Which Baseball Movie Would You Want To Actually Happen?


Tim’s pretty sure this whole idea started with an innocuous comment to John during a customary monthly reviewing of Little Big League. It was something along the lines of “You know, now that I’m older, I’m more interested in the media side of sports. That’s the most interesting part about this movie to me. It’d be so much more interesting if this happened than, say, Rookie of the Year.

Debate on.

The question is simple: Which baseball movie would most intrigue you if it were to actually occur? We considered seven movies, leaving off true stories (been there, done that), ones that couldn’t register on a national scale (sorry, The Sandlot), and ones we all haven’t seen (The Natural). Enjoy.

Note: Click on the images to see trailers of each movie.

Note 2: Per the usual, we ranked them, in descending order.

T6. The Scout

TIM 7, JOSH 7, JOHN S 3

TIM: I can only suspend my disbelief so far. And a pitcher from the Mexican League* throwing 112 miles per hour and striking our all 27 batters he faces on three pitches each in his first career start crosses the threshold. Pre-adolescent candidates for the Cy Young and Manager of the Year are more believable than this, as we shall see.

*The best pitcher to emerge out of the Mexican League is Elmer Dessens. Career ERA: 4.55.

(And from the bare-bones baseball perspective, the concept of a player making his Major League debut in Game 1 of the World Series is ludicrous. As is his entrance to Yankee Stadium via helicopter. As is Ozzie Smith, the last batter Steve Nebraska retires, experiencing a “power surge.” As is the surging Ozzie Smith for some reason batting ninth in the St. Louis order.)

And aside from all that, this movie simply perpetuates a rich get richer mentality. Of course Steve Nebraska would sign with the Yankees, the only team wealthy enough to risk so much money on a Mexican Leaguer. Seriously, Nebraska doesn’t even lead a team of underdogs. This is the only sports movie where I actively rooted against the protagonist. Who could possibly want this to happen in real life?

JOHN S: Look, I don’t like a lot about this movie either: The 81-pitch, 27 K perfect game is ridiculous (why wouldn’t someone on the Cardinals just bunt in, say, the third inning?), portraying Ozzie Smith as a power threat is absurd, having a player debut in the World Series is crazy, etc. But a lot of these movies have ridiculous premises and this one isn’t even the most far-fetched (Steve Nebraska = Joba Chamberlain on a good day). So don’t pretend you wouldn’t be impressed if this happened in real life. Plus, the movie’s got Dianne Wiest!

TIM: Nah, Joba would have struck out 27 on 27 pitches. We both know you like this movie just because, for once, the Yankees are the good guys. That might be the most outlandish part of it all.

T6. For Love of the Game

TIM 6, JOSH 5, JOHN S 6

JOHN S: An aging pitcher throws a perfect game…. Wake me when it’s over. This has actually happened a few times before. A more exciting version of it happened last week, for crying out loud.

The only twists this movie offers is that this is Billy Chapel’s last career start, and he spends most of it thinking about Kelly Preston. But the public wouldn’t know about the former until after the fact (and it would end up being just a much worse version of Roberto Clemente’s last hit) and would never learn about the latter. And Tim calls Bull Durham a chick flick…

TIM: Are you saying Bull Durham isn’t a chick flick?

JOSH: I agree generally with John’s analysis, although I rank this slightly higher because I enjoyed this movie quite a bit when I saw it in the theater. The fact that Chapel has been with the Tigers for 19 years and throws a perfect game while he’s on the trading block makes this more exceptional than your regular perfect game story. Moreover, there have only been 18 perfect games thrown in Major League history so any perfect game creates a decent story. For Love of the Game, I rank this fifth.

TIM: I’d even venture to say a facsimile of this storyline has happened in more exciting ways to veterans on the Detroit Tigers. Kenny Rogers’ run in the 2006 postseason was more exciting than this, even if instead of shots of Kelly Preston, we got shots of that smudge on his palm.

