Teri is a lifelong baseball fan who lives for Opening Day. Teri. Writes. Baseball.
The Baseball Experience
No matter how your team does, Baseball Season is like, well, a religious experience to the diehard fan. Although it runs from February (when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training) through October and maybe even the first week of November (through the Game 7 of the World Series), Baseball Season is just never long enough.
If you cannot get to the ballpark, baseball movies, documentaries and biographies are warming in the bullpen!
Pride of the Yankees (1942) starring Gary Cooper. (Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures). Between 1923 and 1939, Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games for the New York Yankees (a record broken by Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995). Gehrig developed ALS -- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- a fatal motor skills neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness and atrophy (partial or complete dissolving of body tissues).
Pride of the Yankees traces Gehrig’s childhood, baseball career and the famous “Luckiest Man” speech at the end of his career in 1939.
Henry Louis Gehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941); Major League statistics: New York Yankees 1923-1939; 493 home runs and 2,271 hits with 1,995 runs batted in (RBI) and a batting average of .340. Lou Gehrig was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
The Babe Ruth Story (1948) starring William Bendix. (Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures). Biographical, fictional account of the famed Yankee slugger.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948); Major League career:Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Boston Braves; 714 home runs and 2,873 base hits with 2,213 RBI and a batting average of .342. Ruth, as a pitcher, had a win-loss record of 94 and 46 and a 2.28 Earned Run Average (ERA). Babe Ruth was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. (1948)
Other films about Babe Ruth include The Babe (1992); a fictional account starring John Goodman (1 hour: 55 minutes); and Babe Ruth (1991); a biopic starring Stephen Lang (1 hour: 39 minutes).
“Classic” Ballplayers and Their Stories
Some of Baseball’s greatest players were honored by Hollywood; starring iconic actors such as Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan and Daniel Daily. At least one player even got to play himself in his own movie! (Jackie Robinson). Check these out:
Against the Odds ...
The Stratton Story (1949) starring Jimmy Stewart. (Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). In the 1930s, Chicago White Sox Pitcher Monty Stratton, whose record of 36 wins and 23 losses within three seasons made him a baseball star, lost his right leg as the result of a hunting accident. Stratton, with a wooden leg, later pitched in the minor leagues from 1946 into the 1950s. Also starring June Allyson as Stratton’s wife Ethel.
Monty Franklin Pierce Stratton (May 21, 1912 – September 29, 1982); Major League statistics: Chicago White Sox 1934-1938; 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.
The Winning Team (1952) starring Ronald Reagan. (Distributed by Warner Bros.). From April 1912 through May, 1930, National Baseball Hall of Fame member Grover Cleveland Alexander, (known to his friends, teammates and fans as “Old Pete”), pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and again with the Phillies.
As a fictional biography, The Winning Team, also starring Doris Day as Alexander’s wife Aimee, covers Grove Cleveland Alexander’s amateur baseball career, real-life battles with alcoholism and epilepsy and his comeback with the Cardinals in the 1926 baseball season.
Grover Cleveland Alexander (February 26, 1887 – November 4, 1950); Major League statistics: 373 wins with 2,198 strikeouts, 90 shutouts and an ERA of 2.56. Grover Cleveland Alexander was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.
The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) starring Jackie Robinson. (Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films, United Artists and MGM/Fox). Prior to entering Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947 as first baseman for the National League Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues. To “break the color barrier” in Major League Baseball, Dodgers’ General Manager and club president Branch Rickey chose Robinson -- not only for Robinson’s talent -- but for his ability to handle the racial animosity and hostility. Actress Ruby Dee costars as Jackie’s wife Rae Robinson.
Jack Roosevelt"Jackie" Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972); Major League statistics: Brooklyn Dodgers 1947-1956; 137 home runs; 1,518 base hits with 734 RBIs and a batting average of .311; 197 stolen bases. Jackie Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Released in 2013 and distributed by Warner Brother Pictures and Legendary Pictures, 42 stars Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford as Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
Pride and Fear
The Pride of St. Louis (1952) starring Dan Dailey. (Distributed by 20th Century Fox). Seemingly never at a loss for words, Major League Baseball pitcher-turned-broadcaster Jay (Jerome) Hanna “Dizzy” Dean played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Browns. In the 1934 season, “Dizzy” Dean’s 30 and 7 win-loss pitching record (with an ERA of 2.66) led the St. Louis team’s “Gashouse Gang.”
Also starring Joanne Dru and Richard Crenna, The Pride of St. Louis depicts Dean’s injury-shortened baseball career and his move to the broadcast booth. Dean pitched for the Cardinals in 1930 and from 1932 to 1937. He played with the Cubs from 1938 to 1941. As a publicity stunt in 1947, Dean, at age 37, made a “comeback” with the St. Louis Browns (he was a member of the Browns’ broadcasting team and pitched four scoreless innings).
Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean also known as Jerome Herman Dean, (January 16, 1910 – July 17, 1974); Major League statistics: 150 wins, 1,163 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.02. Jay Hanna (Jerome Herman) “Dizzy” Dean was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. The St. Louis cardinals retired Dean’s number 17 in 1974.
Fear Strikes Out (1957) starring Anthony Perkins. (Distributed by Paramount Pictures). From 1950 to 1967, outfielder Jimmy Piersall played for five Major League teams; Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, New York Mets and California Angels. Throughout his career, Piersall struggled with mental illness and incidents of volatile behavior. Fear Strikes Out (from the autobiography written by Piersall), also stars Karl Malden.
