I know very little about baseball and what little I do know is because of the movies, with the exception of boxing has any sport been featured in so many great movies?
Compare that with the most universal of world sports football or soccer as the American’s call it, how many great soccer movies none spring to mind perhaps only Escape to Victory rates a mention.
Baseball however ranges from the misfits make good of Major League and a League of their Own to the Arthurian allegory of the Natural via the true stories of Moneyball and Eight Men Out to the small town hero of Bull Durham and the fantastical Field of Dreams.
So what is it that makes baseball work so well for the movies?
Firstly of course there’s the history, baseball is the most well documented of American sports with legendary heroes and villains such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the man who would fall in love with that most glamorous of movie starlets Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio. That history and the stats that were kept obsessively early in the sports professional era makes it easy to compare the legends to the modern day, Ty Cobb’s career batting average stands as a record to this day at 3.66. Just the nicknames make you want to know more The Yankee Clipper, The Georgia Peach, Three Finger Brown, The Duke of Tralee and so it goes on like a list of legendary gunslingers from the old west.
The look the game itself has changed little the materials in the equipment may have changed but the game itself remains the same if you put a picture of some of today’s ball parks into sepia it wouldn’t look that far gone from the games of yesteryear. If Babe Ruth were around today would it be too much to imagine him walking out and calling his shot to centre field? Although even this most famous of baseball stories has its legend with many disputing Ruth called his shot at all. Nostalgia is certainly part of it, it’s part of Americana but it transcends that as the movies are popular outside America in countries that know little of the history of baseball. But nostalgia is universal in an age where technology moves so fast we all become out of our time and have a rose tinted view of the past and we can appreciate those who look back even further to what were perceived as simpler times.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” James Earl Jones as Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams
Within the game skill is imperative but the greats have something else, something that makes them different almost supernatural what makes them so consistent?
As Crash says to Nuke in Bull Durham “Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium”
It’s true of baseball and it’s true of life that you can be good but if luck, fate, the gods or whatever you call it are not on your side then maybe good is not good enough to make the show. Only a game of skill, luck, history, legends and fate could make for so many good movies.
“I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book”
“And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game”
Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in The Natural
Well couldn’t we all have been better than we are?
But in the end life intervenes and it’s not that we become the best but that we become the best we can be that matters. So in life remember don’t be a lollygagger….
Baseball it’s a game of skill, chance and fate. A game where the everyday man can become a legend. I have rarely watched the sport, but boy does it make for good movies.