JOHN S: I don’t know, Tim, Kenny Rogers is a journeyman who has been tantalizing different fan bases for years. I agree with Josh that Chapel being a long-time Tiger enhances the story, even if the story still stinks overall. And yes, Bull Durham is a chick flick, but it’s still Kevin Costner’s best baseball movie… which I guess is kind of like being the Marlins’ biggest fan.

TIM: Me and my Collector’s Edition DVD of Field of Dreams await your apology.

JOSH: I, too, await an apology. Unfortunately, I only have a plebeian edition of Field of Dreams so I think it may not have the necessary elements of consciousness to await an apology.

5. Major Leagues I and II

TIM 5, JOSH 6, JOHN S 4

JOHN S: Now, while Major League is probably the best movie on this list, a group of ragtag no-names making it to the playoffs isn’t all that amazing. Just imagine the 2006 Oakland A’s, if Dan Haren were an ex-con and Frank Thomas practiced voodoo.

But when you consider the sequel, this would a pretty compelling national story. Think of the off-the-field intrigue: The team’s third basemen retires and buys the team only to be forced to sell it back to the former owner, whose only motivation for buying the team back is revenge, midseason.

Plus, the team is so full of egos, that they give their manager a heart attack and start the first ever brawl with itself (although Angels in the Outfield used this same shtick in the same year). Oh, and a Japanese player catches a fly ball with his bare hand to send the team to the post-season.

Who wouldn’t love to talk about that on Around the Horn?

TIM: Yeah, Mariotti would eat it up. You know, because of the White Sox.

We again agree that Major League, while likely the best baseball movie, lacks anything really over-the-top going on (although I probably would have cited the historical example of the 1991 Minnesota Twins). The second film is more interesting, although I think the Parkman storyline is better than any of the ones you mentioned. Can you imagine what Twitter would look like when Vaughn starts throwing those intentional balls to Terminy? (I think it’s Terminy.)

The best part of these movies, though, is Harry Doyle, and I wouldn’t get to listen to him if this actually happened. That’s what holds them back.

JOHN S: I completely forgot about Parkman! How could I let that happen? Parkman is up there with Ivan Drago and Coach Reilly as one of the best sports-movie villains ever. If a real life version of him actually existed (think A.J. Pierzynski times 100), the public would eat it up.

TIM: “It’s not worth winning if YOU DON’T WIN BIG!”

4. Field of Dreams

TIM 4, JOSH 3, JOHN S 7

TIM: This was the most interesting film for me to consider for two reasons:

1. It presents a reality that is strictly contingent on belief. Field of Dreams never once states that the ghostly legends that occupy Ray Kinsella’s cornfield are 100 percent real. Rather, like The Polar Express or a Magic Eye picture, they are there only if you believe they are there—an ideology that portends very well for religious folk and very poorly for five-year-olds who can’t sleep.

2. The film itself implies a conclusion without finalizing one. Terrence Mann’s “People will come” speech basically says that and that alone. People will come to Iowa, but there’s no indication of how they will leave, or whether they’ll come back, or whether the initial report in the Travel section of The New York Times discussing an apparent phenomenon in Iowa will become a veritable front-page story or fizzle into nothing more than another hoax and a George Saunders long-form personal essay about discovering said hoax.

But neither outcome is all that satisfactory. If it’s a hoax, it’s a hoax, and we go on with our lives. If it’s real, though, it’s “If you build it, they will come” message becomes the credo of a whole new solipsistic approach to constructing a weltanschauung (and/or a baseball field). It would utterly revolutionize the way we look at the world around us and taunt us with the possibility of our own personalized creations and fantasies and questions wondering if Ray Kinsella can do it, why can’t I?

Slippery slope, indeed.

JOHN S: Man, you want to talk about “baseball” movies that aren’t really about baseball? Things that Field of Dreams is about more than baseball: the 60s, time-travel, corn, elderly writers, old-timey medical practices, hippies, Timothy Busfield trying to kill a little girl.

I think it’s pretty clear that the film implies that the ghosts are real, being as pretty much every skeptical character is converted by the end, even evil Timothy Busfield.

