If you haven’t seen the new Jackie Robinson biopic 42, a must-see for baseball and non-baseball lovers equally, now is the perfect moment to revisit the best baseball movies ever made.
Movies about baseball have ran the gamut from comedies to dramas, big-budget films with superstar casts to low-budget documentaries featuring nobody of note. Baseball has produced some genuinely memorable on-screen moments and characters that have endured the test of time.
Some consider Morris Buttermaker, Roy Hobbs, and Rick Vaughn to be as synonymous with baseball as Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, and Justin Verlander are to the American sport.
The rest of you are scratching your heads and trying to figure out what I’m getting at. I get it!
It should go without saying that each and every film on this list, from the top 25 to those that were just omitted, is deserving of your attention and should be seen by baseball enthusiasts of any level of interest.
This is the end of my ramblings, so let’s get down to business and rate the 25 greatest baseball movies ever made.
1. Fever Pitch (2005)
When was the last time you saw a Farrelly Brothers film without gross-out jokes?
A fan’s tale partially based on Nick Hornby’s autobiography, “Fever Pitch: A Fan Tale,” was adapted for the big screen in 2005 as a remake of a British film from 1997. A baseball club takes center stage in this retelling, as opposed to the English soccer team that dominated the previous two, which were set in England.
During the winter, Ben (Jimmy Fallon) is smitten with Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), but come April, he must choose between Lindsey and his enduring passion, the Boston Red Sox.
An 85th consecutive season without a Red Sox World Series title was depicted in a 2004 version of the film, which was based on the original ending. It became necessary to rework the ending of the film after Boston won the 2004 World Series, breaking the curse.
This is a must-see if you’ve ever had trouble explaining your fandom to your significant other.
2. The Stratton Story (1949)
The Stratton Story, starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson, relates the story of Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton in the 1930s.
Stratton pitched with the White Sox for parts of five seasons and has a career ERA of 3.71 and a record of 36-23. When he was at his best in the years 1937 and 1938, he went 30-14 with a 3.26 ERA, earning him an All-Star nod in 1937 and a spot in the MVP voting that year.
In 1938, Stratton shot himself in the leg while on a hunting trip, resulting in his right leg being amputated. Stratton returned to the game he loved eight years later, at the age of 34 and with a wooden leg, spending portions of five seasons with a variety of minor league teams.
3. The Pride of St. Louis (1952)
Jerome “Dizzy” Dean won 133 games for the St. Louis Cardinals between 1932 and 1937, making four All-Star appearances and winning the National League MVP title in 1934.
This is the narrative of The Pride of St. Louis.
Dizzy (Dan Dailey) broke his big toe after being struck in the foot by an Earl Averill line drive during the 1937 All-Star Game in Cleveland. In defiance of doctors’ orders, Dizzy returns to the mound, further damaging his arm and effectively ending his career as a pitcher.
Despite his lack of formal education, Dizzy had a successful second career as a baseball announcer, which some consider to be even more successful than his stint in a Cardinals uniform on the mound.
One of Richard Crenna’s earliest roles is that of Paul, Dizzy’s younger brother, who was dubbed “Daffy” by reporters.
4. Damn Yankees! (1958)
Those who enjoy rooting against the New York Yankees should check out this movie.
The story of Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer), a frustrated Washington Senators fan who strikes a pact with the devil (Ray Walston), is adapted from George Abbott’s Broadway musical of the same name, Damn Yankees! (who may be best known from My Favorite Martian).
In exchange for Applegate’s soul, Boyd becomes the greatest baseball player in history, Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter), so that he may lead his Senators past those pesky Yankees and to baseball’s promised land (the World Series, of course).
When the devil hires the services of Lola (Gwen Verdon), a temptress who specializes in seduction, things aren’t as simple as they appear.
Sporting events and musicals don’t usually mix, but Damn Yankees! ensures the success of the union.
5. Cobb (1994)
In addition to being one of baseball’s greatest hitters, Ty Cobb was a scumbag both on and off the field.
Even if you appreciate Cobbis as a baseball player, by the end of the movie, you’ll find yourself hating Tommy Lee Jones, who does an outstanding job as the Hall of Fame center fielder.
