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Kallet: Breaking Down The 5 Greatest Baseball Movies Of All-Time

(credit: Brad White/Getty Images)

(credit: Brad White/Getty Images)

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By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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There’s not a lot for New York baseball fans to be excited about these days, or even talk about for that matter.

All of a sudden the Yankees have forgotten how to spend money and … gulp … are aiming to LOWER their payroll in an effort to avoid paying Major League Baseball’s luxury tax. Their present roster isn’t exactly awe-inspiring and they’re playing in what has become arguably the most talented division in all of baseball. For the first time in nearly two decades, many pundits are expecting the Bronx Bombers to miss the playoffs.

As for the Mets? Forget about it. There’s plenty to look forward to in regard to the future of the franchise, but 2013 will not be pretty. At the moment their roster is worse than it was last year — if that’s possible — and their outfield situation is borderline vomit-inducing. Pencil the Amazin’s in for 68 wins — 72 if they catch a few breaks.

The Baseball Hall of Fame? It’s enough already. Does anybody really want to hear about this issue anymore? Writers have been beating a dead horse ever since the voters decided not to elect any players to Cooperstown, and if I never hear the words steroids or performance-enhancing drugs again it will be too soon.

So with all that in mind, I’m going to have a little fun with this column. Forget batting averages, wins over replacement and the ability to drive in runs with men in scoring position and two outs.

Let’s look at the national pastime through the lens of entertainment, which is what baseball really should be about, anyway.

Without further ado, I present to you my list of the greatest baseball movies of all-time:

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Moneyball, Bull Durham, Little Big League, The Bad News Bears, Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, The Scout, Major League II

5) 61*: Directed by Billy Crystal, this made-for-HBO film is expertly written, produced and directed. More than anything, it is brilliantly casted.Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane are Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, from their mannerisms on the field to their personalities off of it. The resemblances of both actors to the baseball immortals is almost uncanny. The baseball scenes are strong, and the film really captures the rollercoaster ride that was the 1961 season when Maris and Mantle chased Babe Ruth for the single-season home-run record. (I can’t really attest to this, as I was born 27 years after Maris broke the record, but I imagine that’s what it was like.) Points for 1980s Brat Pack star Anthony Michael Hall inexplicably playing Whitey Ford and Shooter McGavin portraying Mel Allen.

LINE OF THE MOVIE:

Whitey Ford: [to Mickey Mantle] This guy died and nobody told him.
Commissioner Ford Frick: As I stand here this afternoon, it is impossible not to think of the Babe; not to feel his presence here even now. He was more than a ballplayer. He was everything that is special about this game. He was everything that is special about America.
Mickey Mantle: [to Whitey] I bet I got more p—- than he did.

4) The Natural: Roy Hobbs. Need I say more? Not only does Robert Redford actually look like a natural at the plate and on the mound (he played high school ball with Don Drysdale), but he nails down the role of the strong, silent type that just comes out of nowhere to dominate the sport. Robert Duvall is excellent as the inquisitive sportswriter and the smokin’ Kim Basinger gets your heart racing. And then there’s the best musical score of any movie in baseball history. In fact, I’d put it up against any score in cinematic history. The last scene is nothing short of epic, and it still gives me chills every time I watch it. Points for Wilford Brimley playing an old-school, hard-nosed manager who has put his heart and soul into the game, and for there being an obligatory coach named Red.

LINE OF THE MOVIE:

Pop Fisher: My ma urged me to get out of this game. When I was a kid, she pleaded with me. And I meant to, you know what I mean? But she died.
Red Blow: Tough.
Pop Fisher: Now look at me. I’m wet nurse to a last-place, dead-to-the-neck-up ballclub, and I’m choking to death!

