It’s Friday, which means two baseball-related things: we’re about kick off our first full weekend of day games and it’s time for part two of our list of 30 Movies for 30 Baseball Teams.
Read: 30 Movies for 30 Baseball Teams, Part One
Today we’re tackling the National League and the fifteen movies that best represent the teams on the senior circuit. As a reminder, the rules are simple: each team is given a movie that best captures some aspect of their history or personality, and every movie can only be applied once per team. Will we identify the perfect match for every club? Or will we need to go off the reservation again and use some pretty abstract logic to make the whole thing fit together? You be the judge.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Peanuts Movie (2015)
The Arizona Diamondbacks are another team without an easy Hollywood connection; looks like we’ll have to bend the rules once more. As a kid, two baseball names stood out from my old anthologies of Peanuts comic strips. The first was Joe Shlabotnik, the fictional baseball player that Charlie Brown idolized and whose autograph he could never seem to find. The other was Joe Garagiola, one-time player and eventual sports commentator for the Arizona Diamondbacks. You could do a lot worse than hitching your team to the Peanuts bandwagon. While Charles Schultz may have lost his more nihilistic side over the years, he never failed to capture the intersection of optimism and futility that lies at the heart of every sports fan. Besides, a picture of Joe Garagiola with every toy piano seems like quite the steal even in 2016.
Atlanta Braves: Trouble with the Curve (2012)
There were two major contenders here, and I’m still not certain I made the right one. Trouble with the Curve is everything you would predict in a middling dramedy; callous business school hotshots turning the game into spreadsheets, the irreplaceable quality of old school know-how, and an estranged relationship made good. It has Clint Eastwood, it has Amy Adams, and so it wins. But I was sorely tempted – sorely tempted – to choose The Slugger’s Wife, a Neil Simon-scripted (!) movie about a baseball player and a singer who fall in (and out) of love. “You’re special. You’re a lady. I knew that the first minute I saw you,” Atlanta Braves slugger Darryl Palmer says on the first date. “You’re not anything I expected a ballplayer to be like,” pop star Debby Huston replies. Wait, is it too late to change this selection?
Chicago Cubs: This Old Cub (2004)
It’s been more than a century since the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series, so while a not-insignificant part of me wanted to choose Rookie of the Year, I figure Cubs fans have suffered enough. Instead, I posed the question to university professor and film producer Ira Deutchman – who also moonlights as the biggest Cubs fan I follow on social media – and he recommended This Old Cub, a 2004 documentary about Cubs great Ron Santo shot by his son Jeff. According to Deutchman, the film places Santo’s battle with diabetes against the larger narrative of the Chicago Cubs’ history and heartbreaks. Deutchman even coordinated distribution of the film in the Chicago market, making it a true labor of love for all filmmakers and sports fans involved, even if it is sorely lacking in Little League wunderkinds with broken arms.
Cincinnati Reds: Hustle (2004)
Pete Rose was a very good baseball who ran a lot. He ran to first base after every walk. He dove after baseball in the field. His uniform was perpetually dirty and he always looked like he was maxed out on effort. This hustle, and only this hustle, is the reason why a certain subsection of sports fans continue to root for Rose to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame despite his breaking the only rule in baseball that really matters. Reviews of the film were pretty negative, but Hustle did ensure that director Peter Bogdanovich had money for ascots for another year, and anything that keeps Bogdanovich in business is A-OK by me. One huge missed opportunity: how can you not pay Paul Giamatti absolutely whatever it takes to have him play his real-life father, former MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti? Seriously. Whatever it takes.
