Sports movies are one of the staples of cinematic history. Even those who don't like sports can occasionally find excitement and inspiration in tales of heartbreak and triumph. While most sports have been featured on the big screen, boxing and baseball have produced some of the most diverse and high quality stories. A discussion of what is the best baseball movie might yield twenty different responses from twenty different people, but the opinion of one of the giants of the game carries some weight. Number 8, the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Junior has weighed in on what he thinks is the best baseball movie, choosing Bull Durham as his pick. The former Baltimore Orioles shortstop and third baseman championed Bull Durham's accuracy in capturing the different aspects of the game, saying:
The screenwriter for Bull Durham, Ron Shelton, played for my dad in the minors. The baseball vernacular at that time was a certain way, like they all called each other 'Meat' --- 'What's up, Meat? How's it going, Meat?' Shelton put that all in the movie, and watching it takes me back to that time, when I was 10 or 11, listening to all those guys. There's one part I like, an interaction between a veteran catcher and a rookie pitcher. The pitcher keeps shaking off the catchers' advice, so the catcher, Kevin Costner, goes back and tells the batter for the other team what's coming. And that illustrates the reality of baseball: You can have a lot of individual talent, but you have to work with the team to accomplish the goal.
So Cal Ripken has a connection to the screenwriter and director of Bull Durham, Ron Shelton, who played for the Baltimore Orioles farm team. The point Ripken makes though about how the film captures a certain time period in baseball is interesting. With any sort of film about a profession, be it a sport or otherwise, there are a lot of things that the audience just accepts. But when you see a movie about something you know so well, it is hard not to be extra discerning and critical. Cal Ripken knows baseball well. The former Oriole broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, and ended his streak with 2,632 games, a mark that will probably never be broken. Whereas you or I might not pick up on certain things or take them for granted, they will not go unnoticed to someone like Cal Ripken. The little details of the game are well known to Cal Ripken, and Bull Durham taking him back to that is high praise.
It is these details that put Bull Durham over the top for the Iron Man. Just the way baseball players speak to one another and interact is integral to the experience and authenticity of the film. Thanks to Ron Shelton living the life of a baseball player (and being talented enough to also be a filmmaker), he was able to bring a level of authenticity to Bull Durham that not every other baseball film has. Of course, speaking to the Washington Post, Cal Ripken, the consummate professional who always showed up, also emphasized the importance of teamwork that Bull Durham captures. Check out the scene below to see what Cal Ripken was talking about.
There is no single answer to what is the best baseball movie, though I guess I'm a bit of a Sandlot man myself. But as long as the game is played, sports movies still speak to us, and the debate will rage on over which of them is the best. Also, why isn't there a Cal Ripken movie yet?