It’s a beautiful day for a baseball story — let’s watch two.
Prime Video’s television adaptation of A League of Their Own is now out, bringing the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to life once again. The original movie, starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Madonna, among many others, is also available to watch on Prime Video. Now’s a great time to revisit it.
The real MLB season is also starting to head into the home stretch. Even if most of the divisional races seem pretty much decided, it’s gearing up to be an exciting postseason after a busy trade deadline.
One work that I wanted to mention here, because it never got made: Spike Lee’s Jackie Robinson screenplay, based on the legendary Brooklyn Dodger’s autobiography. You can read it in full here — it’s quite unfortunate this movie never got made (and the far less interesting 42 did instead).
We’ve pulled together a list of our favorite baseball TV episodes and movies, beyond the two versions of A League of Their Own (both available on Prime Video).
Best baseball TV episodes
Homer at the Bat
The Simpsons season 3 episode 17
This classic from The Simpsons’ third season is an essential episode from the show’s early years. After Homer’s softball exploits (aided by a parody of The Natural) lead the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s softball team to the championship game, Mr. Burns brings in nine of the best baseball players in the world (voiced by themselves) as ringers to assure a win.
Written by legendary Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder, “Homer at the Bat” is a hilarious, offbeat sports story that stands as one of the most memorable episodes of one of the most memorable shows ever made. The various ailments and misfortune that befall each of the nine ringers are unforgettable — my favorite is José Canseco being held up by a woman who needs him to retrieve every item from her burning house, and “Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness” was later the name of a great Dodger blog — but there’s nothing better than the post-credits song “Talkin’ Softball,” sung by “Talkin’ Baseball” songwriter Terry Cashman. —Pete Volk
The Simpsons is available to watch on Disney Plus.
Take Me Out to the Holosuite
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 7 episode 4
Among the more charming qualities of modern Star Trek is its fanatical devotion to giving characters the most mundane hobbies. But it’s Deep Space Nine that did the best, with Captain Benjamin Sisko and his obsession for the ancient human sport of baseball.
See, in the Star Trek universe, baseball hasn’t seen widespread play in three centuries, but Captain Sisko loves baseball. He taught his son how to play, he spectates re-creations of ancient games in the holodeck, and the actual baseball on his desk becomes a symbol of his commitment to the denizens of the integrated space station Deep Space Nine, whether they’re Starfleet officers or not. In 1998, as the oddball Star Trek series was completing its planned final season, it would be impossible to pay tribute to all the many facets built into the show without seeing some actual freakin’ baseball.
And so, for one episode only, the character of Sisko’s heretofore unmentioned academy rival — a Vulcan captain who believes humans to be intellectually and culturally inferior — brings his ship full of equally bigoted Vulcan officers in for repairs at the station. And wouldn’t you know it: He and his officers have lately taken to playing this amusing little human game called “baseball.”
Needless to say, the gauntlet is thrown. The series’ full cast, officers and hangers on alike, humans and alien alike, furiously learn to play baseball from scratch so that they can help their dad — I mean their captain — defeat his archrival. Everybody gets baseball uniforms and caps, even the Klingons and Ferengi! The team is named the Niners! Odo is the umpire! Worf heckles! There is a lengthy description of the infield fly rule that never becomes relevant to the plot!
It is, universally, considered one of the best episodes of Star Trek ever made. —Susana Polo
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available to watch on Paramount Plus.
Hit the Diamond
Steven Universe season 3 episode 5
This episode is a beautiful example of what Steven Universe does best — taking a storyline of cosmic significance and telling it through absurd, local drama. In “Hit the Diamond,” the Crystal Gems are hiding from the the rulers of Gem World, living peaceably on Earth with humans. A battalion of feisty Rubies is sent to see if there are Crystal Gems illicitly hiding out on the planet they were meant to be terraforming. So Steven attempts to stall them by doing the most human thing he can think of on the spot: challenging the Rubies to a game of American baseball. There’s only one catch. They’re all super powerful and have to pretend that their capabilities are just human quirks.
Because gem fusion is a taboo in Gem World, Garnet separates into Sapphire and Ruby for the duration of the game — with Ruby pretending to be on the opposing team. This leads to the best part of the episode: the two cannot stop flirting, to the point where they keep derailing the game. By the end of the match, the two give away the Crystal Gems’ entire spot. The game of baseball has nothing on the game of love. —Nicole Clark
Steven Universe is available to watch on Hulu and HBO Max.
Time for a Ball Game
Assassination Classroom season 1 episode 12
There’s more than one episode involving baseball in the heartfelt (and bizarre) Assassination Classroom, a show about a powerful creature who promises to destroy the world unless the students of his misfit class (another condition of his) can kill him before the end of the year. In just the second episode, one of his students attempts to kill him using a baseball (it turns into a teaching moment about a lack of self-confidence, naturally).
