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It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.

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The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.

Someone finally took all those crazy baseball statistics the kids in the cheap seats kept for years with pencils to scorecards and used them to make the game smarter.  Beane is played coolly by Brad Pitt, with a sidekick accountant played by Jonah Hill, a defiant manager played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Chris Pratt as rookie first baseman Scott Hatteberg.  You’ll have a new appreciation for the game, and will probably become a believer, especially after so many teams have seen success from playing the stats as the A’s did.

The 1980s was a decade full of baseball movies.  We’ve selected three movies that define the best and worst of baseball from this great crop of films.

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First the worst side of baseball, yet an entrenched piece of the game’s mythology.  Eight Men Out, from 1988, features a remarkable all-star cast, showing the golden age of the game, and one of its most infamous stories.  In 1919 baseball was that escape everyone needed.  Kids idolized baseball players and we first see baseball players as gods in the eyes of diehard fans across the country.  But where money is involved you will also find corruption.  In 1919 several players on the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to lose the World Series, reportedly because owner Charles Comiskey failed to share the rewards of the game with his players.

John Cusack plays Buck Weaver, D.B. Sweeney plays Shoeless Joe Jackson, Michael Rooker is Chick Gandil, Clifton James plays Comiskey, plus David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd, and Charlie Sheen co-star.  As baseball flicks are concerned, you can’t lose with Eight Men Out.

The next two films illustrate baseball as American legend, and truly reflect the magic, spirit, and lore of the game.

The Natural

Like Eight Men Out, 1984’s The Natural features a stellar cast of actors.  Based on a novel from the 1950s, The Natural pulls together all the good and bad of the game, following a fictional player named Roy Hobbs, played by the inimitable Robert Redford, who comes out of nowhere to instill an almost divine influence into becoming a legend in the game.  Beginning as a 19-year-old, Hobbs meets a crowd of interesting sorts as he makes his rise to fame.  Look for key career performances by Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Wilford Brimley, Michael Madsen, Daren McGavin, and Kim Basinger.  In documenting baseball as something legendary and mystical, only one other movie surpasses The Natural.

And that movie is 1989’s Field of Dreams, a film so successful with fans that the field in the movie has been played on by real-life legends and tens of thousands of visitors in the past 25 years.  As with The Natural, Field of Dreams is a fictional story with a magical twist, also based on a novel.  Writer/director Phil Alden Robinson created one of the greatest films in the history of American film, making several American Film Institute lists include #6 in its “ten best fantasy” category.

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Field of Dreams calls back the mystery and conflicts from the 1919 White Sox team recounted in Eight Men Out.  Part fantasy, part fairy tale, part ghost story, Field of Dreams stars Kevin Costner in what is probably his best, low-key performance, with brilliant performances by James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan, and Frank Whaley.  Like the best, most famous and memorable quotes for golf come from Caddyshack, the best quotes from baseball come from Field of Dreams.

Again, all five of these great baseball movies can be streamed now on Amazon Prime, with Eight Men Out and The Natural available to subscribers for free, and Pride of the Yankees, Field of Dreams, and Moneyball available for viewing for less than $4.  Click on the titles above to take you to the streaming links on Amazon now.

Enjoy the rest of the World Series, and… Play Ball!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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