High Five: Baseball movies to watch in honor of the start of the season

With baseball in full swing, Cubs and White Sox fans can unite in their joy of a new season … well, to a point.

In addition to the games, it’s also the time of year when you’ll stumble upon a random baseball movie marathon. With that in mind, I decided to present a list of my five favorite baseball movies — my dream marathon.

It’s not a definitive list of the “best,” but personal taste. You’ll notice a bias toward movies from the last 50 years. With all due respect to classics such as “Pride of the Yankees” and “Fear Strikes Out,” to me they don’t hold up as well as the more modern movies.

Also, I’ve left out popular favorites such as “The Sandlot” and “42.” Sorry but, again, personal opinion.

5. “A League of Their Own,” 1992

Penny Marshall’s look at the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s hits the right notes in so many ways. The baseball scenes are stirring, as is the epic dance scene featuring Madonna and Eddie “The Big Ragu” Mekka, a pal of Marshall’s from her “Laverne & Shirley” days.

The soul of the movie, though, is the relationship between the Hinson sisters played by Geena Davis and Lori Petty. Davis, playing catcher Dottie Hinson, is the Caitlin Clark of her time, carrying the upstart women’s league to tremendous heights while many of the top male baseball players are serving their country during World War II.

From the classic Tom Hanks line — “There’s no crying in baseball” — to the climactic championship game, “A League of Their Own” delivers.

4. “Eight Men Out,” 1988

Writer-director John Sayles had a tough task telling a story so personal to White Sox fans and baseball purists. But this is a terrific watch.

Unpacking the 1919 “Black Sox” gambling scandal begins with a tremendous cast anchored by John Cusack as third baseman Buck Weaver, David Strathairn as pitcher Eddie Cicotte and John Mahoney as manager Kid Gleason.

Gordon Clapp is a scene-stealer as catcher Ray Schalk, who isn’t part of the scheme by eight White Sox players to throw the World Series for money.

The heartbreak of losing to the Reds and the subsequent scandal coming to light still hits home.

3. “The Bad News Bears,” 1976

Eleven-year-old Tatum O’Neal, right, and Walter Matthau star in The Bad News Bears. Associated Press

There’s no way this movie could get made today. (And, no, I’m not acknowledging the lousy 2005 remake.)

But that’s part of what makes the original so great. It is quintessential 1970s.

Screen legend Walter Matthau is paid to manage a ragtag group of youth baseball players who aren’t allowed to play in a league because they’re deemed not good enough.

From foul-mouthed runt Tanner Boyle to outfielder Ahmad Abdul-Rahim trying in vain to play like his hero, Hank Aaron, it’s a team going nowhere until Matthau finds a ringer center fielder (Jackie Earle Haley as Kelly Leak) and a superstar pitcher from his past (Tatum O'Neal as Amanda Whurlizer).

Some of the language is sketchy, and today’s audience may cringe at the young kids smoking and chugging beers.

But there’s a lot to learn from the Bears. Always stand up for yourself, and accept that you don’t always win.

And, as Timmy Lupus says, “Just wait ‘til next year!”

2. “Sugar,” 2008

A true gem.

Miguel “Sugar” Santos is a standout pitcher living in the Dominican Republic who plays at a professional baseball academy near his small village.

Eventually signed to a minor-league deal, Sugar is assigned to a team in Iowa where he experiences culture shock, a language barrier, bigotry and isolation.

Sugar’s journey is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring while he tries to navigate responsibility to his family back home with his dreams of playing pro ball. And then there’s the search for simple happiness and acceptance.

It’s remarkable storytelling by writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

1. “Bang the Drum Slowly,” 1973

A very young Robert De Niro plays a ballplayer with an incurable illness in the sentimental sports drama “Bang the Drum Slowly.” File photo

Apologies to those expecting to see “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” or “The Natural,” but Robert DeNiro’s take on a dying New York Yankee still resonates.

As the personal catcher of pitcher Henry Wiggen, played by Michael Moriarty, DeNiro’s Bruce Pearson is barely hanging on to a major-league job. When Pearson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and Wiggen keep the illness secret for as long as they can.

Pearson’s teammates ride him constantly, making fun of his lack of talent and dimwitted persona. When they learn of Pearson’s illness, though, they begin treating him better and the team starts piling up wins.

The fascinating locker room dynamics and warm relationship between Wiggen and Pearson make this a worthy No. 1 pick. It’s DeNiro just before his unbelievable run from “Mean Streets” to “The Godfather Part II” and “Taxi Driver,” which alone makes it a must watch.

It’s a baseball “Brian’s Song,” but with a cynical edge in addition to raw emotion.

Honorable mention

“61*,” 2001; “Bull Durham,” 1988; “Everybody Wants Some!!” 2016; “Field of Dreams,” 1989; “Major League,” 1989; “Moneyball,” 2011; “The Natural,” 1984.

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