Last night, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets played a baseball game that actually mattered. This was a pretty big deal for those of us who root for baseball teams, as it meant the long national nightmare affectionately titled “spring training” was finally over and real baseball was on its way.
If you’re like me, maybe you filled some of that waiting time with baseball movies, and maybe you got to wondering: what would your team’s baseball movie be? There are plenty of different ways to break this question down. Maybe, like Little Big League, it’s a film that centers on a specific team. Maybe it’s a movie that features your franchise’s most popular player. And maybe you’re one of those odd teams like Toronto or Texas that have no standout film roles. If you were the programming director for a Major League Baseball stadium for one night, and you were tasked with picking the perfect movie to encapsulate your franchise, how would you go about making that choice?
What follows is a full list of the American League teams and the baseball movies that they should be able to claim as their very own. My only rule? No two teams can claim the same film twice. Read, complain, or comment below; we’ll be moving onto the National League later this week.
Baltimore Orioles: Dave (1993)
For a long time, the major cinematic draw for the Baltimore Orioles was their proximity to our nation’s capital. Presidents love to throw out the first pitch on opening day – it’s a tradition that dates all the way back to Howard Taft in 1910 – and in the decades before the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals, the Baltimore Orioles were the next best thing. Orioles blog Camden Chat shared a list of all its team’s appearances in film and television, and both Dave and the 2003 Chris Rock comedy Head of State feature the city as a stop on a presidential campaign. We’ll go with Dave, then, for two reasons: one, it was the first onscreen appearance of the newly built (and still beautiful) Camden Yards, and two, we’d probably vote for Dave if he really did run for office.
Boston Red Sox: Fever Pitch (2005)
It may not seem fair to link a franchise as long and storied as the Boston Red Sox to a romantic comedy, but the circumstances surrounding Fever Pitch make it too important to pass up. The original script had the Red Sox losing in the playoffs, a totally understand creative decision given the team’s tragic history (zero World Series wins since 1918, four World Series losses). When the Red Sox shocked the world by winning in 2005, however, the producers had to improvise on the fly, even going so far as to reshoot scenes during commercial breaks during a playoff game. It may not exactly be Field of Dreams, but no fan from Connecticut to Maine would trade the film’s original ending for anything in the world.
Chicago White Sox: Eight Men Out (1988)
The 1919 Chicago White Sox remain one of the most interesting stories in the history of baseball, an unholy alliance between players and gamblers that nearly destroyed Major League Baseball. This might not be the sort of thing White Sox fans like to think about when reflecting on their own history, but it’s important to know where you came from, and the game emerged from the “Black Socks” scandal bigger and better than before. Then again, baseball games themselves are pumped full of nostalgia and the grand history of America’s pastime; maybe I want my entertainment to poke around a little more into the dark corner of its checkered past instead. Bonus points? As my buddy Matthias Ellis notes, it’s also an extremely believe baseball movie, something in short demand on the rest of this list.
Cleveland Indians: Major League (1989)
While the mid-nineties domination of the Cleveland Indians might have muddied the waters a bit for Major League fans, it’s easy to forget that they were once the poster boy for baseball ineptitude. The Indians failed to make the playoffs from 1955 to 1995 and had lost over 100 games twice in the four years immediately preceding Major League’s release. For a while, it seemed like the team’s fictional players – the hard-throwing Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn and speedster Willie Mays Hayes – would be more beloved than any real Cleveland Indians on the team’s roster. That being said, Major League remains a modern baseball classic and one of the few baseball-related films that appeals to sports fans and film fans alike. If director David S. Ward can ever find a taker for his Major League III screenplay, we may soon have another version of the film for the next generation of fans.
Detroit Tigers: Cobb (1984)
A more sentimental baseball fan might choose For Love of the Game, the well-meaning Kevin Costner film about an aging pitcher at the end of his career. I am not that fan. For all his notoriety, Ty Cobb remains one of the most important players in the history of the game and an integral part of the story of the Detroit Tigers. And while Cobb may depend overly on a single historical account – one mostly debunked by subsequent baseball historians – it does shine a light on the ways that history and historian have often been confused in the game’s history. As a broken piece of historical writing, Cobb does far more to further the subject of baseball on film than any number of more fan-friendly titles. It also features one of the all-time great Tommy Lee Jones performances as the horrible man himself.
Houston Astros: Night Game (1989)
Proving that not all two baseball movies are created equal, the Houston Astros get Night Game, a 1989 thriller starring Roy Scheider as homicide detective and former minor league baseball player Mike Seaver. Seaver is tasked with solving a series of grisly murders, and his only real clue is that they all occurred during a game pitched (and won) by Houston Astros ace Silvio Baretto. By most accounts, Night Game is more interested in being a mediocre slasher than a really good baseball thriller, but a scarcity of genre baseball movies – and what our own Rob Hunter calls “a wonderfully terrible threesome of asshole character actors” – means that Night Game makes the cut. Until I see the movie for myself, I can only guess at what the villain would do once he found out that the Astros had switched leagues.
Kanas City Royals: Bo Knows Bo: The Bo Jackson Story (1991)
With Little Big League about to come off the table, there aren’t a lot of options available for Royals fans, so we’re forced to get a little cute. In 1991, the newly formed Nike Sports Entertainment partnered with Fox Video to produce Bo Knows Bo: The Bo Jackson Story. Based in part on a popular commercial line, Bo Knows Bo dug into the personal history of the Los Angeles Raiders running back and Kansas City Royals outfielder. Jackson was a physical marvel, turning heads in two professional sports despite the competing schedules and the toll both games took on his body. The film was released exclusively on VHS cassette; any Royals fans who feel shorted by this selection should enjoy the symmetry there, as they already love something that was big in the ‘80s and inexplicably made a recent comeback.
