Baseball movies … they're back!


Decades later, you still hear these lines repeated around the bar, in the stands and at company softball games, as well as inside major league clubhouses and dugouts.

"There's no crying in baseball!"

" Just a bit outside."

"If you build it, he will come."

"Candlesticks always make a nice gift."

"Losing is a disease."

By the way, that last line is not from a Cubs manager. Baseball movie fans will recognize it from "The Natural," the 1984 film starring Robert Redford that began baseball's first golden era on the silver screen.

From 1984 to '92, Hollywood released five of the most popular baseball movies ever made: "The Natural," " Bull Durham," " Field of Dreams," " Major League" and "A League of Their Own," plus the critically praised but commercially unsuccessful "Eight Men Out." If you adjust their box office receipts for inflation, "The Natural," "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "A League of Their Own" all grossed more than $100 million in 2014 dollars, according to IMDB, while "Major League" came very close ($95 million). The original "Bad News Bears" and "The Rookie" are the only other baseball movies that cracked that mark. (No revenue information is available for 1942's "The Pride of the Yankees.")

Helped by the performances of such past and future Oscar-winning actors as Redford, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, James Earl Jones, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, those golden era movies still resonate. Cleveland reliever and film major John Axford calls "Bull Durham" an iconic baseball movie "filled with one-liners that baseball players still use all the time."

We also hear the music all the time. When a player hits a dramatic home run, the stadium loudspeakers often play Randy Newman's theme to "The Natural" while we picture Redford circling the bases. (Never better than in NBC's mix of film and real life after Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.)

This weekend's release of Disney's "Million Dollar Arm," which is about an agent's search for pitchers in India, raises the possibility that we might be seeing a second golden era of baseball movies. After all, Hollywood has produced several relatively successful baseball films in the past three years, including the Academy Award-nominated "Moneyball" in 2011, "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012 and "42" last year. The appeal of those three movies attracted major stars such as Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford.

So is baseball ready for its close-up again? Ummmm, maybe. But don't count on it.

"There is no chance of another wave like that, because the business has changed dramatically since I made mine and others made theirs," says Ron Shelton, the writer/director of "Bull Durham," "Cobb" and others. "The foreign market was a very small part of the equation. And now it's the biggest part.

"Nobody cared if 'Bull Durham' didn't do well in the foreign market as long as it did well domestically. I've been trying to get another baseball movie made for 10 years. It's pretty much driven by the economic equations now."

Shelton says the earlier wave of baseball movies was mostly coincidental, and St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press film critic Chris Hewitt agrees.

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