By Lynn Venhaus

In the words of Roy Hobbs, “God, I love baseball.”

Now that the season has started and the Cardinals home opener is April 4, I’m ready to dig into the always and forever America’s pastime. And we’re returning to Movie List Monday (no fooling!). Through the years, I may have changed the rank of these favorites, but they embody everything I love about movies and my favorite sport. They are timeless. And I am unabashedly sentimental.

I grew up in a family of jocks, and the sounds of baseball are part of the soundtrack of my childhood. One of my uncles played in “The Show” for a few years. My first MLB game was at Comiskey Park in Chicago on May 15, 1962, when my dad’s brother, Marion “Bud” Zipfel, was on the Washington Senators. His parents, his brother (my dad) and his twin sister (my aunt), and I drove up in the wee hours of the morning. I was 7 years old, and even though the Senators lost to the White Sox 4-3, I was entranced by all the hoopla – the exploding scoreboard!

So those warm summer nights listening to Harry Caray and Jack Buck on the radio on our screened-in porch were as much a part of the ’60s as riding bikes. listening to Beatles records and reading Nancy Drew. My brothers Mike and Matt always had gloves and bats in their hands. We’d call for them to come home for dinner after spending their afternoons on our neighborhood sandlot — Brennan’s empty lot a street over.

Matt was a gifted athlete, and was a fierce catcher. He played for Belleville West High School, American Legion and went on to Western Illinois University, but later transferred to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and played for the Cougars, then was a catcher in the Mon-Clair League, for the Belleville Buds.. He was a teacher and coach for 35 years until his untimely death from a terminal illness in 2019. We scattered some of his ashes on the home field of his youth.(Frame of reference: think Bill Murray in “Meatballs.” That was Matthew John Zipfel.)

Being part of Cardinal Nation means we have shared experiences, and we can talk about Pujols’ crushed clutch home run against Houston in the 2005 National League playoffs, Jack Clark’s walk-off three-run homer against the Dodgers in 1985, Ozzie’s flip every home opener, Gibby’s record-breaking 17 strikeouts against Detroit in 1968 (we watched the game in P.E. class!) and the two strikes away in 2011.

I have so many fond memories of watching the Cardinals in the World Series during the ’60s, ’80s, 2000s and beyond, with Game 6 in 2011 the all-time greatest victory in my lifetime. We are instantly bonded by talking about those experiences — even with strangers at the grocery store.

Visiting stadiums has been another favorite activity — there is nothing like a Cardinals vs. Cubs match in Wrigley Field, but I’ve been fortunate to see the Green Monster at Fenway, the fountains at the KC Royals, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Texas Rangers, and more. The rituals of baseball have been part of my family all our lives: “Here Comes the King!”

As a film buff, any baseball movie would be must-see viewing, but what makes it special? Is it the combination of drama and comedy in the challenges, the classic characters — underdogs, heroes and villains, and high-stakes triumph and misfortune that draw us all in? What makes the leap to a fan-favorite that you can watch again and again? I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched my favorites. And how many times friends and family quote these movies.

On a Saturday night in April 1989, I remember how seeing how transfixed the audience was by “Field of Dreams.” Nobody knew much about it, and here was Kevin Costner, becoming the “It” actor after “Bull Durham” a year earlier and “The Untouchables” in 1987, playing an Iowa farmer. Sportswriters I knew had talked about the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, and that was my only frame of reference. What a magical experience — we left the cinema with a spring in our step, knowing that we had seen something special. And now it’s part of our culture.

And leads to shedding tears — the father and son catch scene in “Field of Dreams’ gets me misty-eyed every time. (and well, when MLB played in Dyersville, Iowa, for real, emotions ran high). There may be no crying in baseball, but I certainly have reached for a tissue a time or two when watching baseball movies.

For every smart “Moneyball,” there are less than stellar attempts (“Mr. Baseball,” “Million Dollar Arm”), and for every heartwarming “The Sandlot,” there are pale imitations. I wish they were all winners, but it’s hard to achieve that special mix of relatable comedy/drama and action..

Two films on my list did not have a theatrical release, “61*” was an HBO original, and far superior than many traditional studio films — it is a masterpiece, and directed by Billy Crystal. “Long Gone Summer” was on ESPN in 2020, directed by Edwardsville, Ill.’s outstanding documentarian A J Schnack. He gets it, he lived it too.

I’ve whittled down a long list to 20 favorites, with streaming information. What are some of yours?

Kevin Costner, Gaby Hoffman, Burt Lancaster.

1. Field of Dreams (1989) – OK, John Delaney’s riff on nonsensical sequences in the movie at this year’s Oscars was very funny. Yet, I defy anyone to listen to Major League Baseball players recite James Earl Jones’ monologue about “people will come, Ray” as they did for the opening of the 2015 season and not be moved.

