How baseball made its mark on the big screen

Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball

In this week’s instalment of Curveballs and Sliders, Herts Baseball Club’s Joe Gray lifts the curtain on baseball on the big screen.

It is no overstatement to say that some of the all-time greatest sports films concern baseball. Most of these are, unsurprisingly, made in America, and only some make the journey across the Atlantic, but all films discussed here are available as UK releases.

Many fans of baseball and film cherish The Natural, a 1984 picture starring Robert Redford. It is in part based on real events and tells the story of a very promising youngster, whose career is shot down, quite literally.

But he emerges 16 years later, aged 35, as a rookie on a New York major league team and begins to make up for the lost years.

Another much-loved film is A League of their Own (1992), which has a cast including Madonna and Tom Hanks.

It tells the tale of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League, which was founded when many men of baseball-playing age were away in combat during World War II.

A much more recent title is Moneyball (2011). This film’s cast includes Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The subject matter is Billy Beane and the team he is general manager for, the Oakland Athletics. Despite having a small budget compared with many of their rivals, the Athletics – through Beane’s stewardship and novel use of data analysis – were able to compete with big-market teams.

Beane was once a top prospect, but his playing career did not fulfil its promise. The film is based on real events.

No discussion of baseball films would be complete without talking about Kevin Costner.

In 1989 he was the lead actor in Field of Dreams, playing the role of Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella. Kinsella is delivered an ethereal message that “If you build it, he will come.”

He sets about constructing a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. It is at least as much about father–son relationships as it is about baseball.

This film was actually the second in an unofficial baseball trilogy for Costner. A year earlier, Bull Durham gave an insight into the highs and lows of minor league baseball, with a story contrasting the maturity and hopes of a talented young pitcher and a fading former star catcher.

The trilogy was completed with 1999’s For Love of the Game.

> Joe Gray is the founder and co-ordinator of Project COBB, the home of the chronicling of British Baseball. To visit the website click here

Next week, Curveballs and Sliders turns its attention to the future of the sport, here and overseas.