The closest, I believe, that AFI has come was its Top Heroes and Villains list from 2003, and its Top 100 Cheers list from three years later.
But the only entries on the Heroes and Villains list were Sylvester Stallone in the title role in the original "Rocky" and Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Lou Gehrig in "The Pride of the Yankees." Both characters were heroes, obviously.
The Top Cheers list includes several sports films — "Rocky," "Breaking Away" (which may push the point, since it’s about cycling — although the Tour de France fans will insist that it counts), "Hoosiers," "The Pride of the Yankees," "National Velvet" (which, again, may push the point), "Field of Dreams," "Seabiscuit," "Rudy," "The Karate Kid" (once again, it probably pushes the point) and "Chariots of Fire."
I suppose you could include "Searching for Bobby Fischer" as a sports movie, if you want to categorize chess as a sport.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it and, in honor of baseball’s nearly completed season (and its nearly final roster of playoff entries), I’ve compiled my personal Top 10 Baseball Movie list.
(Speaking of real life and baseball, the Dodgers are now one win or one Arizona loss away from clinching the N.L. West, and the Brewers and Mets are deadlocked in a race for the N.L.'s wild card. Meanwhile, the Cubs have clinched the Central and the Phillies appear to be taking charge in the N.L. East.
(In the American League, the Los Angeles Angels have clinched their division, and Tampa Bay and Boston are in the playoffs but it remains to be seen which team will be the division winner and which will be the wild card team.
(In the A.L. Central, Minnesota has won two straight games over Chicago at home and trails the White Sox by half a game with four to play, including one final game between the two teams tonight.)
If I had the resources AFI has, I suppose I could compile a Top 100 list, but a Top 10 list is good enough for me.
By the way, such a list does not necessarily imply that the film is inspirational, merely that baseball is, if not the focus of the story, the subtext for the tale.
- "Eight Men Out," from 1988, the true story of the Chicago White Sox and the "Black Sox Scandal" of 1919. Personally, I felt it was a remarkable film, rich in period detail. It's the baseball movie I never tire of seeing. It combines my interests in sports and history beautifully.
As a matter of fact, while the film is a story about men who play baseball, it isn't really a baseball movie, in the same way that other films on this list are. I've always felt that "Eight Men Out" was more about human nature, avarice and pride — and it's a great example of how a film can use a sport as the backdrop for relating a bigger story.
If the story happens to be true, as this one does, that makes it more effective.
- "Pride of the Yankees," from 1942, starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan. Like "Eight Men Out," it’s a powerful story, made all the more powerful because it is true. And it includes Cooper's memorable line, delivered to a packed Yankee Stadium: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
- "Bull Durham," a fictional story, released in 1988, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. A delightful love story set in the minor leagues.
- "A League of Their Own," from 1992, the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Directed by Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell, the film has one of my favorite lines ("There’s no crying in baseball!").
- "Field of Dreams," from 1989, starring Costner and, in his final film appearance, Burt Lancaster. Lancaster’s character, "Moonlight" Graham, was a real person, although the film takes a few liberties with his life story. And the film also includes a line that has been quoted and misquoted in hundreds of settings ("If you build it, he will come.").
- "The Natural," from 1984, starring Robert Redford. An entertaining fictional story about a baseball prodigy that has its slow moments, but it is ultimately a rewarding tale originally written by Bernard Malamud.
- "61*," from 2001, the story of the 1961 season, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. It was lovingly directed by Yankee fan Billy Crystal and featured a cast of unknowns.
- "Fear Strikes Out," the 1957 true story of Jimmy Piersall’s battle with bipolar disorder. The film starred Anthony Perkins in the title role. (Piersall is still alive, by the way. He’ll be 79 in November.)
- "Bang the Drum Slowly," from 1973, was baseball’s version of "Brian’s Song" — although "Brian’s Song" had the virtue of being a true story. "Bang the Drum Slowly" was fictional and a guaranteed tear-jerker starring a young Robert De Niro (before his breakthrough performances in "The Godfather Part II," "Taxi Driver," "The Deer Hunter" and "Raging Bull").
- "The Bad News Bears," from 1976, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. I was a teenager when the film was released. My grandmother apparently wanted a bonding experience with my brother and me so she took us to see the film when it was released.
The film was entertaining for both adults and children. I remember it was controversial because of the language used by the children in the film. Particularly memorable was a line by one of the youngsters, who dismissed his teammates as "a bunch of Jews, spics, niggers, pansies and a booger-eating moron."
I never saw the Billy Bob Thornton remake that was released a few years ago so I don't know if that line was in the script 30 years after the original was released. But if it was, I doubt that it raised many eyebrows — except, perhaps, in the politically correct crowd.