By Deana Lockman- Deputy Director, Operations
It should come as no surprise that we’ve been a leading bat maker for more than a century, but did you know we’ve also played a leading role with Hollywood? Movies, baseball, and American history are so intertwined it makes sense that baseball movies have become an iconic part of the popular culture of America. From endearing characters to memorable quotes, baseball movies have been entertaining us since the earliest days of filmmaking. At Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, we’ve produced bats for many of the most famous movies ever made, including The Natural, Field of Dreams, and A League of Their Own.
Baseball appeared on film as early as 1909 in His Last Game, a 12-minute silent film about a Choctaw tribe pitcher who faces dire consequences after turning down an attempted bribe from gangsters to throw the championship game.
According to Baseball Almanac, the first feature-length baseball movie ever made was Right Off the Bat (pictured below) in 1915, starring retired pro-baseball player, Mike Donlin, and featuring Hall of Famer John McGraw as himself.
Hollywood is all about telling compelling stories and in the 1930s and 1940s, no team had more stories to tell than the New York Yankees. In 1942, The Pride of the Yankees was released, starring Gary Cooper. It is one of the best baseball movies ever made. The film told the story of Lou Gehrig’s career, life, and untimely death at the age of 37. It was released just one year after Gehrig’s passing. Babe Ruth made an appearance in the film as himself as did several of Gehrig’s other teammates. The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (winning one for editing) and is the most nominated baseball film of all time.
The Babe Ruth Story was released in 1948 and starred William Bendix as the Babe. While Babe Ruth certainly had moxie, this movie granted him nearly God-like abilities including curing an ailing boy with a simple, “Hiya, kid.” We received this telegram from the film’s director, Roy Del Ruth, recognizing our contributions to the film.
Through the decades following the 40s there were many baseball films but there was a bit of a lull in the late 50s and 60s. The 1970s brought us Bang the Drum Slowly and The Bad News Bears, but the era that produced the greatest baseball films just happened to be during my formative years, the 1980s and 1990s.
From The Natural released in 1984 to The Sandlot in 1993, baseball movies were in A League of Their Own during what some have called the Golden Age of baseball films. The Golden Age films solidified their place in pop culture history with characters like Crash Davis, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. Bull Durham (pictured below), Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Major League, Mr. Baseball, and Rookie of the Year were all released during that nine-year stretch. The movies during that time defined a generation of baseball and movie fans alike.
We never get tired of hearing Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan proclaim, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Chances are you’ve uttered in exasperation, “You’re killing me, Smalls!” or whispered, “If you build it, they will come.” I had big plans to scream, “The Indians win it! The Indians win it! Oh, my God, the Indians win it!” after the World Series last Fall. I was not able to use that great movie quote as planned. My team lost the World Series, but I’m hoping this is the year I celebrate my team winning it all.
There were certainly great baseball films made after the Golden Age. Moneyball was a critically acclaimed movie, and we were excited to make the bats for Fences last year. Fences (pictured below) was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this past February. Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor and Viola Davis won for Best Supporting Actress. I’m sure there will be many great films in the future as well.
We’re honored to be a part of some of Hollywood’s greatest achievements. Baseball films nurtured my love for cinema and my love for baseball. They are a part of who I am, and a part of who we are at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.