Best Baseball Movies

Golden Age (1930-1969)

best to worst

1. Pride Of the Yankees (1942)... The life of Lou Gehrig could very well be the best baseball movie ever made. It casts Gary Cooper perfectly as the Iron Horse with Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan in supporting roles. Babe Ruth, Joe McCarthy, Bill Dickey, Bob Muesel and Mark Koenig have cameos. Nominated for best picture, as was Wright for best actress. Ex-National League slugger Lefty O'Doul tutored the right-handed Cooper as best he could. (Ex-Dodger star Babe Herman doubled for Cooper in the long shots.) Final sequence extremely moving. Filmed at the ubiquitous Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (home of the PCL Angels) where most of the ballpark scenes were filmed prior to 1960 including 1959's syndicated TV show, Home Run Derby.

2. The Stratton Story (1949)... The story of White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, whose leg was amputated at age 26 after a hunting accident, was a box office smash starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. Frank Morgan steals a few scenes as manager Barney Wiles. Stratton, who was an active advisor on the set, won 36 games in his brief career with a trick pitch he called the gander. Ex-players Jimmy Dykes, Bill Dickey, Spec Shea, Ted Lyons and active (at the time) players Luke Appling, Gene Beardon, Lou Novikoff and George Vico appear. Won an Oscar for best story. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field and Gilmore Park as well as scenes in Comiskey Park, Cleveland Stadium, Griffith Stadium and Tiger Stadium.

3. It Happens Every Spring (1949)... An unpretentious comedy that stars Ray Milland, a college physics professor, who accidentally invents a formula that, when applied to a baseball, makes it impossible to hit. (Methol Ethyl Propin Butyl if anybody asks.) Then, as alias King Kelly, he leads St. Louis to a pennant. Paul Douglas co-stars as his catcher, Monk Lanigan. Jean Peters, Ed Begley and Ray Collins also star. Hollywood special effects wizard Fred Sersen did wonders with the ball-hopping effects. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

4. The Kid from Left Field (1953)... Dan Dailey stars as Pop Cooper, an ex-ballplayer turned ballpark vendor whose temper has kept him from a managing job. Through a strange twist of events, he manages by proxy through his young son. The film is simple but captures the feel of the ballpark very well. Lloyd Bridges, Anne Bancroft, Billy Chapin and Ray Collins co-star. Also appearing are ex-Indian John Berardino (later a star on General Hospital), umpire John "Beans" Reardon, announcer Hank Scott (later the host of TV's Home Run Derby in 1959) and Fess Parker (Disney's Davey Crockett). Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

5. Alibi Ike (1935)... Could be Joe E. Brown's best role as the Ring Lardner character (pitcher Francis X. Farrell loosely based on Harry Covaleskie and Dizzy Dean) that just has to have an excuse for everything. "I could've won more than thirty games last season but I had malaria for half the year." Brown's entrance scene in a broken down jalopy during spring training is a classic, as is his unusual windmill windup and the final scene in a night game. William Frawley and Olivia de Haviland (her debut) co-star. Several big leaguers also appear including Bob and Irish Meusel, Smead Jolley and Babe Pinelli. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

6. The Winning Team (1952)... Ronald Reagan stars in one of his better roles portraying the difficult life of Hall Of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. Co-starring Doris Day as the wife, this movie concentrates too much on her contribution to his success while taking other liberties as well. The movie shines when it gets back to the subject at hand from his neurological disorder to his heroic 1926 World Series save in game seven (he struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the eighth inning). Bob Lemon, Hank Sauer, Irv Noren, Gerry Priddy, Al Zarilla, Peanuts Lowery, George Metkovich and Gene Mauch appear as big leaguers. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

7. Pride of St. Louis (1952)... The story of Dizzy Dean capably played by Dan Dailey. Richard Crenna co-stars as brother Paul. Film is entertaining but misses the mark laugh-wise, especially considering the subject matter. Frankie Frisch (the real manager of the 1934 pennant winners) appears in the film. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field although special effects man Fred Sersen did a good job disguising the field to make it look like other parks.

8. Fear Strikes Out (1957)... Anthony Perkins is believable (but only off the field as Perkins is a natural left-hander) as the troubled Jimmy Piersall who suffered a mental breakdown in his early years with the Boston Red Sox. Best line is by Karl Malden as Jimmy's father speaking to him in the mental hospital about his success as a ballplayer: "If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be where you are today!" In reality though, the real Piersall breakdown did not have much to do with his father nor did it happen on the playing field. But, even though grossly embellished, the climbing-the-screen scene is not to be missed. Also starring Norma Moore, Adam Williams and Bart Burns.

