High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Choose the Best Baseball Movies of All Time - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Choose the Best Baseball Movies of All Time

Alice Cooper, George Thorogood, Tom Morello and other rocker fanatics sound off on our national pastime

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Walter Matthau in 'Bad News Bears.'

Everett Collection

Thirty-six years ago this April, The Bad News Bears opened in theaters across the country, shocking and amusing audiences with its unbridled vulgarity, as well as its unflinching depiction of the ugly competitiveness at the heart of little league baseball. In the film, obnoxious kids swear a blue streak, politically incorrect insults fly like beanballs, and the local Harley-riding adolescent troublemaker (played by Jackie Earle Haley) proudly informs 11 year-old Tatum O’Neal that he hangs out at the ball field because of the abundance of “nice ass” there. The adults, of course, behave even worse.

As I was a foul-mouthed ten-year-old with major league aspirations, the movie was right in my wheelhouse at the time – the nerds, outcasts and booger-eating morons that made up the Bears’ roster could have easily been my friends and me. It was only later that I came to appreciate the film’s snappily written script, its refreshing lack of sentimentality, or the beautifully nuanced performance of Walter Matthau as the alcoholic former minor leaguer who finds redemption as the coach of the titular team. The DVD reissue of BNB is subtitled “a classic comedy about growing up,” but Matthau is the only character in the film who actually matures – the kids themselves all remain gloriously, unrepentantly juvenile, even when they’re guzzling adult beverages in the final scene.

Is Bad News Bears the greatest baseball flick of all time? It is for me – but unlike with players and teams, you can’t use stats to mount an argument for your favorite baseball film; it’s a personal thing, often depending on when you first saw it as what you saw in it. And since baseball has been a popular motion picture subject dating back to 1898 (Thomas Edison’s The Ball Game), there’s no shortage of titles to choose from. So this week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll baseball freaks: What’s your favorite baseball movie?

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

I think it has to be Fear Strikes Out (1957), the story of Jimmy Piersall starring Anthony Perkins. Jimmy was bipolar and went absolutely crazy. He would fight, he would climb the fences and would have all kinds of psychotic episodes on the field, which I really admire in a ball player.

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Without a doubt, it would have to be The Bad News Bears (1976). It’s just a great story that masterfully and barely stays on the positive side of the gossamer line that separates tragedy and comedy. In my opinion it’s the most interesting of the “baseball as vehicle to redemption” films. And it ends in a hockey brawl. What’s not to like? The script, casting and direction are amazing.

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

It Happens Every Spring (1949). It was the first baseball movie I ever saw, and I saw it at a time when I was just starting my love affair with baseball. It stars Ray Milland, Ed Begley, and one of my favorite actresses of all time, Jean Peters; Paul Douglas does a great job, too. And, in the end, the National League team wins the World Series. Perfect!

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Daniel Zott
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Hands down, it’s The Sandlot (1993). Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, Ham Porter, the Beast, Squints, and Wendy Peffercorn. I think everyone dreams of blasting a homer through a firework lit sky as Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful” plays in the background. It’s really hard to beat that. I suppose if you want some history over entertainment then you should watch Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (1994). Everything Ken Burns does is legit.

Name: Ken Casey
Band: Dropkick Murphys
Position: Bass guitar, Vocals

The Sandlot. I watch it with my kids all the time, it reminds me of my childhood – pick-up games against the neighbors. Now, you couldn’t even find 18 kids at a park to play baseball with, because they are all home playing video games. Man, I sound too old and cranky!

Name: Steve Wynn
Band: The Baseball Project
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Without a doubt, it would have to be Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), even though the ending – one of the best last final lines of dialogue in any movie ever made – busts me up every time. And I challenge you all to a game of TEGWAR the next time we meet.

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The Natural (1984), due in large part to Randy Newman’s score and and Caleb Deschanel’s photography. Seriously, is there a scene in any other baseball movie more epic than Robert Redford rounding the bases in slow motion as the lights EXPLODE behind him? Doubtful. I don’t think anyone has gotten close to capturing the beauty and pageantry of the game since.