Los Angeles Angels: Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Any kid who grew up a baseball fan in the nineties has a soft spot for Angels in the Outfield, one of a trio of movies released in 1993 and 1994 about children whose love of their local team results in them helping call the shots on the field. As a kid, these movies were a chance to pretend like these baseball teams could love us as much as we loved them; a few decades later, however, and we can see the machinations of corporate synergy (Disney owned the then-California Angels) and savvy public relations (baseball was struggling financially and headed for a 1994 player strike) that made these films possible. Still, heartwarming or scandalous, movies like Angels in the Outfield belong in any baseball cannon, and few films from the modern era have such firm ties back to their hometown crowd.
Minnesota Twins: Little Big League (1994)
I have some reservations about Little Big League – you can read those in the Seattle Mariners section if you care – but there’s no denying that the film represents a dream come true for any young sports fan. If I were an eight-year-old and Grandpa Jason Robards gifted me my favorite baseball team, I would turn that place into my own private playground so fast it would make Drake LaRoche’s head spin. The film also gains points for the endless parade of active players it features playing themselves. While the outlandish plot leads to some pretty groan-inducing baseball moments, I think Twins fans would agree that 12-year-old Billy Heywood still did a better job owning a professional sports team than Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
New York Yankees: The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
The Yankees, being the Yankees, have no shortage of film appearances. The real challenge here is choosing the one that best summarizes the winningest franchise in baseball history. Since the Yankees have beaten my team in the playoffs more than I care to admit, I’m tempted to tag them with The Scout, another one of those early nineties baseball movies seemingly written by people who could care less about the game. In the end, though, my better judgment wins out. The Pride of the Yankees may follow that charming contemporary trend of having ballplayers act as themselves in movies (hello there, Babe Ruth), but it leads up to one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, and even I’m not too jaded to marvel at the strength of Lou Gehrig’s spirit.
Oakland Athletics: Moneyball (2011)
It’s a testament to the fallout from Michael Lewis’s 2003 bestseller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game that, less than a decade later, Hollywood had already given the book the award season treatment. Without that fallout, Moneyball would be an odd film to adapt. A handful of Ivy League graduates use math to trade baseball players, and still never make it to the big game? Exciting stuff. Instead, Moneyball stands as a cinematic harbinger of a changing industry and the rare example of a truly prestigious baseball movie. Director Bennett Miller was in-between Academy Award nominations; screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had just won his first Oscar for The Social Network the year prior and would be nominated again for this film. Athletics fans more than anyone can appreciate a product that gets rave reviews with only modest financial success.
Seattle Mariners: Naked Gun (1988)
Another writer might pick Little Big League (1994) for the Seattle Mariners; after all, the movie does feature actual Mariners star Ken Griffey, Jr. and manager Lou Piniella while ending on a high note as the team advances to the postseason in dramatic fashion. As an actual Mariners fan, however, I say that’s bullshit. Prior to 1995, the Seattle Mariners had never won more than 83 games, let alone made the playoffs, and asking them to play the evil empire – and casting baseball golden boy Griffey as the Big Bad – is basically just rubbing our teams noses in own collective failure. I think we can all get behind Naked Gun and the best baseball blooper reel in film history instead; as a Mariners fan, I also take some small comfort in knowing it was an Angel, not a Mariner, who was brainwashed into killing the queen. Suspend them. Suspend them all.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Rookie (2002)
It’s another obvious choice, but for good reason. Most baseball fans know the Tampa Bay Rays as the Oakland Athletics East, an analytics-driven franchise with a team record that far outpaces their meager payroll and fanbase. When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays came into the league, though, they were run less like a major league baseball team than a bad cover band. The Rays made a habit of scooping up every aging player that used to be a household name; to make matters worse, they also proved they weren’t afraid to bend the rules, reportedly offering aging superstar Wade Boggs a huge bonus if he’d go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Rays cap. Since pitcher Jimmy Morris would only throw fifteen innings in baseball over his two brief years in the league, The Rookie fits right into the early Rays mold of publicity over quality. But I’ll be darned if that story don’t feel good.
Texas Rangers: The Natural (1984)
With few options available for fans of the Texas Rangers to see their team on the big screen, we’ll focus more on the narrative than the laundry and go with The Natural, the story of an old-ish baseball wunderkind who overcomes personal tragedy to become one of the greatest players on the planet. Many people have compared the career of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton to The Natural’s Roy Hobbs; Hamilton overcame his own drug addiction to establish himself as an international star in his late-twenties, only to relapse and falter in what could have been his victorious third act. There’s still time for Hamilton to end his career on a high note, though, and with his personal screen rights out there for the taking, Hamilton’s own movie might one-day bump The Natural off this list.
Toronto Blue Jays: Goon (2011)
This one’s tough. Even when one of the teams on this list hasn’t featured prominently in a motion picture, we can at least point to a short appearance or reference and tie it back to the fanbase. With the Toronto Blue Jays, we’re out of luck. So what do we do? We improvise. Who’s the biggest Blue Jays fan? Rush singer Geddy Lee, who reportedly has been a season ticket holder for the Jays since 1979. From there we can narrow down the list of movies that have featured Rush on the soundtrack and one obvious selection jumps out: Goon, the Canadian hockey film co-written and directed by Canadians Jay Baruchel, Evan Goldberg, and Michael Dowse, respectively. Forgive us, Blue Jays fans, but at least we kept it connected to both sports and your country.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week, in which we’ll tackle the National League.
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