If you ask Vern Law or Bruce Hurst, a couple of former Major League Baseball pitchers, nothing captures the spirit of baseball season like one movie — "The Sandlot" (rated PG).
The 1993 film features a rag-tag group of neighborhood kids with nicknames, a memorable incident at the city swimming pool, a multitude of lost baseballs involving a mysterious beast and "the biggest pickle any of us had ever been in."
"It's at the top of the list by a long shot for me," Hurst said. "There are a lot of elements of that in my childhood. I can relate to so much of that movie. I also loved how they portrayed the beauty of childhood, baseball, the innocence. It's just a beautiful, wonderful movie."
Hurst was a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers from 1980 to 1994.
Law, a right-hander, pitched for Pittsburgh for nearly two decades, leading the Pirates to the World Series title in 1960.
In timing with MLB's Opening Day April 3, Hurst and Law shared a short list of their favorite baseball movies and recommendations. A Denver Post article revealed a few insights on baseball movies by actor Kevin Costner. A Redbox survey also recommended a list of must-see baseball films.
After "The Sandlot," Hurst started with movies he saw when he was young. He enjoyed the 1942 film, "The Pride of the Yankees" (NR) featuring the life and career of Lou Gehrig.
"The Winning Team" (NR) a 1952 movie about Grover Cleveland Alexander, starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day, was another one that stood out.
Hurst became acquainted with Jimmy Piersall when Hurst played in Boston. Piersall's battle with mental illness was the subject of the 1957 film, "Fear Strikes Out" (NR). Hurst described the movie as "a little disturbing."
Hurst recommended the "The Natural" (1984, PG, Robert Redford), "Field of Dreams" (1989, PG, Kevin Costner), "A League of Their Own" (1992, PG, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis) and "Fever Pitch" (2005, PG-13, Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore).
Hurst called another Costner film, "Bull Durham" (1988, R), a classic.
"I can relate to a lot of that stuff in the minor leagues," Hurst said. "I can relate to a lot of those characters."
One movie Hurst didn't like was the 2011 film, "Moneyball" (PG-13) starring Brad Pitt. He didn't appreciate how his friend, former Oakland A's manager Art Howe (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), was portrayed in the film, among other things, he said.
"I didn't like the story," Hurst said. "Art Howe is a wonderful man, a great baseball manager; he did a lot. I didn't think they showed him well at all."
Hurst did give high marks to Ken Burns' documentary, "Baseball" (NR). When Hurst was a player, the Hall of Fame distributed a publication containing the bios of each Hall of Fame player and other interesting facts. He delighted in learning about the game's history and relished Burns' documentary.
"I liked to keep track of the shoulders we all stood on. They helped create a wonderful legacy and a wonderful game," Hurst said. "I really appreciated the documentary. It was good for me to see how the game has grown and blossomed, and then to be able to participate a little bit in the history was nice as well."
Law played in what he calls the "golden days of baseball," when players took the field for the love of the game, displayed loyalty and it wasn't about "how much money you can stuff in your pocket," he said.
In 2010, author John Moody wrote a book titled, "Kiss It Good-bye," which featured Law and the 1960s Pittsburgh Pirates.
For Law, the best baseball movies were true to life with a good storyline. Some films, such as "Field of Dreams," are a little "far-fetched" but still entertaining to watch, he said.
Like Hurst, Law is a big fan of "The Sandlot." He liked the story and the film's authentic feel. It also brings back fond memories of growing up in Idaho, Law said.
"We played on a sandlot all summer," Law said. "There was no little league back then."
It was interesting for Law to see "The Babe" (1992, PG, John Goodman) because he remembers meeting George Herman "Babe" Ruth, and even has an autographed baseball. He also liked "The Natural," having become acquainted with Redford.
"It made them more interesting to me," Law said.
Another player Law recalls is Jackie Robinson, depicted in the 2013 film, "42" (PG-13). Law greatly respects Robinson and liked the movie. He recalled playing against Robinson in one game where the African-American baseball pioneer got a base hit, then proceeded to steal second, third and home to beat the Pirates.
"I liked Jackie as an individual," Law said. "I felt bad about how he was treated. He's a better man than me by far. I could not have taken what he took, sliding into second base and having a guy stand over you and spit on you, call you every name in the book. Believe me, for him not to respond, to ignore it and not retaliate, you can’t say enough good about Jackie. He was an intelligent man who went to UCLA, served in the service, and to have a career like he had was amazing. I have nothing but all the respect in the world for Jackie Robinson."
Costner and baseball movies
A 2011 article in the Denver Post featured Costner, who has starred in several sports movies over the years.
In the article, Costner was asked what his favorite sports movie to make was and his answer involved two baseball movies — "Bull Durham" and "For Love of the Game" (1999, PG-13).
"In both of those movies I got to play a lot of baseball, which I loved, and the baseball action looked real. And 'For Love of the Game' was made in Yankee Stadium, so that was an incredible experience," Costner said in the article. "In 'Bull Durham,' I really liked the man-to-woman dialogue and the romance in that movie."
Costner went on to say later in the article that "For Love of the Game" influenced his life the most because the movie was dealing with a person at the crossroads of his life, and "everyone can relate to that," Costner said in the article.
An interesting sidenote to that film is that Costner loved having longtime Los Angeles Dodgers radio broadcaster Vin Scully in the movie.
"He was beautiful. He didn’t have a script, just a few story guides, and he made that stuff up as he went along, and it was truly great," Costner said in the article. "He did it so well in one scene that we asked him to do another take, just because he was so good we wanted to listen to him again."2 comments on this story
Costner also discussed the origins of his baseball passion and said he admired Gary Cooper's performance in "Pride of the Yankees."
Redbox baseball movie survey
More than a 1,000 people ranked their top 10 favorite baseball movies in a March 2017 survey sponsored by Redbox.
The list (in order) includes: "Field of Dreams," "A League of Their Own," "The Sandlot," "Major League (1989, R)" "Angels in the Outfield" (1994, PG), "Bad News Bears" (1976, PG), "The Natural," "Bull Durham," "Rookie of the Year" (1993, PG) and "Moneyball."