Name: Steve Earle
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The Natural – because you couldn’t make a film like that about any other sport.

Name: Scott Ian
Band: Anthrax
Position: Guitar

Moneyball (2011). In this film, they strip away all the fantasy, all the magic of the game, and yet at the same time it’s that magic and love of the game itself that is driving Billy Beane. It’s a real no-bullshit look at the game without having to create the fantasy – it’s already there.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Position: Guitar, Vocals

My all time favorite baseball film is Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino (2004), a documentary made about the Boston Red Sox first World Series Championship. As a long-suffering Cubs fan, it was nice to be able to live vicariously through another cursed franchise’s redemption. It helps me to continue to dream my little dream.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba
Band: Manitoba
Position: Vocals

The Pride of the Yankees (1942). It harkens back to another era, when baseball and movies ruled the earth. People listened to baseball games on the radio at home, went to movies (one movie, one theatre) and baseball games, and could afford to! There’s a lovable corniness to this movie. The scene where the roadside motorcycle cop and his pals give a “speeding Lou Gehrig” an escort to the Stadium is priceless. Gary Cooper heads an all-star cast as Lou Gehrig, with Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan, and real Yankees Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Bill Dickey (Mr. Dickey was the other #8 on the Yankees) as themselves. The fable-like way the whole story is told blows me away. Lou’s relationship with his parents, his love interest, the Yankees when they were the best team in the history of the universe, and finally, the tear-jerker aspect of Lou the “Iron Man” getting ALS, and THE SPEECH. Add it all up, and it melts this cynical son of a bitch, into a bowl of baseball loving, movie loving, era-gone-by Jell-O!

Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals

Let’s face it, most baseball movies drag one towards the triumphant-against-all-odds – or over-sentimental, heart-rending – finales. Not that that can’t work, and diamond blockbusters like The Natural, Field of Dreams and Bull Durham all have something to offer, if still pandering to the general populace and low-balling the more artistically-minded movie-goer and baseball fan. As classic Hollywood fare goes, I am a complete sucker for Gary Cooper’s trademark unassuming performance as Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, and Dan Dailey’s spot-on Dizzy Dean in the similarly titled The Pride of St. Louis (which actually surprised me with its relative historical accuracies). But more so, I love John Sayles’ dark and moody treatment of Eliot Asinof’s classic Eight Men Out (1988), with its intricate story and superb casting, covering one of baseball history’s most tragic and fascinating chapters (the Black Sox scandal of 1919). But my current favorite baseball film has to be Sugar (2008), the moving, almost documentary-like portrayal of a young Dominican’s trip from one of his native country’s baseball camps to his dream-come-true visit to the U.S. and a chance for major league glory and money. If this had been a major Hollywood production, it’d no doubt climax with the kid pitching Game Seven of the World Series – and you might have actually heard of the film. But how often is that what happens to aspiring ballplayers?

Name: Pete Yorn
Position: Vocals, Guitar

To me, the one that has the most impact is Eight Men Out. It always strikes a chord with me when a group of men, in this case baseball players who happen to be the best in the world, get caught up in corruption. Sure they were underpaid, and even though ultimately found not guilty of throwing the World Series, the commissioner of baseball still decided to ban eight of the Chicago “Black Sox” from baseball forever. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson denied any wrongdoing, and his part in the scandal remains controversial. His Series-leading .375 batting average has me believing in his innocence.

Name: Greg Dulli
Band: The Twilight Singers, Afghan Whigs
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The Bad News Bears. I read once where someone called it the Casablanca of kids movies, and I agree. It’s quotable and the character interaction is memorable because it’s so well written. One of Walter Matthau’s finest moments as an actor and Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley are wise beyond their years. Vic Morrow is fantastic as the antagonistic asshole Yankees coach, and the kids who play Tanner, Lupus, Engleberg and Ogilvie are unaffected and believable in their roles. One of the great movies of any genre, really.


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