It’s tradition, it’s generational, it’s spiritual. “It reminds us of all that once was good…and it could be again.”
It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Phil Alden Robinson’s screenplay and James Horner’s unforgettable music score.

It evokes so many different emotions and is very personal to many moviegoers, and let’s leave it at that. But what a great turn as Moonlight Graham by Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta is marvelously nuanced as maligned Shoeless Joe.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Starz. Available to rent on various platforms.

Robert Redford

2. The Natural (1984) – Ah, the mythology. Cue up Randy Newman’s iconic Oscar-nominated score. Zero in on the bat named “Wonderboy” and be in awe of Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography.

The unforgettable story of Roy Hobbs, “the best there ever was,” a middle-age ballplayer whose mysterious past has blocked his clear career path to baseball greatness. Yet, he persists. Barry Levinson’s adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s bleaker novel has a terrific heavyweight cast led by Robert Redford , including Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher, Robert Duvall as Max Mercy, Kim Basinger as Memo Paris, Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow, Barbara Hershey, as Harriet Bird, Robert Prosky as the Judge, Darren McGavin as Gus Sands,. Joe Don Baker as The Whammer, and Oscar-nominated Glenn Close as Iris Gaines, his childhood sweetheart.

When seeing a great baseball moment, I often feel like the giddy batboy, when the lights are sending sparks all over the field.
Currently streaming on Starz, but you can rent it on various video platforms.

Barry Pepper and Thomas Jaynes in “61*.

3. 61* (2001) – In 1927, Babe Ruth crushed 60 home runs. In the summer of 1961, two very different Yankees pursued the same record — Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. This drama, directed by mega-fan Billy Crystal, gets everything right. And after Mark McGwire broke that record in 1998, this puts that achievement in perspective. We know what happens, but like “Air,” it is the disclosing all the personal tidbits that makes it so compelling. Barry Pepper’s never been better as Maris.

Currently streaming on Max and available to rent on various platforms.

Oscar nominees Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

4. Moneyball (2011) – Sabermetrics — literally a game-changer in Major League Baseball. Filmmakers took Michael Lewis’s book and made a funny, intelligent underdog story that was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, story by Stan Chervin), Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill), Editing and Sound Mixing. Stats are a big part of sports, but the engaging story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s attempt to put together a team with the lowest budget in the league is full of star charisma. Beane uses computer-generated analysis to draft players. Dare I say this film hits it out of the park? What a strong supporting cast too – Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe and Chris Pratt as a young player are my favorites in a very colorful cast.

Currently streaming on Netflix and AMC+ and is available to rent on various platforms.

5. The Sandlot (1993) – Benny the Jet, Ham, Smalls, Yeah Yeah…you know them, you love them. “The Sandlot” rode to immortality on its word of month as a blast of nostalgia for anyone who played ball as a kid. This is the movie that gave us “You’re killing me, Smalls!” and continues to evoke universal warm feelings. When Smalls (Thomas Guiry) moves into a new neighborhood, he joins a group of kids to play ball with — and their antics are the stuff of summers long ago. There is a keepsake ball, a dog called “The Beast” and more in this delightful comedy that came out on April 1, 1993, and continues to elicit big grins to this day.

Currently streaming on Disney Plus

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig.

6. The Pride of the Yankees (1942) – Gary Cooper is the iconic Lou Gehrig in this classic that even has Babe Ruth playing Babe Ruth! Nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and actor, it won one – for editing. This tear-jerking film traces the private life and the public heroics of the “Iron Man” who played in 2,130 consecutive games before losing his battle with the nerve disease ALS. There isn’t a dry eye when Cooper gives the famous “Luckiest Man” speech at his farewell day in 1939.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Peacock, and is available for rent on various platforms.

7. Eight Men Out (1988) – Writer-director John Sayles smartly delves into the worst scandal in baseball history, when seven players on the Chicago White Sox, distressed by their owner Charles Comiskey’s cheap wages, agree to throw the 1919 World Series for a group of professional gamblers. Forever known as “The Black Sox Scandal,” the backstory is complicated, and adapted from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book.

A strong cast gives these ruined real-life characters emotional heft, including D. B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson, John Cusack as Buck Weaver, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte, James Read as Lefty Williams, Charlie Sheen as Hap Flesch, Gordon Clapp as Ray Schalk, Michael Rooker as Chick Gandil, John Mahoney as Kid Gleason, Bill Irwin as Eddie Collins, and Don Harvey as Swede Risberg.

Currently streaming on MGM Plus and Roku channel and available for rent on various platforms.

Kevin Costner, center, with Robert Wuhl at left and Tim Robbins at right.

8. Bull Durham (1988) – In retrospect, a darn fine script by Ron Shelton nails the idiosyncrasies and nomadic lives of players. Shelton, who also directed, was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.