Al Stump (Robert Wuhl), a sportswriter hired to write Cobb’s narrative, is the focus of the film. Arriving at Cobb’s house, it becomes clear that this bitter, inebriated racist views Stump as nothing more than an outsider and treats him as such.
When faced with the choice of sugarcoating Cobb’s life or portraying him as the terrible person he truly was, Stump is forced to make a decision.
6. Off the Black (2006)
As Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is a forerunner of Off the Black, Off the Black is an underappreciated film of the last decade that shares a lot of similarities with Eastwood’s picture.
When Ray Cook (Nick Nolte) loses his job as an umpire after a controversial call against his hometown team, Off the Black takes on new significance for the young man playing the role of Ray Cook (Nick Nolte).
Cook’s house is vandalized by Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) and his teammates in retaliation for Cook’s alleged mistreatment of their squad. This leads to a weird proposal and an even more unusual friendship between Cook and Tibbel.
7. Fear Strikes Out (1957)
Fifty years after Fear Strikes Out was released we still see the same thing happening in real life: a parent attempting to live out his life through his child.
Anthony Perkins plays Jimmy Piersall, a real-life baseball player who played for five different major league teams over the course of his 17-year major league career, including the Boston Red Sox, his childhood favorite team.
His father John (Karl Malden) is never happy with Jimmy’s achievements in the film, which follows Jimmy’s rise from the fields of Waterbury, Conn. to Fenway Park. Piersall has a nervous breakdown and is confined to a mental institution as a result.
When Jimmy finally realizes that he didn’t play baseball for the love of the game, but to win his father’s affection, he begins his journey back to the major leagues after undergoing rigorous therapy.
8. Sugar (2008)
Miguel “Sugar” Santos is a 19-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic who dreams of playing in the major leagues. Sugar was a smash at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
ESPY Award-nominated for best sports move, Sugar takes an unflinching look at the life of a baseball player attempting to make it in a new country, where he has no prior knowledge of the language, customs, or way of life. This is made all the more apparent when he is sent to a Single-A team in Iowa after spring training ends.
While struggling with emotions of loneliness and the betrayal of an arm, Sugar (Algenis Perez Soto) begins to doubt the world in which he lives as well as whether or not his lifetime dream of pitching in the major leagues is the appropriate one for him to follow.
9. The Rookie (2002)
Baseball is a sport with a rich history that is littered with stories of unlikely, if not outright unbelievable, triumphs.
One such story is told in The Rookie, a film released in 2002. In the minor levels with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), whose lifetime dream of pitching in the major leagues was shattered by a catastrophic shoulder injury.
Morris, who is now in his mid-thirties, splits his time between coaching baseball and teaching chemistry at a Texas high school. After a disappointing performance in a game the team should have won, a wager is struck between him and his team of underachieving student-athletes who can now hurl their fastball harder than ever before:
Morris will try out for the Rays if his team makes the playoffs.
Morris’s performance impressed the Rays enough to sign him to a contract, and in September 1999 he made his major league debut against the Texas Rangers, striking out the first batter he saw, Royce Clayton, on four pitches.
During his two seasons with the Rays, Morris appeared in 21 games as a reliever and threw 15 innings, all in relief, with an ERA of 4.80 and a WHIP of 1.47.
10. Up for Grabs (2004)
Fan violence broke out in San Francisco’s AT&T Park after Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run of 2001 was hit by Dennis Springer of the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.
When the ball was predicted to sell for a million dollars at auction, two fans who thought they were the true owners of it went to great lengths to prove their claim to it—sometimes tragically, and other times humorously.
Even though Mark McGwire’s then record-setting 70th home run fetched $3.2 million, the ball ended up selling for just $450,000 at auction.
11. Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
Bang the Drum Slowly, released in 1973, is the picture that launched Robert De Niro’s legendary career.
It tells the story of a famous pitcher named Henry “Author” Wiggen (Michael Moriarty) and a dimwitted catcher named Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro), whose baseball career is on the verge of collapse when he discovers that he has terminal cancer.
When Wiggen learns of Pearson’s plight, he does everything he can to make the catcher’s illness as bearable as possible, and the film chronicles their struggles throughout the season.