James Anthony Piersall, (born 11-14-29); Major League statistics: 104 home runs, 591 RBIs with a batting average of .272. He won Gold Glove awards in 1958 and 1961 and was a member of the 1954 and 1956 American League All-Star teams.
Don’t Look Back: The Story of LeRoy “Satchel” Paige (1981) starring Louis Gossett Jr. (Produced for television). Right-handed pitcher LeRoy “Satchel” Paige was a star in the Negro Leagues for many years before joining Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians in 1948. At age 42, Paige was baseball’s oldest rookie; playing with the Indians in 1948 and 1949, and then with the St. Louis Browns from 1951 to 1953.
After years in the minor leagues (following his retirement), Paige pitched one game in 1965 for the Kansas City Athletics, at the age of 59. Paige pitched in the Carolina League in 1966 and a couple of “barnstorming” teams in 1966 and 1967. Paige’s autobiography, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever (with David Lipman) was first published by Doubleday in 1962.
LeRoy Robert “Satchel” Paige (July 7, 1906 – June 8, 1982); Major League statistics: 28 wins, 288 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.29 in 476 innings. Satchel Paige was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
Playing for Keeps
Cobb (1994) starring Tommy Lee Jones. (Distributed by Warner Bros.). Known for his controversial, aggressive and sometimes violent actions on (and off) a baseball field, outfielder Ty Cobb (the “Georgia Peach”) played for the Detroit Tigers from 1905 to 1926 -- also managing the Tigers from 1921 to 1926 -- and then with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1927 and 1928. Cobb also stars Robert Wuhl and Lolita Davidovich.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb (December 18, 1886 – July 17, 1961); Major League statistics: 4,189 hits and 117 home runs with 1,938 RBIs and a batting average of .366. Ty Cobb was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
61* (2001) starring Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane. Originally produced for television, the film chronicles the 1961 baseball season for the New York Yankees; Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s chase to break Babe Ruth’s number of home-runs-per-season record of 60.
Documentaries are fact-based presentations often containing original films, audio, newspaper clippings and interviews on a variety of subjects. Baseball documentaries, championship series broadcasts and team features give us glimpse into the “glory days” of America’s National Pastime.
A League of Their Own: the Documentary (1987); Running Time: 27 minutes. Produced for PBS television, this short is a biographical account of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded in 1943. The documentary was the stepping-stone for the fictional motion picture, A League of Their Own, released in 1992.
Baseball: a Film by Ken Burns (1994). Produced for PBS television, this 18 ½ hour award-winning series (within 9 episodes, or, “innings,”) covers baseball’s history and extras from the sport’s origins through 1993. A sequel (The Tenth Inning), covers Major League Baseball’s strike in 1994 and beyond -- through the 2009 season.
Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream (1995); Running Time: 120 minutes. Nominated for an academy award, this documentary chronicles Hank Aaron’s chase for the home run title. At the time, Aaron needed 715 career home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714. (Aaron finished his career with 755 home runs).
The Sultan of Swat
Babe Ruth: the Life Behind the Legend (1998); Running Time: 59 minutes. This TV documentary covers Ruth’s career with the Boston Red Sox, his powerhouse years with the New York Yankees and his “larger than life” persona. (Produced by Black Canyon Productions for HBO).
Other documentaries and short programs about Babe Ruth include: Babe Ruth: The Man, the Myth, the Legend (1990); a documentary hosted by Mel Allen (Running Time: 42 minutes); and an Arts & Entertainment feature; Biography: Babe Ruth (2005); Running Time: 50 minutes.
Pride Against Prejudice: The Larry Doby Story (2007); Running Time: 90 minutes. Four months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball with the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers (1947), Larry Doby joined the American League’s Cleveland Indians. Narrated by Louis Gossett Jr.
When It Was a Game (1991). With color and Black & White footage of ballplayers and ballparks. Players, families and fans shared their 8 mm and 16 mm film shot from 1934 to 1957. When It Was a Game 2 (1992) features footage shot between 1925 and 1961. When It Was a Game 3 (2000) mostly covers players, teams, games and ballparks of the 1960s.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998). This film documents the life and career of the first noted Jewish baseball player in the Major Leagues; Hank Greenberg (January 1, 1911 – September 4, 1986). Greenberg, often the target of anti-Semitism, played first base for the Detroit Tigers in 1930, 1933-1941 and then served in World War II. Greenberg returned to the Tigers for the 1945 and 1946 seasons. His contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947. At the end of the season, Greenberg became the farm system director for the Cleveland Indians.
Knuckleball! (2012). The knuckleball is, arguably, baseball’s most unpredictable pitch. The film follows the 2011 seasons of knuckleball pitchers Tim Wakefield and R. A. Dickey. Other famous (former) knuckleball pitchers featured in this documentary include Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough and Jim Bouton.
Various team documentaries were produced over the years, including (but not limited to):
- It Don’t Come Easy: The 1978 New York Yankees
- Still, We believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie (2004)
- New York Yankees (1987) (history from 1903 through the 1986 season)
- A City on Fire: The Story of the ’68 Detroit Tigers (2004)
- The 50 Greatest Home Runs in Baseball History (1992)
- Bluetopia: The LA Dodgers Movie (2009)
- The Franchise: A Season With the San Francisco Giants (2011)
- 1957 World Series (Milwaukee Braves vs. New York Yankees) (1957)
Fictional and biographically-based baseball films for television and movie theaters appeal to casual and diehard fans alike. Great Baseball Movies for the Great Baseball Fan invites you to enjoy the magic!