It’s a love triangle set against the backdrop of a minor league town. Poetry-loving Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) chooses one player from the Durham Bulls to take under her ‘wings’ each season, Her choices are narrowed down to Ebby LaLoush, an eccentric pitcher that she nicknames “Nuke,” and 12-year-veteran Crash Davis, a catcher — with Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner in those parts that cemented their place in baseball lore.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and available to rent on various platforms.

Yogi Berra

9. It Ain’t Over (2023) – Friends, family, broadcasters, and former players tell the story of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (1925-2015), the beloved St. Louis-born baseball legend who became famous for his funny proverbs and all-star career. This lovingly crafted documentary about one of our hometown heroes gives Yogi his due as not only a baseball great but colorful personality and family man who served our country valiantly in World War II.

Best known today for his sayings, like “It ain’t over till it’s over” and “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” now dubbed “Yogi-isms,” the movie showcases his popularity for philosophical nuggets as well as his easy-going demeanor. But his catching days are often overshadowed by those proverbs that became national catch phrases. He had a Hall of Fame career during the golden era of baseball in New York, playing for the Yankees from 1946 to 1963. The film’s meticulous details illustrate what a remarkable life he led.

Currently streaming on Netflix and available for rental on various platforms.

Tom Hanks and Geena Davis.

10. A League of their Own (1992) – A little known story, at the time of release, expertly transformed into a warm and wonderful comedy by director Penny Marshall. Before he won two Oscars, Tom Hanks was hilarious as a washed-up manager Jimmy Dugan who must mold the Rockford Peaches into contenders in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which played during World War II. The rest of the cast is stellar: Geena Davis and Lori Petty are the dueling sisters, Madonna’s in center field and Rosie O’Donnell is on third. All together now: “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Currently streaming on Peacock and AMC+ and available to rent on various platforms.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire summer of 1998.

11. Long Gone Summer (2020) – A fine documentary on the Big Mac- Slammin’ Sammy mania takes you right back to the moments 26 years ago, a time-capsule of one of the most memorable seasons in the history of baseball, when St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record of 61. The timing was right — it was four years after the 1994 strike, bringing fans back to the game with a lot of excitement and drama.

And then 15 years later, those feelings would be tarnished with the steroid-use revelations, and the film addresses the aftermath. The Congressional hearings took place in 2005, when the House Government Reform Committee looked into the allegations of steroid use in Major League Baseball and the adequacy of the league’s response. McGwire would admit to steroid use in 2010, claiming it was for injuries and he would have still hit the home runs. It was around the time he was hired as a hitting coach with the Cards. Sosa has always denied it.

Edwardsville’s own A.J. Schnack skillfully directed, and the noteworthy music score is by Belleville native Jeff Tweedy, of “Wilco” fame. It’s a gem, and was originally on ESPN’s “30 for 30.”

Currently streaming on Disney +.

Kansas City Monarchs pitching great Leroy Satchel Paige warms up at New York’s Yankee Stadium August 2, 1942 for a Negro League game between the Monarchs and the New York Cuban Stars. Paige was considered a top prospect for the major leagues after baseball’s commissioner ruled that there were no provisions barring players of color from the majors. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)

12. The League (2023) – Not to be confused with the long-running TV show, “The League,” this is a documentary on the triumphs and challenges of the Negro League and how it not only changed baseball but America, too. Some of the greatest players — Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell got their start in the league before MLB integrated.

Directed by Sam Pollard, who was nominated for an Oscar along with Spike Lee for “Four Little Girls,” and made the compelling docs “Mr. Soul!” and “MLK/FBI.” He has thoughtfully crafted together archival footage and interviews with legendary players as well as scholars who put perspective on this part of baseball history.

Currently streaming on Hulu and available for rent on various platforms.

Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen

13. Major League (1989) – Writer-Director David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for “The Sting” screenplay, crafted an entertaining — OK predictable, script. But the humor lands — my two sons quoted it all the time — and you betcha it’s silly. The plot is that the new owner of the Cleveland Indians wants to field a bad team so she can move them to Miami but three washed-up players help an astounding turn-around against all odds.

The tagline was: “When these three oddballs try to play hardball, the result is totally screwball” and this cast delivers — especially Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes, Tom Berenger, as Jake Taylor, Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano, Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn, Charlie Sheen as Ricky Vaughn , James Gammon as manager Lou Brown and Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle bring a lot of oomph to their roles.

Currently streaming on Max and available for rental on other platforms.

