As a Little League baseball coach, life can come at you fast. There’s the random injury or misplay that can lead to a kid’s complete meltdown and some days you show up to the field and a church group has set up a moonbounce in left field when you’re supposed to have practice. But some things are universal. Kids and baseball are a classic combination.
And for a stretch in the early-to-mid-’90s, we were treated to virtual treasure trove of not only baseball movies, but baseball movies specifically for kids. As a kid playing baseball during those years, it was a treasure for which I had no appreciation. Fast forward 20 years, and at our team’s end of the year pizza party, many of those films are still relevant.
So, let’s take a look at the top five 1990s movies for kids about baseball.
Honorable Mention: “Major League II”
Let’s be clear, I was extremely conflicted about this movie’s place on the list. It’s not exactly about kids, but as the sequel to the far darker “Major League” it was definitely intended to bring in a younger audience. There are no curse words and it is definitely much funnier than its predecessor. Trust me. If you’re not intimately familiar (I happen to know this movie by heart), then most of the things you think you laughed at in “Major League” are actually in the sequel.
That aside, it’s a great film. The story line is fantastic, the baseball is top notch and there’s Bob Uecker, who makes everything better. This is probably my favorite overall movie of all to come, but for the purposes of this list, doesn’t quite fit all the parameters for the scale.
I still watch it every single time it’s on cable.
5. The Scout
Let’s be clear: this is a bad movie. The premise is so ridiculous that even as a kid, I remember thinking that it was too absurd. Albert Brooks plays a scout who finds Brendan Fraser south of the border after a series of failed phenom flameouts. Fraser plays the lead and the entire flick is full of madcap stunts that involve Fraser’s character, Steve Nebraska’s inherent inability to understand big city life.
The actual baseball in the film is even more ridiculous, as Nebraska throws a perfect game in the World Series opener on 81 pitches. The saving grace of this film is the ridiculous number of cameos, which includes perfectly 90s stars Keith Hernandez and Bret Saberhagen, playing themselves.
This could have been a solid flick. Instead, it’s a bad attempt at being both a kids movie and a parents movie, while failing at both. Someone tried to make a baseball movie out of “Big” and it didn’t work out.
4. “Angels In the Outfield”
This is a very good movie. The only reason it’s not higher on my list is because when it came out in July 1994, I was just old enough to be jaded into thinking that Disney movies that involved delving into the paranormal to win baseball games was corny. But, in retrospect, I really enjoy this film. A remake of the 1951 film with the same title, there is quite a lot of magic in the production.
No. 1 is Matthew McConaughey. The hunk-to-be was then a relative nobody, unless you were really into “Dazed and Confused.” Secondly is that Danny Glover, Tony Danza and Christopher Lloyd of all people are in it, too. Five years prior, that casting decision would have never happened. Also, the story line, a boy wishing to have a family and hoping his team would finally become a winner was more believable than it gets credit for.
The baseball in this movie is decent, aside from the whole “our team is being helped by supernatural forces thing.” We get quality play from the other athlete stand-ins, but most importantly, we get what really makes this movie shine: the old Angels uniforms.
There was a time when the California Angels were consistently one of the best dressed teams in baseball. Then, they had an identity crisis. They started becoming too Los Angeles-centric and all hell broke loose. But for a good stretch there in the 90s, they had their name situation sorted and looked good doing. We get to see a lot of that in this film.
It might be corny as all get out, but, now, as a grown up, I can appreciate it.
3. “Rookie Of the Year”
I’ll admit, I had somehow completely forgotten about this film. But when the kids picked it as the movie they wanted to watch at the end of year team party, I was reminded of just how great it is. The premise departs from reality almost instantly, but is used to set up a series of comedic gags that never get old.
A sixth-grader who is also a terrible ballplayer gets injured trying to impress his friends, and the resulting surgery to heal gives him a major league fastball. Sure, I can roll with that. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, and does well to maximize on what it would actually be like should this situation come up. A trash-talking middle schooler clowning grown men on the base paths? Totally here for it.
Most importantly, though, is the cast list. Because it features the King Of Kings and Lord Of Lords, William Gary Busey. When we all finally look back and take stock of the glorious body of work that he has blessed us with in his illustrious career, “Rookie of the Year” will not be high on the list. (“Point Break” will be, though.) And we get some very good Busey in this movie. It’s not all him, but there’s enough, which is exactly how I like my Busey.
This is the one the kids picked to watch. The fact that kids still like this movie 20+ years after it’s release says a lot about its quality.
2. “Little Big League”
This is an awesome movie. A kid is given an entire Major League Baseball franchise in his grandfather’s will, and promptly names himself the manager of the team. The fact that it’s the Minnesota Twins is almost the only reason why the film works at all, and I’m not even sure why. For whatever reason, that only seems remotely plausible and even somehow adorable in the context of that franchise.
But more importantly, the baseball in this movie is amazing. Often times, people think a good story can overcome bad baseball in a movie, but most often it falls flat. See: “The Natural,” the most overrated sports movie of all-time. But in “Little Big League,” we get quality Metrodome action, including Ken Griffey Jr., in his prime. Yes, please.
Also, the overarching message of the story is a winner. Stop whining and play baseball. When you play it the right way, with the purposes of having fun and going hard, it’s rewarding. If I’m lucky enough to have kids one day, I will definitely be showing them this movie.
1. “The Sandlot”
This is an easy pick, but that’s because it’s that good. The quotables alone are enough to take it to the top, but the story is better, the baseball is better and the film is just plain better than all those on the list. Adults are the enemies, kids are your friends and baseball is really all that matters. Can’t argue with that.
What also helps this film is that it’s set in the 60s, giving it a nostalgia coming-of-age factor that the others just don’t have. It’s hard to really even describe how important this movie is to American popular culture, because I guarantee there are people who don’t even know that they’re quoting from the movie when they do. But when the New York Yankees are recreating scenes from a kids movie, you know it’s a classic.
There’s also a small part of me that thinks James Earl Jones is the best character in the film. In my mind, he’s the only person who exists in a baseball universe in which he could be pivotal characters in both “Field of Dreams” and “The Sandlot.” His casting is perfect in this film, which puts it over the top.
There’s an outside argument that this might be the best movie about baseball period, because of its widespread popularity.
For a good five-year stretch, America was blessed with a belief that kids care about baseball, and always will. Movie makers cashed in on it and we got films for the ages from it. Now, we’re having trouble filling Little Leagues and the game is sinking in popularity among children. Even the adults in charge can’t get it right when it comes to what the game is supposed to be about.
Maybe Hollywood can help bring the magic back.