Colorado Rockies: Henry & Me (2014)
There aren’t many reviews for Henry & Me, a 2014 animated movie about a young cancer patient who is whisked through a dreamscape of Yankees legends, but what reviews do exist agree that the film is very well-meaning. Maybe a bit too heavy on the Yankees rhetoric, but otherwise, a positive story for kids struggling with severe illnesses. So why choose Henry & Me for the Colorado Rockies? For one, the Rockies lost to the Boston Red Sox in their only World Series appearance, making fans of the team de facto Yankees fans for life. Second, and more importantly, the composer for Henry & Me is Charles Denler, the man the Colorado Rockies tasked with writing a better baseball song than “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” If you have the temerity to think you can improve that song, you have to live with the animated consequences.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
There’s easy choices, and then there’s easy choices, and then there’s The Jackie Robinson Story. It doesn’t matter if the franchise subsequently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles or even if the movie is particularly good. The Jackie Robinson story stars the young athlete as himself, reenacting his career highlights for the immortality granted by the camera, and this conceit alone would make it an important movie without the hardships of Robinson’s life. There is a reason that Major League Baseball retired Jackie Robinson’s number across all thirty teams; the man suffered more hatred than any athlete in the history of professional sports, and did so knowing that the public perception of integration depended on his willingness to turn the other cheek. As New Yorker critic Richard Brody wrote, it’s a film that “exists in the present tense,” and that gives it power, even at a distance.
Miami Marlins: Back to the Future Part II (1989)
If someone ever writes the book on trends in popular cinema culture, a small section of that book must be dedicated to the collective insanity we experienced in 2015 over the dates in the Back to the Future movies. So far be it from me to begrudge Miami Marlins fans their shining cinematic moment: a World Series appearance against the Chicago Cubs in the alternate timeline that Doc and Marty visit in Back to the Future Part II. Compared to the other titles on this list, it’s something of a passing reference, but few sports fans have seen their team’s big game change the course of cinema history in quite the same way. Let’s hope for the fans’ sake that Marty and Doc didn’t do anything in Back to the Future Part III to change the course of human history and keep the Marlins out of the World Series. That Butterfly Effect is a bitch.
Milwaukee Brewers: Mr. 3000 (2004)
If you think that Mr. 3000 is another in a long line of mediocre baseball movies more interested in corporate synergy than the love of the game, I won’t argue with you. But anyone who pays even a little attention to baseball knows the sport has its issues. The percentage of African-American baseball players on major league rosters has fallen for decades; this brilliant 2015 HBO Sports segment by Chris Rock effectively dropped the microphone on baseball’s issues with reaching black audiences. While Mr. 3000 might make a lot of the same mistakes that Rock describes – less personality, more “unwritten rules of the game” – it still puts a black athlete front and center and in the Hall of Fame. Baseball needs to start somewhere with rehabbing its issue, and Milwaukee fans should be happy that they’re on the non-Costner end of the spectrum.
New York Mets: Bad Lieutenant (1992)
In 2012, baseball historian Rob Edelman presented a paper on the New York Mets in film history at an academic conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the team. The paper would later run in a special publication by the Society for American Baseball Research, which pretty much means any points I could hope to make in this section are redundant as hell. While Edelman covers a wide range of movies featuring New York’s second baseball team – from City Slickers to The Wiz – what I admire most about his paper is the deep dive he takes into Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, a movie that flips the script on baseball victories by having the lead character root desperately against his hometown team. “While all of New York is thrilled by the Mets heroics,” Edelman writes, “the victories are catastrophic for the doomed Lieutenant.” Bad city, good team; hey Mets fans, wanna switch?
