Clinton Yates salutes the best baseball movies for Opening Day

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats baseball movies with Clinton Yates (Part 1)

Break out the peanuts and Cracker Jacks! It’s Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

We’re getting jacked for the games by ranking the best baseball movies of all time.

WTOP brought in the big guns with Clinton Yates of ESPN’s “Around the Horn.”

“I’m glad to be here because we’re here talking my favorite thing,” Yates told his former station WTOP.

Check out my Top 10 below with some “dynamite drop-ins” by Yates:

WTOP's Jason Fraley talks baseball movies with Clinton Yates (Part 2)

Honorable Mentions

-“Rookie of the Year” (1993)
-“Angels in the Outfield” (1994)
-“Little Big League” (1994)
-“For the Love of the Game” (1999)
-“The Rookie” (2002)
-“Eight Men Out” (1988)
-“Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973)
-“Fear Strikes Out” (1957)
-“Mr. Baseball” (1992)
-“The Scout” (1994)
-“61*” (2001)
-“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” (1976)

10. “The Bad News Bears” (1976)

Fraley: “Walter Matthau had just done ‘The Odd Couple’ with Jack Lemmon a few years earlier and like 17 years before they did ‘Grumpy Old Men.’ He’s an ex-minor leaguer coaching this rag-tag little league squad and they have their pitching ace, Tatum O’Neal, in this early child feminist role. The young girl gets to be the star and she won an Oscar a few years later for ‘Paper Moon.’ I think it paved the way for ‘The Mighty Ducks,’ ‘Little Giants,’ ‘The Sandlot,’ those types of movies.”

Yates: “‘Bad News Bears’ is such an important, culturally relevant thing to the zeitgeist if for no other reason than the title of the film itself. I used to date a girl who would always say when something went wrong, ‘That is bad news bears.’ … That tells you how much that movie entered the cultural discussion — and Matthau smoking heaters in the dugout!”

9. “Moneyball” (2011)

Fraley: “You had the dream team of Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian adapting it, but man, the cast, you look back: Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager, Philip Seymour Hoffman … Chris Pratt and Jonah Hill as the number-crunching analytics guy. You add the music, you add the song that Brad Pitt’s daughter plays, ‘You’re such a loser, Dad, just enjoy the show,’ that’s where film can elevate the material from a book.”

Yates: “The movie is better than the book! That’s a reality of ‘Moneyball,’ and the book was fantastic. … Art Howe is the most nondescript person in the history of baseball. … Philip Seymour Hoffman playing that role, there’s a lot of things he’s done, from ‘Capote’ to ‘Boogie Nights,’ he’s done the gamut, but playing that character as just the normal guy, it showed so much to me about Phil’s range.”

8. “42” (2013) 

Fraley: “Chadwick Boseman, I think it was the first role I saw him in actually. It was the first of his three biopics of historic Black figures: Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, then of course we all know what happened with ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and he’s gonna win for ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ next month guaranteed.”

Yates: “I don’t love this film. When you try to take on a story that everybody knows, you have to nail it in a way that nobody else has seen. While it’s a good movie, it’s inspirational, it’s almost like a kids movie that they don’t call a kids movie. It’s one of those I would show at a baseball camp, but I wouldn’t necessarily watch it with one of my boys. My kid brother loves that movie, he just graduated from high school, but I was at an age that it doesn’t do a ton for me, even though it’s a very good film. It’s a hard story to tackle.”

7. “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942)

Fraley: “You know me, I gotta have one old, old one, black and white. It’s worth checking out. The cool thing is Babe Ruth actually plays himself in the movie. … It’s Gary Cooper from ‘High Noon,’ he plays Lou Gehrig and he looks eerily similar when he says, ‘Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ … It came out within a year of Gehrig’s actual death. … It would be as if [a movie came out about] Kobe Bryant.”

Yates: “I have not seen this movie. Gotta have some old white guys! Just kidding. [Reacting to Lou Gehrig’s Disease]. Bruh! It’s early in the morning, JFray, I’m not trying to cry about baseball!”

6. “The Natural” (1984)

Fraley: “This is more of a magical, supernatural, ‘The Natural’ with Robert Redford, directed by Barry Levinson, that great [Randy] Newman score, I can still hear it my head when he hits that final home run that shatters the lights in the stadium. … The script itself, it kind of detours into some murder mystery stuff, but I do love the notion of this tree his father planted gets truck by lightning and he makes this mythical bat, Wonderboy.”

Yates: “I hate ‘The Natural.’ I don’t like this movie at all for a lot of different reasons. … I think it’s a good story told poorly and I also think, and this is where I go nuts about baseball reality: worst baseball in a movie I’ve ever seen. People think that the homer that blows up the lights is everything that happened, no, no, there is legitimate gameplay that is garbage! Yo, how did you make a whole movie about baseball and apparently consult zero actual baseball humans?”

