From Field of Dreams to Million Dollar Arm: A short history of baseball films.
By Richard Crouse – In Focus Metro Canada
“I still get such a bang out of it,” says Buck Weaver (John Cusack) in Eight Men Out, “playing ball.”
Given the number of sports movies that have been released in the last 30 years, apparently audiences also get a bang out of watching films about baseball.
This weekend, Jon Hamm stars in a new ball picture, Million Dollar Arm. The Mad Men star plays real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein who recruited Indian cricket players Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s an unconventional baseball movie, but there seems to be something about the sport that lends itself to fantastic stories and fables.
Roger Ebert called Field of Dreams, “a religious picture,” then added, “but the religion is baseball.” In this 1989 hit Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer who hears a mysterious voice. “If you build it, he will come.” The “it” is a baseball diamond and the “he” is Shoeless Joe Jackson, the legendary outfielder for the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox.
The movie uses a baseball theme as a backdrop for a story about following your dreams, believing in the impossible and the idea that baseball was “a symbol of all that was once good in America.”
The film struck a chord with audiences and tourists alike. Since its release, the field built for the film in Dubuque County, Iowa has attracted hundreds of thousands of people, and spawned new restaurants, shops, a hotel, all in a town of only 4,000 people.
Robert Redford’s film The Natural looks to Arthurian legends for its story. Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a young pitcher with natural ability. Cut down in his prime by a tragic accident, he disappears, only to return many years later to become a star at an age when most players are hanging up their gloves. “It took me 16 years to get here,” he says. “You play me, and I’ll give you the best I got.”
The Holy Grail of baseball
Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, the characters in The Natural each represent a person from ancient literature.
There are elements of Round Table Knight Percival’s pursuit of the Holy Grail present in Hobbs’ story. He’s a Knight (literally, his team is called The Knights) who must bring back the Grail, or pennant, to team manager Pop Fisher, whose name is an alias for the Fisher King, keeper of the Grail.
If you think that is reading too much into the story, perhaps Woody Allen in Zelig is more your speed. “I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.”