As much as I hate to admit it, people would love this story if it actually happened. Ray Kinsella would appear on The View and Oprah talking about how you just have to believe and all your wildest dreams will come true. He would be the subject of countless Rick Reilly columns. He would do speaking tours and get a book deal….and I would hate every minute of it.

TIM: They play catch, John! How could it be more about baseball???

JOSH: Sure there are a lot of subplots but he does plow over his cornfields and build a baseball field for much of the movie. Moreover, as John admits, there is little doubt that it would be a popular feel-good story. And, it sure isn’t too common to add a baseball field onto your private property. Furthermore, as testament to the popularity of the concept of Field of Dreams, the actual field is one of Iowa’s most popular tourist attractions. Imagine if the Black Sox actually did visit: It would unambiguously be the most popular tourist attraction in Iowa.

3. Angels in the Outfield

TIM 1, JOSH 4, JOHN S 5

TIM: You’re incredulous, I know. But every sports movie breaks one big rule. In The Scout, it’s that a man can throw 112 miles per hour. In Rookie of the Year, it’s that a 12-year-old can throw in the high 90s.

Think of the big rule that Angels in the Outfield breaks: God responds to sports-related prayer, and he does so in compelling fashion.

Regardless of the veracity of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s belief in angelic contributions, there is no doubt that the sudden rise of George Knox’s California Angels—from a 15-game losing streak to first-place with the help of several inexplicable plays—would be a national story. But add to that Knox’s final-day-of-the-season press conference—in which he turns on his owner and says he does believe in the angels’ intervention and the players, led by Mel Clark, perform a collective Jimmy Chitwood—and you get a story that would transcend sports. Knox’s press conference, followed by Angel Stadium urging Clark on by flapping their arms in the ninth inning to a division title, would likely merit front-page treatment in national newspapers.

And deservedly so. It’s a story that combines sports with religion and race (Roger and J.P. with a touching interracial relationship, the ongoing feud between Knox and white broadcaster Ranch Wilder, Knox eventually adopting Roger and J.P.)—one that rewards the blind faith and loyalty of the fan.

As J.P. always says, it could happen. And I’d be happy if it did.

JOSH: Oh how Tim it is of you to overrate something based on God’s interjection. Seriously, though, I just think that the premise of this movie is so unbelievable that it can’t merit a place in the Top 3.  Even if God were to intervene, it would be more believable and interesting if his interventions were more subtle. Nineteen errors in one game by the Athletics: Seriously? Generally, in sports, I think stories based on individual skill and merit are much more appealing than stories based on luck and prayer. How much less extraordinary would Willie Mays famous catch be if we learned that an angel actually caused the catch? Likewise, Danny Hemerling’s inside-the-park HR would be more noteworthy if it came from him. Nonetheless, I rank Angels fourth because coming back from a 15-game losing streak is pretty compelling as is the the race and adoption subplot.

TIM: Two counters. First, it was 19 errors on one play. Second, you like stories based on individual skill and merit, but you rank Rookie of the Year first? I’m glad you live in a world where “breaking your arm only to have the tendons heal ‘tightly’ to allow you to transform from the laughingstock of your Little League team to a national big-league phenomenon who can throw in the high 90s” is not an instance of luck.

JOHN S: First of all, Tim, as you will see when we get to Rookie of the Year, what redeems that storyline is that he has to pitch the final inning without his magical, “tight” tendons.

But what both Josh and Tim miss about this movie is that it is, essentially, cheating. Why play the games if God has a vested rooting interest? Is there ANY chance that God’s team will LOSE? (Although, my conception of spiritual intervention may be off, since I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why it takes TWO angels to lift Ben Williams up for his catch. He was too heavy for one angel? How much can the average messenger of God bench, anyway?)

Also, the whole point of God’s intervention is moot, since he supposedly intervenes to help reunite Roger with his father, even though any adult (and, presumably, any deity) would have realized that Roger’s dad was being sarcastic when he tells him that they can be a family again “when the Angels win the pennant.” (Plus, why didn’t Roger just pray for his family to reunite directly? Why the middle man?) Couldn’t the angels have just sat Roger down and explained figures of speech to him, instead of filling him with all this false hope?