5. “The Sandlot” (1993)

Fraley: “It is the kids baseball movie equivalent of ‘The Wonder Years,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ where you get that throwback nostalgic narration of all the kids playing outside. … James Earl Jones as the blind neighbor with The Beast, the whole idea of them having to retrieve the ball … the fact that a kid doesn’t know who ‘Baby Ruth’ is. It’s just hilarious. ‘You’re killing me, Smalls!’ Talk about quotes we still quote today.”

Yates: “The cultural relevance of ‘The Sandlot’ probably exceeds almost every other baseball movie if we’re being real in terms of the American zeitgeist. Great gameplay, great family story in terms of the d***head stepdad, Denis Leary, tremendous role. … It evokes an era in which the notion that baseball was just a natural extension of American childhood. … There are parks in America that invite humans to bring their children, sit on the lawn, sleep overnight and watch ‘The Sandlot’ on the big screen.”

4. “A League of Their Own” (1992)

Fraley: “When all the men went off to war, the women went into the factories and they also went to the baseball field. You get Tom Hanks saying, ‘There’s no crying in baseball,’ possibly the most quoted line in any baseball movie. My little film history tidbit: Penny Marshall directed this after she did ‘Big’ and she became the first woman director to direct back-to-back $100 million grossers.”

Yates: “‘A League of Their Own’ is a great movie. I dated a woman who this was her favorite movie and she wasn’t even a sports fan. That’s how good this movie is. … In the District of Columbia, there is a league known as the Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson Little League named after one of the three women that pitched in the Negro Leagues. … There’s a scene where a ball gets overthrown and you see the Black women pick it up and bang it back to her! … It’s a nod to the fact that the league, for as progressive, as feminist and generally cool as it was, they didn’t let Black women play. They give just enough of a nod to that. … I tear up every time I see it.”

3. “Major League” (1989)

Fraley: “My favorite, funniest show of last year, ‘Ted Lasso,’ totally pulls from ‘Major League’ with the owner trying to tank the team. … Few movies other than maybe ‘Star Wars’ introduced such a memorable cast of characters: Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, Willie Mays Hayes, Jake Taylor, Roger Dorn, Pedro Cerrano, the coach making hilarious zingers: ‘He may run like Hayes, but he hits like sh**!'”

Yates: “The number of coaches when I was side-saddling ground balls: ‘Get that olay sh** out of here, Yates! Get in front of the ball!’ … ‘Major League 2’ is funnier than the first one, but it is not necessarily better. Most of the funny things people remember are actually from ‘2.’ … But it doesn’t exist without the first one. I don’t know that there is a better sports movie that has been made in terms of what it was trying to do. … That last play where you send a runner on a bunt on the off chance that some old guy is gonna make it [to first] and you’re gonna get a play at the plate, nobody plays baseball like that! But you can believe it in that case because of the characters involved. You are that invested.”

2. “Bull Durham” (1988)

Fraley: “Kevin Costner as Crash Davis, Tim Robbins as Nuke LaLoosh, you’ve got the love triangle, it’s like a rom-com as much as it is a baseball movie, the church of baseball. Just seeing these minor leaguers trying to make it to the show and doing quotes like, ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains.’ … Shoutout to my cousin Jake Fraley, who just got called up to the Seattle Mariners to The Show!”

Yates: “Among the baseball movies for feature films, ‘Bull Durham’ is the best movie-movie. … Flooding the field for a rain delay when it didn’t rain because you’re drinking High Lifes with your boys. … Crash Davis, an incredibly style icon, popped collar, one hand, taking BP while you’re trying to talk to your girl and explain what happens in between these bedroom streets! … From a writing standpoint, the dialogue that happens on a baseball field, ‘Candlesticks make a great gift.’ … It’s one of the best-written sports films in the history of film.”

1. “Field of Dreams” (1989)

Fraley: “I reached out to Kevin Costner to settle the debate. He said ‘Bull Durham’ is the best pure baseball movie, but ‘Field of Dreams’ became our generation’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ … When someone asks me, ‘What movie makes you cry?’ it’s Kevin Costner asking, ‘Dad, you wanna have a catch?’ with the ghost of his dead father, and I’m thinking of playing catch with my late grandfather. It’s waterworks every time.”

Yates: “I’m glad you brought up the emotion of that movie. A lot of people point to the scene you’re talking about, ‘Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?’ … but it wasn’t the Dad scene that got me. It was the scene where Moonlight Graham breaks the plane to help the kid. I couldn’t handle it! It f***ed me up! That movie, the magical realism element is critical. … I still think about it all the time, man: ‘Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.'”


Bonus Documentary: ‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’ (2014)

Yates: “In the 1970s … Bing Russell, who got shot triple-digit times in ‘Bonanza’ and was a Hollywood god and loved baseball, decided to buy a baseball team and stuck it in Portland and made every single thing we know today about game-day operations popular. The reason why brooms come out in sweeps is because of the Portland Mavericks. The first person to ever hire a female general manager in pro baseball was Bing f’n Russell. And guess who his star player was? A little guy we call Kurt Russell! He was on the team as a player! … The guy who was the catcher, guess what he invented? Big League Chew. … The movie is the best baseball movie that exists to me in my heart.”

Listen to our full hour-long convo here.

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