9. The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)... Stars Jackie as himself in a low-budget but effective portrayal of the racial tensions pervading his career. Ruby Dee co-stars as his wife. Filmed at old La Palma Park in Anaheim. Robinson later said that he wished the film would have been made by a bigger studio but did not like the script changes they wanted to make. His stand against racism in the Army was detailed in the made-for-cable movie, The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson (1990).

10. Elmer the Great (1933)... Brown again stars in another Lardner gem about country bumpkin ballplayer Elmer Kane (based on Big Ed Walsh) that gets mixed up with the underworld. Not as funny as Alibi Ike but still worth viewing. The final inning in the rain shouldn’t be missed. Several ballplayers appear including Babe Herman, Charlie Root, Larry French, Tuck Stainback and George Burns. Based on the play Hurry Kane. Filmed in L.A.'s Wrigley Field. Patricia Ellis, Frank McHugh also star.

11. The Babe Ruth Story (1948)... Sentimental telling of Babe's story with the non-athletic William Bendix in the title role. This movie gets nothing but bad press but can be entertaining if you do not take it seriously. Ruth was dying from cancer during the shooting and could not be of any technical assistance. (He died a month after it's release.) Screenwriter Grantland Rice wanted to make sure that Ruth's legend remained intact, which explains the film's overly sentimental flavor. William Frawley, Charles Bickford and Claire Trevor co-star. Mark Koenig, Bucky Harris and Mel Allen play themselves.

12. Angels in the Outfield (1951)... The original is a true fantasy with angels from heaven looking out for the dreadful Pittsburgh Pirates. Stars Paul Douglas (as manager Guffy McGovern), Janet Leigh and Keenan Wynn. Cameos by Bing Crosby, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio. Shot in and around Forbes Field.

13. Rhubarb (1951)... Hokey script of a cat inheriting a baseball team but they pull it off well. The movie was actually based on a best-seller by H. Allen Smith whose book was a satire on society in general and the legal system in particular. Veteran cast includes Ray Milland, William Frawley and Jan Sterling. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

14. The Kid from Cleveland (1949)... Several Tribesman, hot off their 1948 championship, have cameos in this youth-gone-astray story. Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Satchell Paige and others have speaking lines and the footage taken at the old Stadium make this a must for Indian fans although the acting is quite stiff. George Brent, Lynn Bari, Ann Doran and Rusty Tamblyn are the principal members of the cast.

15. Safe At Home! (1962)... The only baseball movie made in the 60's finds a young boy caught in a lie about being friends with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. M&M star as themselves (though quite stiffly) with cameos by Whitey Ford and manager Ralph Houk. Old friend Bill Frawley is there to make sure everyone behaves. A curiosity at best but fun for fans. Filmed on location in Ft. Lauderdale during spring training in 1962 after Roger's big 61 home run season. Also stars Patricia Barry, Don Collier and Bryan Russell as Hutch.

16. Kill the Umpire (1950)... William Bendix, Una Merkel, Ray Collins, William Frawley. Comedy featuring the problems of umpire Bill Johnson which ends in a rousing chase-scene climax. Bendix (with his encyclopedic knowledge) and Frawley (part owner of the PCL's Hollywood Stars) were two of the biggest baseball fans in Hollywood at the time. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

17. The Big Leaguer (1953)... Edward G. Robinson, Vera-Ellen, Jeff Richards, Richard Jaeckel. Robinson plays real-life scout Hans Lobert in charge of a New York Giants rookie camp in Florida (filmed on location). The film successfully captures the feel of a real training camp. Hall-of-Famer Carl Hubbell appears as himself.

18. Roogie's Bump (1954)... Taunted little Roogie Rigsby is all of a sudden blessed with a powerful arm thanks to the "spirit" of deceased ex-ballplayer Red O'Malley. He winds up pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kind of a 50's version of Rookie of the Year. Stars Robert Marriot, Ruth Warrick and William Harrigan. Members of the current (at the time) Dodgers appear as themselves including Roy Campanella, Billy Loes, Russ Meyer and Carl Erskine. Campy is bowled over by one of Roogie's pitches too.

19. Death on the Diamond (1934)... Robert Young, Madge Evans, Ted Healy. A murder mystery filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field and the old Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. Several ballplayers appear including the Cardinals Ernie Orsatti who is shot as he crosses the plate.

