REVIEW: Baseball: The Movie by Noah Gittell

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Featuring Field of Dreams, The Bad News Bears, A League of Their Own, and more: a probing and entertaining work at the intersection of pop culture and sports Baseball has always been a symbol as much as a sport. With a blend of individual confrontation and team play, a luxurious pace, and an immaculate urban parkland setting, it offers a sunny rendering of the American Dream, both the hard work that underpins it and the rewards it promises. Film, America’s other national pastime, which magnifies and mythologizes all it touches, has long been the ideal medium to canonize this aspirational idea.

Baseball: The Movie is the first definitive history of this film genre that was born in 1915 and remains artistically and culturally vital more than a century later. Writer and critic Noah Gittell sheds light on well-known classics and overlooked gems, exploring how baseball cinema creates a stage upon which the American ideal is born, performed, and repeatedly redefined.

Traversing history and mythmaking, cynicism and nostalgia, this thoroughly researched book takes readers on a multifaceted tour of baseball on film.

NOTE – I don’t mention all the books featured in the book


Baseball as a sport has never been a favorite of mine. I agree with one of the people Gittell interviews who says the sport is sort of … boring. My view is it’s mainly men standing around, spitting tobacco juice, and shifting their athletic cups. Or scratching their balls. But baseball movies? Now those I actually seem to like. When I was offered the arc for this book, I debated a bit then went out and rented or streamed some of the movies that I hadn’t already seen. Yep, baseball movies I (mostly) like.

Gittell discusses various movies that have baseball in them and then (often) links those movies into the zeitgeist of the decade during which the films were released. It starts with “The Pride of the Yankees” in 1942, which was tied, through an opening statement, to the men being sent into battle in World War II, and how many of those young men would die early, as had Lou Gehrig. Gehrig’s already patriotic German immigrant parents also become wholesome all-Americans through their love of the game. “The Stratton Story,” which made use of Jimmy Stewart’s (probable) PTSD from his combat experience in how his character reacts to the loss of his leg which evokes that of the amputees returning from war.

Not all the movies are great ones. “The Babe Ruth Story”(pretty bad) and “Angels in the Outfield” (not so bad) come along when religion is sweeping the country (remember all those Bible epics of the 50s?). “The Jackie Robinson Story” painfully (due to the acting and the racism) takes on breaking the color barrier but makes Robinson a saint dependent on a White Savior. “Damn Yankees” speaks to the postwar disillusionment of returning vets and a desire to return to youth but then firmly sends “Joe” back to his suburban American Dream life with his wife.

Zip forward to the 70s and America is in a funk and disillusioned. “Bingo Long and the Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings” comes along during the Blaxplotation era and finally tells the story of the now defunct (due to the color barrier being broken) Negro League. It showcases a lot of talent and has great costumes but angered some former players in how Negro League players were shown. “The (original) Bad News Bears” could probably only have been made in the mid 70s when obscenities from the mouths of babes and a female pitcher echoed our cynical post Watergate/women’s lib era.

The 80s brought America a longing for nostalgia – or the politicians sold us on thinking we did. “The Natural” also proved to Hollywood that people do want to pay to see a movie about baseball and “Field of Dreams” swept viewers along with a frankly astonishing story about risking your livelihood to build a baseball field to get some ghosts to play there. By the late 80s greed was good and “Eight Men Out” along with “Major League” have nasty team owners determined to penny pinch their players.

“Bull Durham” focuses on the minors and its demystification of the sport probably belongs more in the 70s. “A League of Their Own” covers the AAGPBL and finally shows women in roles other than Supportive Wife. What these two films also do is portray players other than Major League men. “The Sandlot” harks back to a time as the director wishes it had been. “Rookie of the Year” and “Little Big League” show another wish fulfillment of average athletes suddenly becoming a pro or being in charge of a MLB team.

In a way aspects of “Little Big League” foreshadow “Moneyball” while “Trouble with the Curve” might have been intended to show that MLB isn’t quite ready to discard scouts the way “Moneyball” does. 42 basically repeats most of what made “The Jackie Robinson Story” a bland telling of what Robinson went through (though with better acting) while “Fences” actually does show the cost to one man of the delay in allowing Black men to enter the major leagues. One film I’d like to see is 2009’s “Sugar” which (according to Latino players who’ve seen it) is one of the few movies to show a realistic portrayal of Latinos in the game. The final chapter covers faith based baseball movies. Yes, these exist.

Getting ready to read the book did get me to watch some films I’d never considered seeing as well as ones I’ve always meant to try. Some worked for me, others I liked parts of (Harry Doyle and “Wild Thing”), while a few were duds. Reading this book explained certain aspects of these movies such as how good the baseball scenes are or aren’t (there has been a lot of creative artistry used to make actors look like real ballplayers), tied films into their time frame, and has made me curious to tackle a few more. Gittell writes well and as a fan obviously passionate about and knows his baseball stuff. He even tosses in some trivia filled intermission sections. Play Ball! B


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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