What to watch this week: baseball edition

Baseball season is under way and the Tribe's home opener is right around the corner. Before you drain your checking account for a Bud Light and a coupla hot dogs at the stadium, get yourself prepped by streaming some of the best baseball movies of all time. (And, oh yeah: 42, the new Jackie Robinson flick, opens next week. Do check that out, as well.)

Eight Men Out

(1988, PG, Netflix streaming) This movie tends to be a thoroughly under-the-radar classic. If you've never seen it, this is the weekend to do so. One of the more hallowed tales of baseball lore is the 1919 World Series, in which members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the games for bribes. Widely considered some of the greatest baseball players of the era, eight members of the team were banned from the sport when the scandal became clear. D.B. Sweeney and John Cusack play "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, respectively. The latter offers up a role that truly sums up the heartbreak found within the World Series bribes. And the movie as a whole is grounded heavily in the reality of the situation. Great care is applied to make the film feel as close to the world of the Black Sox as possible. The movie, keep in mind, is a take on Eliot Asinof's highly recommended book of the same name.

A League of Their Own

(1992, PG, Netflix streaming) Flipping social conventions around and showcasing the homefront's baseball-themed response to the U.S. war effort, A League of Their Own culls together the best of early-90s witticisms, women power and, thank goodness, a drunken Tom Hanks. While the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was a real thing (from 1943 to 1954), this iconic comedy takes the fictional route and produces a storyline and characters that have become timeless shrines to the magical pull of baseball. The tale of sibling rivalry between Dottie and Kit (played by Geena Davis and Lori Petty) has become the stuff of baseball movie legend. And the entire movie really is a home run, if you'll pardon the wordplay here. The screenplay and the actors' comedic timing is spot-on, offering a light-hearted approach to one of baseball's unsung moments of triumph. There's no crying in baseball, but you can go ahead and shed more than a few tears of joy once you revisit this classic.

Ken Burns: Baseball

(1994, Netflix streaming) Renowned documentarian Ken Burns released a vast overview of our national pastime a couple years back. From the earliest days of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to more contemporary settings, Burns' hallmark touch reveals the parallels drawn between baseball's history and the overall trajectory of the nation. Interviewees like Hank Aaron, Studs Terkel and Ted Williams help flesh out the historical narrative in first-person. "The story of baseball is also the story of race in America, of immigration and assimilation; of the struggle between labor and management, of popular culture and advertising, of myth and the nature of heroes, villains, and buffoons; of the role of women and class and wealth in our society," Burns wrote in describing the scope of the project. The series originally ran up to 1964 by way of nine chapters (or nine innings, of course). In 2010, Burns furnished the 10th inning, which offered a look at the modern events of baseball through 2009. As a grand summation of the game, Burns' work is an effective, if utilitarian, gem.

Up For Grabs

(2004, Netflix streaming) When Barry Bonds hit his 73rd home run in October 2001, several questions lingered in the air long after the ball had left the outfield. For one, whose claim to the ball was most legitimate? A bit of a scuffle had broken out in the stands as one fan caught the ball, though another man walked away from the pile-up with the ball in his hands. Patrick Hayashi and Alex Popov spent much time in court arguing over the rights to the ball. This film sort of satirically highlights the lengths to which some people will go to get their hands on a bit of sports history. Among the other questions raised alongside Bonds' 73rd home run is the ongoing modern controversy of steroid use in Major League Baseball. And while the film doesn't focus on that issue—or even on baseball as a sport, entirely—it does capture the ripple effect that the sport has on society and on individual lives.

Field of Dreams

(1989, PG, Google Play rental $2.99) It's the greatest baseball movie of all time, by any rational standard. Kevin Costner, of course, plays Ray Kinsella, who finds himself picking up the eerie lilt of a prophetic voice out in his Iowa cornfields. The voice leads him to construct a baseball diamond on his property, which in turn attracts the ghosts of the legendary 1919 Chicago Black Sox. The movie is based on W.P. Kinsella's book "Shoeless Joe." Without further ado, we'll leave you with James Earl Jones' powerful words: "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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