This my no-brainer choice as a topic for this blogathon. This is because I knew many of the individual films I was likely to want to cover would be taken, and because I had already toyed with this idea in the past. As I started to develop the list it became clear that two other lists could, and likely will follow at some point. For now, my focus will be on live-action films and fictional (or fictional renderings of) players at a professional level. Both baseball-themed animated shorts and films about Little League have their place and, being a Big League theme, and coinciding with Opening Day, the focus is narrowed accordingly.
A few notes about the selection process before beginning: since A League of Their Own stands as perhaps the only film about women in baseball their is no female team but that film is represented here. At least on this team, there is less room for the player-fulfilling-his-potential that comes through in many baseball films, there is no room for Roger Dorns either- most often these players are stars throughout. Now let us begin…
Pitchers are perhaps the most popular characters. The pitcher-batter duel is very cinematic, as is the rapport with the catcher, but to spare this list length I will pick one starter and one reliever.
Starting Pitcher- Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser – The Scout)
Listen, I get it. The way this film concludes, for those who have seen it and have the slightest notion of what baseball is like, is preposterous. However, this list is based on what happened in the film no matter how impossible. And it’s also based on “the season” (read: the film) so even if the implication is that it was a flash in the pan; it’s enough.
Relief Pitcher- Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen – Major League)
For those unfamiliar with baseball, through the years pitching has become more specialized for myriad reasons. Pitchers once upon a time, even at the pro level, threw frequently and for complete games. Relief pitchers spell starters and they have varying roles. All-Star games frequently choose what are commonly referred to as closers, as they come out to secure the win.
When Major League came out relief pitching was just starting to become more popularized and was seen as a “sexier,” or more acceptable, role than in years past. As fiery as Vaughan is, when he gets accustomed to his role, he’s ice-cold when it comes to getting resultswhich is what you want.
Catcher- Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis – A League of their Own)
Although I never played in an organized way (just pick-up Wiffleball and pitch-and-catch on a tiny field) I always liked catching and realized the importance of it. As mentioned above, it’s a very cinematically appealing position and dynamic. Catchers usually have to be tough, yet also a psychologist and a strategist. Not too often, at a pro level, is a catcher also one of the best players on the team. Hinson, per Davis’ portrayal, is all of those things.
First Base Lou Collins (Timothy Busfield – Little Big League)
When looking for options of players by position I had to do some searching. When I thought the team would be all-inclusive I thought Henry Rowengartner of Little Big League (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) would be the only player in that film with a chance. However, then I was reminded of Lou Collins. This isn’t a movie I think of when I think of Timothy Busfield but he looks the part, plays good defense, crushes the ball and is a leader in the clubhouse – all great attributes.
Second Base- Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman 42)
Alright, firstly, shame on me for not having seen this yet. However, as is often the case with me and these lists I try to use it as a catalyst to get around to seeing certain titles. When you grow up a baseball fan, if you’re being taught about the game properly, you get an appreciation for its history. Jackie Robinson’s significance is not just in breaking the color-barrier but also how he handled himself in doing so and, of course, what a talented player he was.
This isn’t the first treatment of Robinson on the big screen, but is the most recent, and one I wanted to see.
Shortstop- Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Back 42)
When picking teams, real or imagined, I think that pairing players familiar with one another is important. Reese and Robinson were a noted double-play combination. Reese was in his own right a 10-time all-star, two-time World Series champion whose number (1) is retired by the Dodgers. In any film on Robinson it’d seem his character was plucked out of a Hollywood cliche – talented white player who befriends and supports black superstar – however, this fact is well-documented.
I wasn’t overwhelmed with the number of choices at shortstop but the chance to underscore Reese (as well as the fact that Robinson moved to 2nd Base in his MLB career, furthering his legend) couldn’t be passed up.
This both is and is not a joke. There is not to my knowledge a film on Brooks Robinson or Wade Boggs, therefore, the “Hot Corner” is not that hot on screen. Unless, there’s some third basemen mentioned in passing in something I was not aware of. To cut a long story short: I really didn’t know who to choose, and I would also be remiss in not mentioning this Abbott and Costello routine, which is not only well-known to baseball fans but a comedy classic.
Left Field- “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney in Eight Men Out)
There are a few selections where I would be in danger of going off on a tangent that’s all about baseball and not much about movies. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and also not in the Hall of Fame. The reason why is fairly apparent and chronicled in this film. Eight Men Out is an impressive piece of cinema regardless of your feelings about baseball. However, it’s especially great in that light because those who follow the sport know this tale and it’s an impressively rendered, foreseeable tragedy that oozes pathos. Furthermore, it relates history to new generations.
Center Field– Tris Speaker (Himself/Archival Footage in Baseball)
Once I opened the door to allowing myself to pick “real” baseball players, I knew that Ken Burns’ film would have to factor in. As I mentioned history plays a role in the game but so does lore. Burns combines these effortlessly in this sprawling narrative of America’s pastime. It also came out at a very strange time as later in 1994 the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904, this time due to a players’ strike. Therefore, it was quite a dichotomy to have this grandiose love letter to the game at its best come out just as the sport would hit one of its lowest ebbs with myself and many fans.
I cannot recall how much of the film I saw, but Tris Speaker stood out as one of the great under-discussed greats the film highlighted.
Designated Hitter- Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford – The Natural)
Here’s a second potential tangent, I hate the concept of the designated hitter. That’s all I’ll say as it’s now been part of the American League, and World Series Games at AL parks, for 41 years now. For those unfamiliar with the sport, the designated hitter is a player who bats in place of the pitcher, but does not play the field.
I must admit it is useful to have for All-Star consideration. Therefore, I knew either of the last two men on this list would get to swat the bat around. I went with Roy Hobbs because of that titanic blast and for who I wanted on the field more…
Right Field– Babe Ruth (John Goodman – The Babe)
I’m open to seeing other tales of the Bambino, and even have a film he appears in on my Netflix “list” (still a queue to me). However, this is the one I saw when I was a kid – accurate, inaccurate, good, bad is no concern of mine here. It was an aggrandizing and a depiction I could see of a figure I was already fascinated by. As for All-Star consideration: I can read a stat line and Ruth was a titan.
I, for one, am never surprised when Little Leaguers cite former players as their favorites, because Babe Ruth was my favorite player even before I saw this film.
You may ask why I want him in the field over Hobbs? And here is where I get very baseball-ish and point out things about Ruth people frequently forget or don’t know like his pitching stats (94 wins, 46 losses, 2.28 Earned Run Average, 8 Seasons), Fielding (204 outfield assists and a fielding percentage of.968); and, yes, he was an offensive machine: .342 career average (Still 10th All-Time), Home Runs 714 (Still 3rd-All-Time – he broke the record in 1921 when he hit his 139th home run, and proceeded to break that record 576 more times; his mark was only surpassed 52 years later). So that’s why Ruth takes the field.
I hope to post a few more All-Stars in the future, but this concludes this team. Hope you enjoyed.