3) A League of Their Own: This movie would have been average at best if not for the magnificent performance of Tom Hanks, who plays the great Jimmy Dugan. Hanks’s rugged character is a Hall of Fame ballplayer turned drunk manager who has lost all self-respect — and the respect of others. The women are fundamentally sound in the baseball scenes, and somehow, someway, you find yourself believing that Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna can really play ball. Of course there’s the classic “There’s no crying in baseball!” scene, and the famous collision at home plate between Dottie Hinson and her jealous sister, Kit. If Kit weren’t in this movie, it might have actually cracked the No. 2 spot — she’s insufferable throughout the film. Points for there being an ugly woman who can hit like Ted Williams named Marla Hooch, and for Jon Lovitz masterfully playing an arrogant, smug scout.

LINE OF THE MOVIE:

Jimmy Dugan: Ballplayers. I don’t have ballplayers, I’ve got girls. Girls are what you sleep with after the game, not, not what you coach during the game.
[spits]
Ira Lowenstein: If we paid you a little bit more, Jimmy, do you think you could be just a little more disgusting?
Jimmy Dugan: [brightly] Well, I could certainly use the money.

2) Field of Dreams: This one drags on a bit too much, and I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Costner, but there is a certain mystique in this film that is unparalleled. The picture-perfect field in the cornfields of Iowa is a spectacle, and the journey that Ray Kinsella goes on in an effort to find whatever he is looking for is compelling. Throw in James Earl Jones’ booming voice and his god-like speeches and you find yourself clinging to every word. What Kinsella is of course looking for, it turns out, is his father, who he always had a rocky relationship with. When he realizes that the ghost of his father is on his field in Iowa, he finally gets the chance to have a catch with him. A father and a son having a catch. What’s more American than that? It’s been said before, but I’m going to say it again: If you don’t tear up when Costner asks his dad to have a catch at the end of the film, you simply don’t have a soul. Points for Ray Liotta’s portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson played in the early 1900s, so I have no idea if Liotta’s performance was an accurate representation of the player. But it really doesn’t matter to me, because Ray Liotta can pretty much do whatever he wants — he’s Henry Hill, for crying out loud.

LINE OF THE MOVIE:

Ray Kinsella: Hey… Dad?
[John turns]
Ray Kinsella: [choked up] “You wanna have a catch?”
John Kinsella: I’d like that.

1) Major League: Major League takes the cake as the greatest baseball movie of all-time, and it isn’t close. It’s far and away the funniest and the edgiest movie of them all, and it is THE ONLY one that doesn’t include a slice of corniness. From start to finish, Major League is about ballplayers being ballplayers. They curse, they drink, they womanize. And let’s look at the brilliance of the characters. Rick Vaughn, played by Charlie Sheen, is one of the coolest characters in film history. An ex-convict, he played in the California Penal League and then managed to get out of prison just in time to report to spring training. Willie Mays Hayes just shows up at camp without an invitation — we never find out the back story on this, which makes it even funnier — but they add him to the roster because he’s fast. Pedro Cerrano, aka Carlos Delgado before Carlos Delgado, is a voodoo-worshipping power hitter who doesn’t hit a curveball all season until the final game — yet he remains in the lineup throughout the year. Roger Dorn is a high-priced third baseman who can’t field and is more concerned about his stock portfolio than his batting average. Jake Taylor, the cliche broken-down catcher with bad knees, is the leader of the team. And then of course there is the manager, Lou Brown, who prior to managing the Cleveland Indians was working as a salesman at a place called Tire World. It’s truly a cult classic that will live on forever. Major League II is solid, but about five notches below the original. Major League III: Back to the Minors is disgraceful and embarrassing, and the only redeeming quality of the film is that the manager of the Twins — Twins? — is played by Jefferson D’Arcy from Married with Children.

LINE OF THE MOVIE:

Willie Mays Hayes: Willie Mays Hayes. I hit like Mays, and I run like Hayes.
Lou Brown: You may run like Hayes but you hit like s—.

NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THE SCREENWRITERS AND DIRECTORS WERE THINKING: Angels in the Outfield, Cobb, Ed, Fever Pitch, Mr. 3000, The Rookie, Summer Catch, Major League III: Back to the Minors

What would be in your list of the top five baseball movies of all-time? Get the debate started in the comments section below!

Brad Kallet is a web producer for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.