Philadelphia Phillies: 42 (2013)
It may not be fair to treat all Philadelphia sports fans as an angry mob, but then again, there’s also a reason that Jackie Robinson once called his games against the Philadelphia Phillies, “the most unpleasant days in my life, that brought me nearer to cracking up than I had been.” The most recent adaptation of Robinson’s life story doesn’t pull any punches; in one extended scene, Phillies manager Ben Chapman spits all manner of racial epitaphs at the young ballplayer, leading one Atlantic reporter to write about the time he sought Chapman out to ask him if the rumors of his racist tirades were true. Chapman’s response? “Heck, yeah.” Maybe it’s fair to say that baseball in 1947 was a different game at a different time, but movies like 42 help us remember the good and the bad about the sport. Lean into your history, Philly fans. You’ve helped make the game a better place.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Angels in the Outfield (1951)
The original 1951 film Angels in the Outfield may not have featured live-action angel shenanigans, but it did offer Pirates fans a chance to see what happened when heaven took an interest in their wins and losses. One underrated aspect of older baseball films is the opportunity to see vintage baseball parks in their prime (or, as is most often the case, before they were demolished to make way for more modern structures). While all professional sports try to put on a good show, the peculiarities of field dimensions in baseball causes each park to take on a unique personality. Angels in the Outfield offers Pirates fans a chance to see the classic Forbes Field, home to the majority of the team’s World Series victories. Think about a film fan’s love of classic movie theaters and you’ll understand the appeal.
San Diego Padres: The Kid from Left Field (1979)
A few years back, the fans at Gaslamp Ball – the SBNation team site for the San Diego Padres – gathered together for an online screening of The Kid from Left Field, a TV movie starring Gary Coleman and small screen leading man Robert Guillaume. The Padres had been added to Major League Baseball only a few years before the movie was made and had struggled mightily; it was a shock, then, to see Coleman’s Jackie Robinson Cooper inspiring the team to win it all for the second time in a decade. Gaslamp fans quickly noted that the version of the Padres in The Kid from Left Field had not only won a World Series already, they had also been in existence longer than their real-life counterparts. Years later, the Padres would lose every game in their only World Series appearance. Dick move, Vestron Video. Dick move.
San Francisco Giants: The Fan (1996)
It’s been ages since I watched The Fan, so you’ll pardon me if I’m being over-nostalgic, but how could this film have existed in any other decade? Directed by Tony Scott, starring Wesley Snipes, scored by Hans Zimmer. Ellen Barkin even won a supporting actress award from Blockbuster Video; hard to find a sentence more perfectly nineties than that. A more studious baseball scholar than myself could probably make the argument that The Fan was the perfect allegory for a post-strike Major League Baseball, where fans felt disillusioned by rising salaries and the stagnation of the unwritten “rules of the game.” For now, though, let’s settle for saying that The Fan offers a great exploration of a singular baseball team’s facilities and foreshadowed the all-encompassing drama of the game’s most contentious figure, Barry Lamar Bonds. That’s two iconic baseball roles for Wesley Snipes, by the way, in case you weren’t keeping track.
Previously: 30 Movies for 30 Baseball Teams, Part One
St. Louis Cardinals: The Pride of St. Louis (1954)
In 1934, the St. Louis Cardinals had two brothers, Jay and Paul Dean, playing for the same team, and that was pretty great. Their nicknames were Dizzy and Daffy, respectively, and that was even better. The brothers also led their team to a World Series championship, and oh my god why aren’t they making movies about these two every year for the rest of time? The Pride of St. Louis captures the highs and lows of both men’s careers and even pushes beyond their time on the field to Dizzy’s resurgence as a sports commentator after he retired from the game. Another point worth making? The film was released in 1952, only a year before the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Dizzy Dean into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m not saying that played into it, but someone tell Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to hire a screenwriter and fast.
Washington Nationals: How Do You Know? (2010)
The Washington Nationals have only been around for a few years, so much was made in 2010 of their big-screen debut courtesy of Owen Wilson’s Nationals pitcher Matty Reynolds. Of course, that’s a bit misleading. The Washington Nationals may be relatively new, but their previous incarnation of the Montreal Expos played from 1969 to 2004 before being unceremonious dumped on Major League Baseball by a bad owner. So why not choose one of a handful of documentaries about the history of the Expos? Spite. I loved the Expos in my youth, loved that they were a Canadian team with a colorful history and a weird mascot and a home crowd that spoke both English and French, and so I am determined to tag them with the most generic non-baseball movie possible while not betraying the premise. The Washington Nationals could be the focus of the next great American independent film and I’ll still choose How Do You Know? until they give me back my Expos.
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