“Time for a Ball Game,” the 12th episode of the show, ups the baseball stakes. The students of E Class have to face off against the school’s baseball team in an exhibition match, with extra stakes for one student (Sugino), who was on the team before being kicked off and sent to E Class.
The episode features the usual ridiculousness from the octopus-like teacher/assassination target Korosensei, with an undercurrent of unwavering support that makes the show so special. It also features a lot of baseball strategy, as Korosensei and his opposing coach go back and forth with outlandish tactics. —PV
Assassination Classroom is available to watch on Hulu and Crunchyroll.
Samurai Champloo season 1 episode 23
Much of the appeal of 2004’s Samurai Champloo is in its characteristic sense of style, combining chanbara tropes and anachronistic hip-hop elements and music that add up to a series packed with gut-busting humor, enthralling action, and memorable offbeat characters. The 23rd episode of the anime, “Baseball Blues,” is a great example of this, telling a fictional historical account of Jin, Mugen, and Fuu being recruited to compete in a game of baseball against a team of arrogant American traders to pay off their debt. From ninja smoke bombs to a baseball bat-wielding dog, there’s so much to love in this episode. –Toussaint Egan
Samurai Champloo is available to watch on Hulu and Crunchyroll.
Jujutsu Kaisen season 1 episode 21
Tokyo Jujustu High, the school of the protagonists in the anime series Jujutsu Kaisen, isn’t your average high school. The institution is an ultra-elite academy that teaches people with magical powers known as jujutsu sorcerers to hone their powers and fight against the evils of the world. That being said, the kids are still only high school students after all, so after a giant fight that leaves several students wounded and dead, an offbeat teacher named Satoru Gojo rigs a school event so that the kids get a break to play baseball.
The episode has all the workings of a perfect baseball episode — nonsensical taunts, cute character moments, and all-powerful sorcerers who, when faced with some average challenge like a baseball game, are at an utter loss for how to act. The characters’ personalities come out in full swing, and the episode is one of the best the series has to offer yet. —Ana Diaz
Jujutsu Kaisen is available to watch on HBO Max and Crunchyroll.
BNA: Brand New Animal season 1 episode 5
In the fifth episode of BNA: Brand New Animal, “Greedy Bears,” baseball isn’t just a sport; it’s a battle royale of life-and-death stakes. When series protagonist Michiru is approached by the Bears baseball team to become their star pitcher, she agrees — on the condition that no one gets harmed. There’s a lot to love in this episode, from the exaggerated Looney Tunes-esque animation of Michiru’s shapeshifting to turn the tide of the finale’s game in her team’s favor to the deadpan comedy of Jackie the bear’s line delivery. If you’re looking for a fun, stand-alone anime episode that leans into the camaraderie of team sports, this one’s a must-watch. —TE
BNA: Brand New Animal is available to watch on Netflix.
The All-Star Dream Game
Dorohedoro season 1 episode 7
Nothing is normal in the world of Dorohedoro, the macabre dark fantasy anime based on Q Hayashida’s manga of the same name. Especially not baseball. The seventh episode of the series, “The All-Star Dream Game,” follows the sorcerer Fujita, who embarks on a mission to kill series protagonist Caiman and avenge his late partner Matsumura. Posing as a human in order to participate in a local baseball game so he can get close to Caiman, Fujita’s plan changes when he realizes that Matsumura’s corpse — which Fujita needs in order to revive him — has been reanimated into a zombie to play for Caiman’s team. With bottomless quicksand holes, an overenthusiastic cheerleader in a shark costume, and a giant sneaker-wearing cockroach in a team jersey, the episode is a hilarious slice of everything that makes Dorohedoro great. –TE
Dorohedoro is available to watch on Netflix.
Best baseball movies
As someone who read and liked Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, there is no earthly reason that book should have been able to be adapted into a decent movie, let alone a good one.
Moneyball is inherently unsexy material. There’s no superstar leading character (in fact, very little time is spent with the best players on the Oakland A’s). It’s an underdog story without a truly happy ending. And the whole thing relies on the importance of one of the least sexy and cinematic events in sports: the walk.
It helps when you have movie stars like Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman anchoring the drama, and one of Aaron Sorkin’s cleaner scripts. Moneyball thrives as a character study of Pitt’s Billy Beane, shining a closer light than the book on Beane’s own troubled past as a failed prospect. That choice (and the excellent use of sports talk radio as background noise during contemplative sequences) helps dramatize the material into something more cinematic, and gives Pitt more to play with in his leading role.
