Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Take me out to the Ballgame

Last night I sat down to watch Moneyball, for the second time with a group of friends.  The timing is honestly perfect as baseball season starts to get under way.  Moneyball is the most recent film about baseball, even though it hits a much deeper message, and takes the message to a much deeper level.  Baseball is known as America's pastime, so it only makes sense that the greatest sports films are about knocking one out of the park.  From Pride of the Yankees (1942) to Moneyball (2011) there has been an evolution within this genre about the game, the players, cultural impact, personal impact, and the game itself.

Pride of the Yankees was the first film about baseball.  The film centers around one of the greatest players of all time and his struggle with a disease that was named after him.  The film chronicles Lou Gehrig and his career along the greats like Babe Ruth.  Gehrig was only 37 when his disease forced him to step down from being part of the most feared duo in baseball.  In Pride the speech Gary Cooper gives as Gehrig gives as he leaves the Yankees is one of the most moving speeches.

Throughout the years films have emulated the iconic value of the game and the players.  There have been films about most of the greats, The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), The Babe (1992), and 61* (2001), to name a few.  

Baseball films have not only talked about the heroes within the game, but also done a great job talking about the underdog who comes from behind to save their team, or even our hearts as they make great catches, or win a game for their team.  The first film that comes to mind that does this does not do this in a touching way, but uses comedy.  Major League is one of the funniest sports films ever made.  When 'Wild Thing' (who knew how accurate that would be for Charlie Sheen) steps up to the mound you want to cheer.  This rag tag group of misfits comes together for love of the game (and sometimes themselves), but in the end you fill uplifted. 

The underdog team or player is a trend within baseball films.  There have been so many great baseball films that use this theme to convey someone coming from nothing and creating a great team, or working hard to succeed in something they love.  Films like The Bad News Bears (1976), Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, and Sandlot (both 1993) deal with young people who overcome odds to push themselves to become better in the game.  Bears is more like Major League in that the end results may be imperfect, but these young players push themselves to come together and be a better team.  Bears represents a the more cynical style of film making within the 70s.  Rookie and Sandlot both have this optimistic things will work out in the end mentality.  They represent the hopefulness of youth in attaining their dream of being part of something bigger/something they admire.

There are of course films about adults who go up against all odds to show their love for America's past time as well.  Field of Dreams (1989) deals with a man who is told by a mysterious "If you build it they will come."  Kevin Costner plays the lead role within this film, and many think his goal to build a baseball field is a crazy dream, but the emotional heft of this film is incredibly powerful, and shows the hope that surrounds this game, and its past.

In 2002 Dennis Quaid plays an older baseball player who people think has lost all chances of being successful in the major leagues, but he works incredibly hard and pushes himself.  This film represents the spirit of baseball as something for everyone, and as Quaid's character continues to prove himself you can't help but root for the underdog.  The same can be said for Robert Redford in 1984 classic baseball film The Natural.  While these two films represent different stories the show the passion of the athlete, and drive to not only be good at their sport, but someone who people can look to and admire.

Admiration of the game, and the players is another key element to a solid film about baseball.  In 1992 Gary Marshall made one of if not the best film about female athletes who took to field while their husbands went to war.  A League of Their Own was the story of the first year for women's professional baseball.  These women worked hard to break stereotypes, and prove that they were just as good at the sport as most of the men who played the game.  This film is heart wrenching and hilarious.

Bull Durham (1988) is another baseball film that breaks the rules,and many cite it as the best baseball film of all time.  Like some of the more recent baseball films the story is about more than just baseball or the baseball player.  The story interweaves the role hilarious role sex plays in helping a minor leaguer become better at the game.  The film proves that the king of baseball movies may just have to be Kevin Costner.  Costner shines in both of his films, and reminds people the diverse spectrum this game can bring to our lives.

 Durham shows viewers more about the game off the field the way Moneyball this past year.  Moneyball is slowly becoming not only one of my favorite baseball films of all time, but one of my favorite sports films, because it is not only not just about the game, but about the spirit associated with the game.  Moneyball proves that general manager Billy Beene had an incredible drive to bring back the heart of this sport; he was a man rejected by the game as a player, and has done more than many have ever done behind the scenes.  The film and many others prove baseball is not only America's past time in the stadiums, but also in the cinema.

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