14. 42 (2013) – Chadwick Boseman made a strong impression as courageous Jackie Robinson in this inspiring biopic that chronicles the legend’s battle to break the racial barrier in baseball. In 1946. Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey recruited Robinson to be the first black Major Leaguer, which became a challenge because of racism from hostile players and fans, but he finds support as well. Writer-director Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of “L.A. Confidential” and was nominated for “Mystic River,” blends dramatic tension, romance and tight baseball action in a traditional style. Robinson, who died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972, was a private person, so the movie doesn’t jazz up things to make it more flamboyant. The strong cast standouts include Harrison Ford as Rickey, and Lucas Black as teammate Pee Wee Reese.

In 1997, baseball commissioner Bud Selig retired Jackie’s number 42, and allowed those who already had it to still use it, but as of 2014, no player will ever have it again.

15. Bad News Bears (1976) – The 2005 remake can’t hold a candle to the original — even though through a modern lens, it’s wrong on so many levels. Yet, 97% approval on Rotten Tomatoes because a team of misfits prevails.. In its day, it was laugh-out-loud funny. I mean, Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, a failed minor league hopeful as a grumpy Little League coach and Tatum O’Neal as pitching phenom Amanda Whurlitzer, her follow-up to her Oscar-winning performance in “Paper Moon.” A classic rag-tag team of scrappy underdogs will always be a fun watch.

Currently streaming on Showtime and available to rent on various platforms.

Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor.

16. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976) – A sports comedy about a star of the Negro Baseball League Bingo Long who leaves his team and convinces other stars to join him as free agent players touring the towns of the Midwest. Directed by John Badham, who would direct “Saturday Night Fever” the next year. What a fabulous cast! Headed by Billy Dee Williams as the pitcher BIngo Long, James Earl Jones as catcher Leon Carter, and Richard Pryor as right-fielder Charlie Snow.

Currently streaming on Starz and available for rental on various platforms.

Dennis Quaid and Angus T. Jones.

17. The Rookie (2002) – Dennis Quaid plays Jimmy Morris, the real-life Texas chemistry teacher and baseball coach who makes the major leagues at 35 and plays two years for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He agreed to try out if his high school team made the playoffs. It’s a crowd-pleaser directed by John Lee Hancock, who directed “The Blind Side,” and knows how to craft appealing family-friendly stories.

Playing his family are Rachel Griffiths as his wife, Angus T. Jones as his son and Brian Cox as his dad. A great example of not letting your dreams die.

Currently streaming on Disney + and available to rent on various platforms.

Rory Culkin and Trevor Morgan.

18. Chasing 3000 (2010) – Ray Liotta liked the script and joined the cast as the adult Mickey, so he narrates and also bookends the movie. It’s a sincere, heart-tugging tale of two brothers who idolized their childhood hero Roberto Clemente. After moving away from their beloved Pittsburgh, they embark on a road trip to see Clemente try to get his 3,000 hit the summer of 1972, and that turns into quite an adventure.

Writers Bill Mikita (his story), Cris D’Annunzio and director Gregory J. Lanesey capture that love of baseball, community and family ties, and yes, hits all those familiar beats, but there’s just something about its earnestness that draws us in to this true story. Those of us geezers who like to talk about the great players we’ve seen ion the field know how special Clemente was — and there is a reason MLB gives an annual award honoring the life of “The Great One.” Trevor Morgan is the elder brother, Mickey, a ballplayer, and Rory Culkin plays his brother Roger, who has muscular dystrophy. Their mom is played by Lauren Holly and Seymour Cassel is in the role of Poppy, their grandpa.

Come for the brother bonding and hero worship, stay for the late great character actor M. Emmet Walsh’s turn as a guy who helps them out — he has a Stan “the Man” story, too. Sometimes, a feel-good throwback to the ’70s hits the sweet spot. And don’t forget to have tissues close by.

Currently streaming on Peacock and available for rent on various platforms.

Blake Jenner plays Jake, Glen Powell plays Finnegan, Temple Baker plays Plummer and Forrest Vickery plays Coma.

19. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) – Writer-Director Richard Linklater’s free-wheeling blast-from-the-past comedy gives us a slice-of-life look at college baseball players in 1980. It’s very specific to a time and a place, and it reminded me so much of my youngest brother, who played college baseball, and youngest sister, who played college volleyball (see reference above to growing up in family of jocks), who were of that era. It may meander, but Linklater’s a master at creating vivid characters and believable dialogue. Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner and Ryan Guzman lead a young cast that also includes up-and-comers Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell and Zoey Deutch.

It is only available to rent on various platforms.

20. It Happens Every Spring (1949) – Admittingly, I haven’t seen this since my youth, but I recall how much my family loved this movie. Having St. Louis as the team doesn’t hurt! A college chemistry professor (Ray Milland) discovers a formula that makes a baseball repelled by wood. He tries out for the St. Louis Cardinals, and his screwball becomes his big-league ticket. Jean Peters plays his girlfriend and Paul Douglas is fun to watch as a teammate.

It is available to rent on various platforms.


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