In the years since, parts of Beane’s approach have been distorted from being a way for small market teams to compete into a way for every baseball team to cut costs and save money through the dehumanization of players by reducing them to numbers. That context colored my view of the movie this time around, but it’s still an effective character portrait of one of the most influential figures in 21st-century baseball. —PV
Moneyball is available to watch on Hulu.
There’s a pleasantly inconsequential quality to this 1988 sports rom-com, based on writer-director Ron Shelton’s own experiences in minor-league baseball. Kevin Costner is the veteran catcher brought in to tame Tim Robbins, a talented but meatheaded pitcher with major-league potential. Susan Sarandon is the baseball groupie who toys with them both.
Who will she choose? Do the two men have more tension with each other, anyway? Will Robbins’ “Nuke” get over himself, make it big, or both? That’s the size of the stakes here, and baseball only matters about as much as sex. Bull Durham is a warm, wry, lived-in film that doesn’t treat baseball as American mythmaking (as Costner would the next year in Field of Dreams), but instead as just a funny way to make a living. —Oli Welsh
Bull Durham is available to watch on Paramount Plus.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater is a nostalgic filmmaker — many of his movies (and especially his recent ones) take place in the Texas he grew up in. This comedy about a college baseball team is my favorite of those, spotlighting the adventures of young people with a lot of confidence and even more time on their hands.
Everybody Wants Some!! takes place in the final days of summer break, before the start of school. New freshmen are moving in, upperclassmen are establishing their superiority, and everybody’s looking to have a good time.
Occasionally veering into the old problem of overwriting talkative young people, the movie nonetheless works because of the grounded feel of the environment and the excellent cast. Wyatt Russell and Glen Powell stand out in scene-stealing roles, but everyone is game in this ensemble piece, bringing both the experience of being on a sports team and of being on a college campus to life. —PV
Everybody Wants Some!! is available for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms.
Pound-for-pound, the Dominican Republic is the most successful baseball nation in the world. The Caribbean island nation with a population just north of 10 million had the second-most players in MLB last season, with 169 (or 11.2% of the total). The only country with more was the United States, which has the dual advantages of a massive population 30 times the size of the DR and being the location for nearly every Major League Baseball game.
Most American baseball movies focus on ballplayers born in the States. Sugar instead follows a young Dominican player named Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto), a charming burgeoning superstar who carries his dream and the dreams of his community in his electric right arm. When he’s picked up by an American team, he has to deal with culture clashes, outright racism, and isolation in his new environment.
An early moment that speaks to the movie’s point of view, and the first sign that something is wrong with this picture, comes when Sugar has a brief argument with a former pro ballplayer who has returned home to the DR. The former pro taunts Sugar about his arm strength, to which Sugar asks if he’s so good, why is he back here now selling phone chargers instead of playing pro baseball? The former pro goes dead silent, and the deeply uncomfortable moment gets across the many obstacles, foreseen and unforeseen, on the journey to pro baseball.
Sugar is also the directorial debut of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, who went on to direct Captain Marvel. Soto, the star of Sugar, played Att-Lass in that movie. —PV
Sugar is available to watch on HBO Max.
Eight Men Out
This adaptation of one of the most infamous cheating scandals in American sports history comes from John Sayles, who wrote the great Jaws knockoffs Piranha and Alligator. This movie came on the heels of two of his most well-known directorial efforts (the low-budget sci-fi classic The Brother From Another Planet and the labor drama Matewan), and takes on the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.
In 1919, eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of losing the World Series on purpose. The accusations claimed these players operated in cahoots with gamblers, and in response, Major League baseball appointed its first-ever commissioner — Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a despicable man who played a major role in preventing Black players from playing in the Major Leagues for decades. Landis banned all eight White Sox players for life, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the great ballplayers of the era.
While quite a few players admitted their involvement, Jackson (who performed well in the Series) and others insisted on their innocence until their death. Sayles’ film investigates and dramatizes this story with an all-star cast featuring John Cusack, Bill Irwin, David Strathairn, and Michael Rooker. —PV
Eight Men Out is available for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms.
The baseball scene in Twilight is arguably the best scene in the whole dang saga. As wonderfully generic protagonist Bella (Kristen Stewart) learns, the only time the vampiric Cullen family can play baseball is during thunderstorms — because vampires are so strong that when they hit the ball with the bat, it sets off a loud thunder-like noise.
This is sports to the extreme, set to Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” and swathed in the blue hue that makes the first Twilight movie so damn iconic. Edward races through the trees to catch the ball! Alice dramatically raises a leg when pitching! The vampire players collide midair! For some inexplicable reason, Rosalie calls Emmett “my monkey man” in a sexy voice! If this is how baseball was IRL, I would keep up with it. —Petrana Radulovic
Twilight is available to watch on Prime Video.
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