Anatomy of a Baseball Movie

There are few things America loves more than a baseball movie. It goes right along with apple pie, cheeseburgers and The Blue Angels. But there are all kinds of sports movies, what makes baseball so special? Why do these movies universally give us the warm and fuzzies? Even when they’re more about the math behind the baseball than homeruns and catching foul balls like this week’s Moneyball? Well, we’ve got a few ideas.

Click on the infographic for larger version.

anatomy of baseball movie moneyball

Left Field: Nostalgic Allusions to Baseball History

What’s a baseball movie without a clear-cut connection to the history that makes the sport such an integral part of our national consciousness? Most every baseball movie takes at least the smallest chance to pay homage to the greats of baseball past, but some even rely on it like Field of Dreams with its ghostly baseball greats coming out of the cornfields, or Eight Men Out which lends even a big-time baseball scandal a thin veil of peanuts and cracker jack-flavored nostalgia.

Center Field: Motley Crew with One Standard Wild Card

From films like The Sandlot, to Bad News Bears, to Major League, or any one that has a team really, baseball movies always involve a band of uncouth, mismatched players and there’s always one who sticks out like a sore thumb. In A League of Their Own, that wild card was the floosy Mae (Madonna); in Major League, it was bad boy pitcher Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen); and in Bad News Bears it was our protagonist, Coach Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau). After all, what’s a baseball team without a few weirdos?

Right Field: Cute Kids with Big Dreams

There’s something about a baseball game that takes us back to that moment we watched our first game with our dads, and in case the film doesn’t give you that feeling, filmmakers know they need to give you a bit of a push in the right direction. That’s why he have the adorable Joseph Gordon-Levitt as our guide in Angels in the Outfield and why Jimmy Morris (Dennis Quaid) has such an adorable, excited young song in The Rookie. They help inspire the kid in us all.

Shortstop: Hearty, Easy to Remember Catch Phrases

Nothing helps bolster the scrappy essence we so love to see in a baseball movie than some fun, little catchphrase to remember it by. We could regale you with the multitudes of baseballisms we’ve gained from Hollywood’s contributions, but we’ll stick with the best one: Tom Hanks’ “There’s no crying in baseball!”

Second Base: Late Night/Inclement Weather Solo Practice

There’s a pretty typical story arc with every baseball movie: the odds are bad, then they get better, then they’re not so good and our hero has a bout of introspection, then our hero triumphs over the not-so-good odds. It’s at that point when the odds start dipping again that we find our hero, out on a field with minimal lights, fresh cut grass and nothing between him and the game. Sometimes, we even get a nice downpour to boot. It’s typical, it’s overdone, but it’s necessary to understand the Zen of the game.

Third Base: Shots of Stadium Lights and Fresh Cut Grass

Right alongside the solo practice are the requisite, sweeping shots of stadium lights turning from dark to blinding, fresh cut grass standing perfectly still and delivering that signature scent (we can assume, until we’ve got smell-o-vision), and vastness of a major league ballpark when the fans have yet to file into their seats. It offers up a blank canvas, just like every new game does. It’s full of promise and hope and that’s just the tone you need when you’re bringing baseball to the big screen.

Pitcher: Kevin Costner

This guy love, love, loves making baseball movies. And he’s in some of our most beloved films of the genre. Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and For the Love of the Game all cemented Costner’s name alongside America’s favorite pastime on film – well, we watched For the Love of the Game, I’m not sure we universally loved it. It’s been a while since he picked up that bat, maybe it’s about time he takes a role as a beat-up old base coach, hell-bent on keeping his team from making the mistakes he did as a youngster? Yeah, we’d watch that.

First Base: Terrible Odds or Underappreciated Divine Talent

There is no such thing as a baseball movie wherein our hero is not extremely disadvantaged, but with incredible heart or gusto or in so many cases, an inexplicable, divine talent that is somehow untapped though it’s heads and tails above this competitors’ talents. Of course, The Natural takes this to a whole new level, by taking young Roy Hobbs’ father, leaving him with an incredible talent, sending him through the baseball ranks, and delivering him into a corrupt organization that discredits his talents due to his mid-thirties age. Even when you’re “a natural” in a baseball movie, you’ve got to beat the odds.

Home Base: Bottom of the 9th Inning Triumphs

And what goes hand in hand with incredible heart and terrible odds? Winning at the last minute of course! The reason this is so crucial in a baseball movie, is that baseball more than any other sport holds the capacity for a team to come from a desolate, impossible deficit and in one single inning, take the entire game back. A team could literally be down 10 to 1 and with a handful of good hits, come back around to surpass the opposing team’s score. Of course, this kind of a comeback is a bit of a small miracle, which is why it never ceases to work in our favorite movies about America’s pastime. It’s not over ‘til it’s over, and in a baseball movie, it’s over when our hero’s team miraculously wins.