as Paige and Mykelti Williamson as Gibson.
- Talent for the Game. (1991) Dir. Robert M. Young. A down-on-his-luck scout for the Angels discovers a great pitcher playing on an Idaho sandlot; bringing the player to L.A. is fraught with problems.
Prefigures The Scout (above) in its plot and its preposterousness, except that this film is straightforward light melodrama.
- Three Wishes. (1995) Dir. Martha Coolidge. A drifter becomes guru to a youth-league ballclub in 1950s California.
That's actually a major subplot of this HBO-produced family fantasy; it's as much a baseball movie as it is anything else, since it can't quite make up its mind what story it wants to tell.
- "The Unnatural." Dir. David Duchovny. The X-Files. Fox. 25 April 1999. An old geezer reveals to Agent Mulder that a legendary Negro League slugger was really a Gray alien.
Better-than-average baseball film, marred only by the usual opacity of the series when it comes to the aliens' motives and actions. M. Emmet Walsh is notable as the geezer.