While flipping through the channels last night around 10:30 PM, I came across one of the all-time classic baseball movies…The Sandlot. For me, and hopefully anyone with a soul and an ounce of love for baseball, this movie is a go-to. No matter what is happening, or what else is on the boob tube, if I see this movie on I have to stop and watch it. Sometimes I will watch for ten minutes. Other times I will plant my rump on the couch to enjoy the cinematic masterpiece in its entirety. The story, the characters, the Beast…it is all just so enthralling. Don’t even get me started on Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. What kid didn’t want to be him? Anyways, it got me to thinking about where this movie ranks on my list of Best Baseball Movies of All-Time. Automatically it surpasses movies like, The Natural, A League of Their Own, Major League, The Bad News Bears, and Eight Men Out. After eliminating these movies (which are all great movies) it came down to my final three: Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and The Sandlot. No matter which way I looked at these three movies, no matter how many times I tried to convince myself otherwise, Field of Dreams kept finishing with the bronze. Now left with only Bull Durham and The Sandlot to duke it out for the belt, I had to dig deep into the depths of my own being to declare an out and out winner. There would be no ties. No sitting on the fence here, as one movie had to be a homerun and another would only have warning track power.
Now before I delve in to the particulars of each movie, it needs to be understood that each movie appeals to a different side of the baseball fan inside of me. Obviously The Sandlot is geared to the young child in me and Bull Durham is for the older, slightly more adult side (if that even exists) of me. Nevertheless, I was compelled to find a something in one movie or the other that would allow a champion to be crowned.
Let us first start with the main characters, the protagonists if you will. Sandlot has the aforementioned Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. This kid was Joe Cool. He was obviously the best player of the bunch. He was the leader of the team and whatever he said went. He was also a first-rate guy. When Scotty Smalls moves in, Benny goes out of his way to befriend the new kid. He invites him to the yard. He puts the kid on the field without hesitation or reservations. He makes the rest of the team accept him as one of theirs. He even gives Smalls an old cap of his so that Scotty no longer has to wear that ridiculous fishing hat to the ball field. The Jet also does the unthinkable and pickles The Beast (more on that later). To top it all off, the Jet turns out to have a long enough career for him to lose a step or two and still steal home, all as Smalls does the color commentary from the booth while wearing that ridiculous hat he starts the movie off wearing. I still wish I could be that guy when I grow up.
Bull Durham’s answer to The Jet is Crash Davis, an old, washed up catcher, clinging to life as a pro ball player in the minor leagues. Crash is great, and Costner does a great job of portraying the jaded side that I can only come along with someone in Crash’s shoes. The way he handles Nuke LaLoosh is classic. It’s the old story of one generation begrudgingly passing the torch to the younger, star-in-the-making, bonus baby. Along the way, Crash teaches the guys all kinds of lessons, ranging from how to handle an interview, to how to get a rainout. The love triangle that he, Nuke, and Annie find themselves in provides plenty of laughs as well.
As much as I enjoy Crash’s character, Benny the Jet wins this one hands down.
Now on to the stories themselves. The Sandlot gives us a story about a new kid in town who doesn’t fit in. He is a nerdy, unathletic, kid, who knows nothing about baseball. He and his stepdad don’t get along. Smalls finally earns the respect and friendship of the group only to ruin his summer by making the hugest mistake anyone could ever make. He brings his stepdad’s Babe Ruth autographed ball to play with and ends up hitting a homerun into the yard behind the field that is protected by The Beast. The whole gang schemes as many different ways as they can to retrieve that ball only to fail epically each and every time. Finally Benny pickles the beast, gets the ball back, only to find out that they should have just gone to the front door of the house to ask for it back. Nothing complicated here. Just a good old story for the kids.
With Bull Durham, we have a much different story. Not only is it much, much more adult oriented, it also revolves around professional baseball. The comedy is hilarious. I especially love the way that the team groupie, Ann, sees the game of baseball. She has nuke wearing a garter belt and breathing through his eyelids. Truly comical. Or how about when Nuke hits the bull with a wild pitch? The love triangle between the three characters creates such complexities in the different relationships though. It is these relationships that allow for the viewer to truly love those characters. And when you truly love the characters, the story, in and of itself, becomes great. And with that, I have to take Bull Durham here.
For all other matters, I feel like the movies are on pretty equal playing fields. There is however, one aspect that sends one movie over the wall for a homerun, while the other falls just short at the warning track.
Think about all of the memories you have that involve baseball. Now answer this question. What is it about baseball that keeps you so passionate about the game? For me that answer is simple. Because it’s so damn fun. There is nothing better than being with your friends on a baseball field, or in the bleachers catching a game, or just sitting at home watching a game on TV. Fun is the reason anybody keeps playing baseball long enough to become a professional. Fun is the reason guys are willing to sacrifice so much to make baseball the job. Fun is why guys like Nolan Ryan or Mariano Rivera play for so long. Fun is why people despise cheaters. It’s not about the win and losses. It’s about the joy that fills your heart, gets pumped through your veins, and lifts you high above the clouds. It’s why I dream of having a son to play catch with in the front yard. Baseball is the most fun I can imagine having, especially when I am partaking in some form of baseball with all the people I love. As my pops always told me, “You know why an umpire says play ball to start a game? Because it’s fun. Never forget that. When it’s not fun anymore, that’s when you know something’s wrong.”
And that is exactly what the Sandlot represents. No disrespect to Bull Durham, but it really does not hold a candle to The Sandlot, or the way The Sandlot makes me melt emotionally. Playing ball. With your buddies. Not for money. Not for fame. Not for the glitz and glamour and spotlight. But playing because it’s fun. It’s the reason why any of us still care today, no matter what age you are. And with that, I emphatically declare The Sandlot to be the Best Baseball Movie of all-time. You might even say that his movie is legendary. And like the Babe said, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”
(Author’s note: As I put the finishing punctuation on this article, The Sandlot came to an end. The scene where Smalls and Benny go inside the house of Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones, who oddly enough also starred in Field of Dreams) played out in front of me. You know the one, where upon finding out the boys’ dilemma, Mr. Mertle decides to trade them baseballs and give them one signed by the 1927 Yankees. I willingly admit that I became choked up. No tears, but embarrassingly close.)
(Second Author’s Note: While reviewing and editing this article The Sandlot 2 came on. I had never seen this movie before. Within 5 minutes I violently threw up in my mouth, turned the TV off, and went to bed.)