TIM: John, it’s about time you boned up on your New Testament. I believe Paul details angels’ exercise routines in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians.

Furthermore, I would be intrigued to see if any other teams decided to rename themselves in a religious fashion; you know, to avoid perennial Angels-Padres World Series.

2. Little Big League

TIM 2, JOSH 2, JOHN S 2

JOHN S: This is the perfect movie for the 11-year old who’s enough of a realist to know that if he’s the worst player on his own Little League team then he’s probably not heading to the show, but also a enough of a dreamer to believe he could inherit a baseball team and make himself the manager.

Now, on the one hand, this isn’t all that implausible. If Art Howe taught us anything, it’s that being a manager isn’t that hard. As Billy Heywood’s friend even tells him in the movie: “It’s the American League. They have the DH! How hard could it be?”

But watching a team with a pre-pubescent manager would be fascinating. Managers of legal voting age have a difficult enough time controlling players’ egos; how is a pitcher going to respond to getting pulled early by a kid who hasn’t started shaving yet? Would the players even stand for it? Even if he were fired on the first day, this scenario would be worth if we got to see this play executed even once in a real game:

TIM: I’m like 95 percent sure that’s a balk. Doesn’t the pitcher have to throw to first? (At least we know Griffey gets his revenge.)

JOSH: I agree with John’s ranking but he under-emphasizes the significance of Billy’s American League line. With so little strategy necessary in the American League, Billy’s role as manager becomes more believable and manageable. How would he cope with a double switch? So, the misguidedness of the American League creates in an incredibly compelling story that makes it into the Top Two for me.

TIM: I’m very upset both of you ranked this behind Rookie of the Year. They’re essentially the same movie (11-year-old Billy Heywood v. 12-year-old Henry Rowengartner, annoying friends, understanding mother that falls in love with child’s mentor on the team, etc.); for me, the difference is that Rowengartner’s ascension to stardom is basically a medical anomaly. It doesn’t portend to anything once he loses that “skill” (as intimated by Josh) in the game against the Mets.

Heywood, meanwhile, is somehow able to command the respect of his elders even though he’s 11 and was handed the reins to the Twins without doing anything to earn them. I mean, he has NO credibility going in. Can’t you see Malcolm Gladwell all over this?

Note: Is it fair to say Timothy Busfield is the most disproportionately represented actor in this post?

JOSH: Um, Tim, did you forget about the floater at the end (because of the guidance of his mom!)? And, Rowengartner’s exceptional on-the-spot intelligence that causes him to perfectly utilize the hidden ball trick? Skill doesn’t just mean pitching powerfully. I do think, though, that he should have at least TRIED to throw the knuckleball. And, do we discredit Antonia Alfonseca’s (otherwise known as “The Octopus”) incredible career due to his anomolous six fingers? I don’t think so.

1. Rookie of the Year

TIM 3, JOSH 1, JOHN S 1

JOSH (1): This is the perfect movie for the delusional (or just impressionable) 12-year old child who has at least a moderate amount of athletic talent. Twelve-year old Henry Rowengartner becomes a Major League pitcher after he breaks his arm and his tendons heal too tightly. This is JUST believable enough to give children glimmers of hope that with a freak arm injury their luck can change. Sure, this creates perverse incentives, but it creates a ridiculously compelling story. Old over-the-hill players making strides in professional sports is not uncommon, but 12-year old’s competing at the professional level (well, in any league but the LPGA) is downright amazing. And, frankly this film is helped by Henry’s newfound charisma and confidence, screaming “Pitcher’s got a big butt” with poise. Oh, and the compelling subplot that results in Henry’s discovery that his baseball glove was actually his mother’s (not his father’s as he initially thought) would certainly create a national stir and result in several Rick Reilly columns.

TIM: The fact that you believe this last factor is a good thing shows that you are perhaps as delusional now as you were when you were 12. Sure, when I first saw Rookie of the Year I attempted to break my arm a few times and, that failing, tried to come up with new, unhittable pitches using unforeseen grips. I was pretty much the pre-adolescent Bruce Sutter.

