Several sources rate this as the best sports movie of all time, or at least in the top five. Part of the criteria for choosing a “best”, naturally, is how you feel about the sport in question. Many Top 10 or 25 or 50 lists have a ton of boxing movies. I don’t care for boxing, or for movies about this brutal “sport.” There’s also a lot of basketball movies, like Hoosiers. I never saw it, and never will, because I totally don’t care about guys shooting balls through hoops. I prefer movies about sports you don’t see every day, such as cycling in Breaking Away, and skiing in Downhill Racer. Slap Shot is pretty good, though why anyone would like hockey baffles me.
These lists are dominated, properly I believe, by baseball movies, and this is probably the best, though A League of Their Own gives it some sharp competition. The story is by Ron Shelton, who actually played minor league ball for four years, until at age 25 he realized that he was never going to make it to The Show. He was able to make it all seem very real, because he had done all this stuff. Did you ever wonder what they talk about when they meet on the mound? This movie will show you, and you will laugh.
It is a dream cast. Tim Robbins is a super-talented but stupid and erratic pitcher. He is throwing 95 mph sizzlers, but his typical box score would be like 5 strike-outs, 5 walks, 5 wild pitches, 5 hit batters, and wouldn’t even include the balls thrown through the broadcaster’s window or the ones that hit the Bull mascot. Kevin Costner is the bitter vet catcher called in to steady the wild kid down. What makes it all work and moves it out of the realm of just another sports story is Susan Sarandon. She is a member of what she calls the “Church of Baseball.” Every season she picks one minor league player and stays faithful to him. She picks the kid with the arm, but you know she will get together with Costner before it’s over. I don’t think you have to love baseball, or know a lot about it, to enjoy this film. I could be wrong. I ask myself, would this work for me if the sport had been cricket, something I know nothing about? I hope so. It’s a good story, no matter what.