The First Baseball Film
Baseball films have been with us since 1915. “Right of the Bat” was the first film to appear on the silver screen, it is a biopic or dramatisation of Major League player Mike Dolins’ life. The film hit the screens in the United States in September of that year and starred Mike Dolin and John J. McGraw as themselves.
Over the last century, there have been hundreds of movies made with baseball as its central theme, covering many different genres, including romance, comedy, drama, documentary and so on.
Baseball films are usually watched by a certain type of audience, more often than not, baseball fans. There have been, however, many films over the years that have attracted general filmgoers, films such as “Bull Durham”, “Pride of the Yankees” and “The Natural”. This was usually more to do with who the main actor or actors were than the fact that is was a baseball film.
Baseball Film Earners
Baseball films are not always big money earners at the box office. Notable exceptions are “League of their Own”, “42” and “Moneyball”. The film “League of their Own” was successful due to a great script and a stellar cast (Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna). The success of the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” was because of the historical nature of the film for baseball. In the film Jackie Robinson is portrayed by the late Chadwick Boseman, it also starred Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. The film showed the beginning of the end for the “gentlemen’s agreement” between team owners with regards to black players.
Of actors that have starred in baseball films, Kevin Costner seems to have been in the most:
- Bull Durham (1988)
- Field of Dreams (1989)
- For Love of the Game (1999)
- The Upside of Anger (2005)
- Fastball (Documentary) (2016)
Big and Small Screen Baseball Films
A large number of the baseball films made have followed historical events, two of which have already been mentioned “A League of Their Own” and “42). There are many others, “61*” a film that portrays the contest between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for the all-time home run record. The film “Cobb”, is a film about Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, starring Tommy-Lee Jones in the titular role. Comedy baseball films seem to appear on many fans best baseball films list, such as Major League, Rookie of the Year, Angels in the outfield and Bad News Bears (a link to a Wikipedia page listing all baseball films is here).
Many documentaries have been made over the years, the best of which is the PBS production “Baseball”, by Ken Burns, which was finally completed in 2010. This documentary plotted the history of baseball from the 1840s to 2009. As with all of Ken Burns work, he uses personal letters and anecdotes, archival film footage, news stories and interviews to bring the topic to life.
It is the entertainment value that baseball films give us that will ensure that they will continue to be made, whether to make us laugh, cry or just sit glued to the big (or small) screen. Baseball films and baseball documentaries can fill in that gap between the last pitch of the World Series to the first pitch of Opening Day.
I asked some baseball fans what their favourite baseball film was, and the table right shows the results. There are quite a few films there that I anticipated and some I didn’t expect.
Honourable mentions should be given to:
- The Babe
- The Rookie
- Pride of the Yankees
- Mr 3000
- Mr Baseball