That being said, I’m not 12 anymore. And what bothers me most about this movie is Henry’s immaturity: He doesn’t respect the game. That neither of you is abhorred by the idea of a pitcher recording outs by A) daring a baserunner to steal and B) lobbing the ball underhand to the plate reflects reprehensibly on your baseball intellect.

Give me Billy Heywood any day over Henry Rowengartner.

JOHN S: Tim, what puts this movie over LBL is that a pitcher is much more important than a manager. Basically, Heywood gets his team to “lighten up” and teaches them a few trick (read: illegal) plays (you’re so against Rowengartner’s tactics, but you accept that pickoff play?)…other than that he lets the players play. After a few weeks, this story would get old.

Henry Rowengartner, on the other hand, would always be exciting. It’s a 12-year old pitching! Think of the fuss over Joba Chamberlain, who was almost double Henry’s age. Think of the excitement if an opponent bunts, and Henry has to field his position. Or if he decides to work in a breaking ball. Or the controversy caused if the manager ever tried to work him into the rotation (on the one hand, starters are more valuable, but at the same time, how do you stretch out a pre-teen’s arm?). I would get MLB’s Extra Innings package just so I could watch every Cubs game if this actually happened.

TIM: First, MLB.tv is cheaper. Second, how can we get this far without a single mention of the absurdity of director Daniel Stern’s turn as pitching coach Phil Brickma. That guy was more believable in Bushwhacked. And he was the director! Third, at least Heywood puts some effort into his trick (read: illegal) plays. Henry dares a runner to steal! Fourth, we know what it would be like if Henry tried to field his position: The 2006 Detroit Tigers showcased that in the World Series.

And you know what? Henry wasn’t even that good on his Little League team! This movie is terrible.

JOSH: This movie is great. I’d watch it ten times before watching Angels in the Outfield once. And I don’t even have the Collector’s Edition.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Doc on August 1, 2009 at 11:45 AM

    The Natural is a must see for all of you, and ranks with Field of Dreams as the best baseball movie ever, IMHO. The two films are similar in that they both are fables, touch on baseball as a metaphor for life, have a profoundly tragic element, and ground themselves on the concepts of true love and the meaningfulness of family. The story begins with a boy, around 12, named Roy Hobbs, playing baseball on the farm with his father. The father dies suddenly under a tree and shortly after the same tree is struck by lightning, providing wood for his magical bat “Wonderboy”. The movie gets better from there. It’s not as dark or as tragic as the original novel written by Bernard Malamud, but it’s a great morality tale with iconic scenes that are often referenced by announcers, ESPN videos, and the like.

    As an aside, Bull Durham, although not truly a fable, is certainly a great fantasy movie, especially for 21 year olds (or a dyslexic 12 year old). Bull Durham is a comedy written by a former minor league player, Ron Shelton, and is based on real events, but poetic license is clearly taken. The main character, “Crash” Davis was based on Cal Ripken’s father who was a lifelong minor league catcher and the pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh was based on Steve Dalkowski who recently passed away. Legend had it that he was the fastest pitcher ever, averaging almost 2 strikeouts per inning in the minors. Unfortunately, he had the same average for walks. To quote Cal Ripken Sr., “Dalko was the easiest pitcher I ever caught. He was only wild high and low, rarely inside or out — but the batters didn’t know that.” It’s probably baseball’s sexiest movie, and maybe that alone helps it to qualify for the “dream come true” scenario envisioned by NPI. By the way, in 2003, Sports Illustrated ranked Bull Durham as the “Greatest Sports Movie”.

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on August 1, 2009 at 1:24 PM

      The Natural kind of already DID happen in the form of Kirk Gibson. And I was in favor of including Bull Durham, even if that scenario would probably not be a national news story.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Doc on August 2, 2009 at 3:04 PM

    Yes, John, there were a lot of references to “The Natural” when Kirk Gibson limped off the bench and hit his fabled homer for the Dodgers. The image of Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford, who was a legitimate high school baseball player) hitting the stadium lights has often been juxtaposed with Gibson’s homer in TV land.
    In some ways though, Josh Hamilton’s story better parallels “The Natural”. He truly was a natural, a “clean as a whistle”, God fearing young player who suffered a painful injury in a car accident, and became a drug addict. He disappeared from baseball for 2 full years, deteriorating into an emaciated disaster, and somehow found his way back, finally reaching his potential in major league baseball with a torrid 1st half in 2009 at age 27. In some ways, it’s a more amazing story than “The Natural” and I would not be surprised if one day it is made into a movie (hmmmm…..”The Addict”, not appealing).