20. It Happened In Flatbush (1942)... Lloyd Nolan, Carole Landis, William Frawley. The real Dodgers pennant winners of 1941 inspired this story of new owner getting losing team back on track. Nolan’s character was based on Leo Durocher. Lots of newsreel footage of Ebbetts Field included from 1941 World Series. Mickey Owen, Dolf Camilli, Billy Herman, Pewee Reese, Arky Vaughan, Dixie Walker, Cookie Lavagetto, Peter Reiser, and pitchers Hugh Casey, Whitlow Wyatt, and Freddie Fitzimmons have cameos. Scotty Beckett, who was the cute one on the Little Rascals, played the batboy. His life turned to alcohol and drugs in the 50s and 60s as he finally took his own life in 1968.

Other talkies (some just two-reelers) in chronological order include:

Fast Company (1929)... Jack Oakie, Evelyn Brent, Skeets Gallagher. Original version of Hurry Kane that was remade into Elmer the Great. Many ballplayers appear including Irish Muesel, Jigger Statz, Truck Hannah and Ivy Olson.

Hot Curves (1930)... Benny Rubin, Rex Lease, Alice Day, Pert Kelton, John Ince. Early romantic comedy. Also in the cast is Turkey Mike Donlin, an ex-professional ballplayer of exceptional talent who tried to combine acting and playing baseball at one time.

They Learned About Women (1930)... Gus Van, Joe Schenk, Bessie Love. J.C. Nugent, Benny Rubin, Mary Doran. Early baseball musical updated in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” Partially filmed in old Yankee Stadium. Panned shot of outfield prior to the World Series scenes shows the bleachers prior to the upper grandstand installation. Also, during rain delay, grounds crew places pieces of tarp on the field rather than rolling one large piece. One of Nina Mae McKinney’s rare appearances in a standard movie.

Slide, Speedy, Slide (1931)... Mack Sennett comedy starring Daphne Pollard as the star of the girls’ baseball team.

The Loud Mouth (1932)... Stars Matt McHugh as a loud-mouthed fan.

Fireman, Save My Child (1932)... Joe E. Brown, Evalyn Knapp, Lilian Bond, Guy Kibbee. Brown stars as pitcher/inventor.fireman Smokey Joe Grant in Brown's first baseball comedy. Major Leaguers Ernie Orsatti and Jim Crandall appear as ballplayers. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

Stealin' Home (1932)... James Gleason comedy. Also starring Mae Busch and Eddie Gribbon with a script by popular sports humorist Bugs Baer.

Too Many Women (1932)... High School pitcher Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman play teenagers in love. Both originally starred in the silent Our Gang comedies and some flashback scenes are included in this movie.

Swell Head (1935)... Wallace Ford, Dickie Moore, Barbara Kent. Lead character gets beaned and nearly goes blind. Turkey Mike Donlin, a veteran of 12 big league seasons and several Hollywood movies, makes his last appearance in a baseball movie before his death.

One Run Elmer (1935)... A Buster Keaton comedy of endless sight gags. Two bad it's only a two-reeler. Shot in the same California desert town where the Bad News Bears was filmed.

Dizzy & Daffy (1935)... The Deans, hot of a world championship, play themselves with comic relief provided by Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges. The boys cannot act but the film allows us to see them close up in action. Great shot of Ole Diz going into his famous windup and firing a hummer right at the camera.

Girls Can Play (1937)... Jacqueline Wells, Charles Quigley, Rita Hayworth. Women's League version of Death on the Diamond.

Gracie at the Bat (1937)… Andy Clyde, Ann Doran. The adventures of a women's softball team.

The Heckler (1940)... Veteran comedian Charley Chase plays an obnoxious fan in a funny, rapid-fire movie but on-the-field baseball action is few and far between.

Whistling In Brooklyn (1943)... Red Skelton. Skelton plays radio sleuth "The Fox" trying to elude gangsters by donning a beard and playing with the Battling Beavers, a House of David-like team. Filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field.

Ladies Day (1943)... Lupe Velez, Eddie Albert, Patsy Kelly, Jerome Cowan, Max Baer, Sr. Forgettable romantic comedy that follows the exploits of Sox star pitcher Wacky Walters who loses his effectiveness whenever he falls in love.

Mr. Noisy (1946)... Shemp Howard in remake of The Heckler. This was the last baseball two-reeler ever made.

Take Me out To the Ballgame (1949)... Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Edward Arnold. Musical depicting turn-of-the-century double play combo. Average at best and Sinatra is not an athlete.

The Great American Pastime (1956)... Tom Ewell, Anne Francis, Ann Miller, Dean Jones, Raymond Bailey. The first feature length motion picture about Little League. An attractive widow has designs on Bruce Hallerton, the coach of the little league Panthers that causes problems with his wife.

Damn Yankees (1958)... Gwen Verdon, Tab Hunter, Ray Walston. Rousing musical in which Joe Boyd sells his soul to beat the Yankees. Based on the 1954 novel, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant.

 

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