This is one of De Niro’s best performances and a must-see for anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of his work but has only seen him in the harsh, overpowering tough guy role.
12. 61* (2001)
Billy Crystal, a lifetime admirer of the New York Yankees, directs a stunning recreation of the summer of 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle attempted to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60.
It is the “Golden Boy” Mantle, not Maris (Barry Pepper), who is hailed as the hero by sports fans and writers alike.
If Ruth’s record isn’t broken inside the new 162-game schedule, it will have an asterisk next to it in record books, said Commissioner Ford Frick at the time.
Trying to beat Babe Ruth’s record for most consecutive wins in a season was a huge source of stress for Maris, a quiet man who just wanted to play well, win, and be able to go home and be left alone.
13. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Some films have an enduring appeal that crosses generational divides thanks to the universal themes they explore.
One such film is 1942’s Pride of the Yankees, in which Gary Cooper portrays legendary New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, as it’s more widely known, forced the “Iron Horse” to retire from baseball after he had played 2,130 consecutive games before his symptoms were too much for him to bear.
Ruth, Gehrig’s lifelong teammate, plays himself in this classic, which tells Gehrig’s story and pays tribute to his incredible life, which was cut short far too soon. George Herman “Babe”
14. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998)
Most baseball fans are familiar with Hank Greenberg from his time as a famous batter for the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s, but that is about all they know about him.
It turns out that Greenberg was much more than just baseball’s first Jewish celebrity thanks to archival footage and interviews with his family, friends, and admirers—among them actors Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz, as well as former senator Carl Levin.
The biography of the “Hebrew Hammer,” the first major league baseball player to enlist in the military during World War II, is an inspiring one for everybody, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.
15. Eight Men Out (1988)
At least eight Chicago White Sox players are suspected of deliberately underperforming and thereby sullying America’s pastime by failing to win the 1919 World Series. This is one of the biggest scandals in professional sports history.
Eight Men Out’s story is brought to life by a stellar cast that includes John Cusack as George “Buck” Weaver, Christopher Lloyd as “Sleepy” Bill Burns, and Charlie Sheen as Oscar “Hap” Felsch (“Shoeless” Joe Jackson).
To be fair, the speed at which the players suspected of throwing the World Series were judged was sped up for the film.
While other documentaries attempt to recreate the horrors of the Great Depression, Eight Men Out is head and shoulders above the rest.
16. 42 (2013)
I know I keep saying it, but if you haven’t seen 42 yet, I implore you to do so as soon as possible.
You will not be let down.
Both Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman shine in their roles as Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, respectively, and both actors deserve recognition when the awards season gets around.
As Leo Durocher and Red Barber, Christopher Meloni and John C. McGinley each give outstanding performances, the cast as a whole captures the raw emotion and unrestrained hatred that separated the United States along racial lines and still divides it today.
What Jackie Robinson went through should not have to be endured by anyone, regardless of occupation. He was an amazing person, and it shows in his ability to not only persist but also to remain a figure of class and respect throughout his career.
When I was in college, I had the good fortune to be accepted into a course on Jackie Robinson and the impact he had on the game and the country. We got to know Rachel Robinson, his widow, and the late Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League.
This video transported me straight back to that Amherst, Massachusetts, university classroom.
17. The Sandlot (1993)
There is no doubt that The Sandlot, which was released in 1993 to wide acclaim by baseball fans of all ages, can be appreciated and enjoyed by baseball fans of all ages.
Is about a new kid on the neighborhood and how baseball helps him overcome a stepfather who has little time for him as well as his own self-doubt about his value as an individual.
“You’re killing me, Smalls!” and James Earl Jones make this one of the most overlooked baseball movies ever made.
18. A League of Their Own (1992)
When most major league baseball players were away fighting for their nation in World War II, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League stepped in to fill the hole.
A star-studded cast fronted by Tom Hanks in the role of Jimmy Dugan, a foul-mouthed former major league baseball player who is frequently inebriated
Former major leaguer Jimmy Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, is the manager of the Rockford Peaches, a team he doesn’t take himself or its players seriously.
With Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson and Lori Petty as Kit Keller, along with Rosie O’Donnell as Doris Murphy, and Madonna in the starring roles, the Peaches have provided plenty of laughs and heartwarming moments for the audience, on the field and off.
19. Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011)
Ballplayer: Pelotero, the best baseball documentary ever put on film, is a must-see for every fan of the game.
A gritty, dark tale of two Dominican Republic prospects, Miguel Sano and Jean Batista, who are about to turn 16 and thus eligible to sign with an MLB team and the shady, underhanded dealings and corrupt individuals with which they must deal to make their dreams a reality, this is not a feel-good story about the summer boys.
Peloterod, which features John Leguizamo as the narrator and Bobby Valentine as executive producer, doesn’t sugarcoat anything that happens. These two players’ journey isn’t pretty, and it’s far more common than anyone would want to believe in the world of baseball.
Sano and Batista, the two candidates in the running, should be well-known. Sano is the top prospect in Minnesota, while Batista is a career. Houston’s minor league system continues to develop a 295-pound batter who is not among the team’s top 20 prospects.
20. Major League (1989)
Among the all-time great sports comedies, Major League from 1989 stands head and shoulders above the others.
Cleveland Indians new owner wants to move the franchise to Florida, but she needs the team to be one of baseball’s largest losers in order to accomplish this goal.
They are led by Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) and his crew, which also includes the equally unbelievable Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger, and Dennis Haysbert, on an unlikely run.
Aside from Bob Uecker’s hilarious performance as Indians play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle, the complete cast makes this one of the best baseball movies ever made.
21. The Natural (1984)
The Naturalis, a 1984 film based on Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel, depicts the story of a 35-year-old man, Roy Hobbs, who is played by Robert Redford to perfection.
Actors like Robert Duvall and Glen Close join Redford in ensuring that the over two-hour running time of the film keeps people riveted to the screen and their seats.
The Natural, despite the filmmakers’ artistic liberty with Malamud’s novel, stands on its own as a tribute to the American pastime.
22. Moneyball (2011)
Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, is one of the most popular baseball movies ever.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics’ GM in 2002, who is unable to compete with big-market teams for the top players because of a severe budget restraint imposed by the team’s owners.
Moviegoers interested in seeing the first true movement from traditional statistics and scouting methods to sabermetric analysis should see this film.
To non-baseball fans, Moneyball is still an enjoyable film that features some of the best acting in the business. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, who plays Peter Brand, were nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture for their roles in the film.
23. Field of Dreams (1989)
On this list, Field Of Dreams would be a no-brainer to put at the top if you wanted to.
Those two movies are so close in terms of quality that it’s hard to tell which is better.
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is a farmer in Iowa who is motivated by an invisible voice to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield by the motto “If you build it, they will come.” The film is a riveting drama with an all-star cast.
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and the 1919 Chicago White Sox are among those who show up. For a picture that was nominated for three Oscars, including one for Best Picture, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Amy Madigan make up a strong cast.
24. The Bad News Bears (1976)
A generation of baseball fans—including myself—considered The Bad News Bears to be the pinnacle of baseball films.
As Morris Buttermaker, Walter Matthau portrays a former minor-league baseball player who is now the coach of a team of misfits with only mediocre baseball skills.
Even if it were released today, there is something in this film that would certainly offend everyone—but the politically incorrect nature of things now would most likely assure that the picture was never released. Take a look at the trailer—could you picture it being shown on a major network in the modern era?
There’s no way.
The Wrong Stuff Despite the fact that it defied the norms of what a film about children should be, Bears is a tribute to its quality.
25. Bull Durham (1988)
Bull Durham, a baseball drama or comedy, has endured the test of time as the best film ever made on the sport.
Kevin Costner plays Crash Davis, a longtime minor league catcher who has been assigned to the dismal Durham Bulls, a team that has been plagued by mediocrity for decades.
A dim-witted pitching prodigy named Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh (Tim Robbins) is assigned to educate the two as they learn about baseball, life, and love.
Susan Sarandon and Robert Wuhl star in the film, which is largely recognized for its lightheartedness, although there are also some heartfelt moments.