(last of two parts)
LAST week’s column examined six of my top 10 baseball movies. Today: the remaining four flicks.
4. “Angels in the Outfield” (1951) Rated Approved.
Stars: Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh, and Keenan Wynn. (Appearances by Ralph Kiner, Bing Crosby, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, and Pie Traynor.)
Reasoning: An 8-year-old orphan prays for the sad-sack Pirates and their grumpy, crotchety manager, who begins to think he hears angels’ voices. Can a little heavenly help change the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their irascible manager?
Although the film is fiction, they certainly picked the right team: The real Pirates finished 33-1/2 games out of first place the year the film debuted. The Bucs also lost 100-plus games in 1952, 1953, and 1954, twice finishing more than 50 games out of first.
Best Quote: “Dogs have fleas; managers have sports writers.”
Bonus Sideline: As part of 1994’s All-Star week in Pittsburgh, Disney’s remake of the film premiered in Pittsburgh on July 10, two days before the annual All-Star game there. Shown on three towering screens near the infield of Three Rivers Stadium, the 35,000 at the sold-out event was/is the world’s largest movie premiere.
Before the 10 p.m. “Cinema under the Stars,” stretch limos drove onto the field with the film’s stars: Tony Danza, Danny Glover, and Christopher Lloyd.
The film isn’t as good as the original, but that’s partly due to the change in teams: In this version, the Angels are the hapless losers.
3. “Damn Yankees” (1958) Rated Approved.
Stars: Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.
Bonus Sideline: Jean Stapleton was cast in the role of leader of a fanatical fan club. Norman Lear remembered her performance and cast Stapleton as Edith Bunker in “All in the Family” 10 years later.
Reasoning: A frustrated Washington fan sells his soul to the Devil in order to lead the Senators to a pennant over the hated Yankees. Although a baseball movie, the movie’s theme deals with a fan who discovers there’s more important in life than sports.
Best Quote: “One long ball hitter, that’s what we need! I’d sell my soul for one long ball hitter.”
Memorable songs include “(You Gotta Have) Heart,” “Goodbye Old Girl,” and Whatever Lola Wants.”
Bonus Sideline: Actually, the film isn’t as good as the Broadway musical of the same name. I took my family to see Pittsburgh’s CLO production, featuring comic Jerry Lewis as the Devil. Locally, Mercer High School’s seniors staged the musical in 1974.
2. “Field of Dreams” (1989) Rated PG.
Stars: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Burt Lancaster.
Reasoning: An Iowa farmer repeatedly hears a voice instructing him to build a baseball field along side his corn field. The movie explains to non-baseball fans how the sport is ingrained in our national psyche, how the traditions are passed from one generation to another, and
how many of the memories we recall throughout our life are rooted in the time we shared with others, including those from our youth when we first entered a baseball field of dreams.
Best Quote: “If you build it, he will come.”
1. “The Natural” (1984) Rated PG.
Stars: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duval and Wilford Brimley.
Reasoning: A 19-year-old phenom plans to try out for the Chicago Cubs, but never makes it there. Fifteen years later, the 34-year-old rookie comes out of nowhere to lead the lowly New York Knights to the pennant. Without a doubt, this story is America’s contribution to mythology and Roy Hobbs its contribution to the gods. The distinction between good guys and bad guys is obvious throughout, and the movie is jam-packed with universal predictable situations. But surprisingly, these movie clichés only heighten the enjoyment of the movie.
Best Quote: “I believe we have two lives: the one we learn with and the one we live with after that.”
In Conclusion: Nominated for four Oscars and four other major awards, “The Natural” is the best baseball movie ever made. Naturally.
JIM SANKEY is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.