    Reply

  3. Posted by Tim on August 2, 2009 at 3:21 PM

    I’m dying to see your case for Bull Durham, John. What are the regional headlines: ” ‘Loose’ Susan Sarandon to Decide Today Between LaLoosh, Davis”? “Susan Sontag Receives Long-Overdue Comeuppance”? What, in terms of baseball, is interesting about this movie?

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on August 2, 2009 at 5:13 PM

      “What, in terms of baseball, is interesting about this movie?” Really, Tim? That’s the card you’re going to play after putting Field of Dreams on the list? At least Bull Durham features, you know, baseball players, and people talking about baseball and playing baseball. It’s not just some melodramatic ghost story building up to an epic climactic…..game of catch. You want to talk about headlines? “Man Sees Ghosts” “Kinsella Plays Catch with Dad” “Ghost Doctor Hits Sacrifice Fly” “Kinsella, Busfield Argue Over Corn Economics”

      Reply

  4. Posted by James Schneider on August 20, 2009 at 2:36 AM

    First of all) Collector’s Edition Field of Dreams 5 Tim
    Second of all) John, you have watched that movie with me on at least one occasion, so you do not hate that movie as much as you convey.
    So I would put Little Big League first, beause it would be fascinating and because it wouldn’t hurt my confidence as much as Rookie of the Year, but I like the kid storyline. Then Rookie of the Year. 3 is the scout, even though its just Brian Cashman’s prediction of Jose Contreras. 4 is for the love of the game, but I do not condone the protagonist being such a pansie about it. Field of Dreams is only this low because I don’t want to feel pressured to go to Iowa ever. Then is the baseball version of the replacements because its the Rays and because I hate the Indians(if it were like the astros or something it would be like fourth). Then last is Angels in the Outfield, just because its stupid and it would totally not be cool if God disregarded everyone else, just because the protagonist was an orphan.
    Honorable Mention: What’s the name of that movie where the token over-the-hill arrogant self-centered character gets traded to Japan. Thats really number 1

    Reply

    • Posted by Tim on August 20, 2009 at 2:51 AM

      James,

      Some tips as you “move up”:

      1. Don’t underestimate the power of the “Enter” key.
      2. Parallel structure, my friend.
      3. Don’t begin sentences with numerals.
      4. Apostrophes.
      5. Verbs (“Collector’s Edition Field of Dreams 5 Tim”? What the hell is that?)
      6. Go to bed before 2:36 in the morning.

      Good luck, friendo. And if you ever have any homework questions and John’s too lazy to answer them, you know who to call.

      Reply

    • Posted by John S on August 25, 2009 at 2:32 AM

      James, I should punch you in the face for referring to Major League as “the baseball version of the replacements” (at least I think that’s what you did, it’s hard to crack your code of gibberish, as Tim points out). And that Japan movie is called Mr. Baseball.

      Reply

  5. […] have heard that the Field of Dreams field is for sale. That has renewed interest in the movie that ranked fourth in NPI’s list of baseball movies we’d want to actually happen. Charles Pierce shares John S’ distaste for the film, while Joe Posnanski is a defender, […]

    Reply

  6. Posted by Tom on May 24, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    My vote is for The Sandlot. Does that count as a baseball movie? My reasons: I want Bennie “The Jet” Rodriguez to be a real player. Also, it is the only baseball movie that I’ve seen.

    Reply

  7. […] you yourself said, some months ago, that the sports movie storyline you’d most like to see played out in real life is Angels in the Outfiel…. I’ll quote you: “Regardless of the veracity of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s belief in angelic […]

    Reply

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