Home Sports A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time

A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time

14 min read

			A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time		


			A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time		


			A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time		


			A’s movie buff, reliever John Axford ranks the best baseball flicks of all-time

When he’s not working at baseball, A’s reliever John Axford is all about the motion picture.

The veteran right-hander majored in film and television at Notre Dame and is an annual presenter and judge at the Milwaukee Film Festival. He has made Oscar picks for Good Morning America. He has even got an executive producer’s credit on a documentary, “The Reason.”

His success at making recent Oscar picks is impressive, even by non-pro athlete standards: 17-for-18 in 2013, 18-for-18 in 2014, 17-for-24 in 2015, 17-for-24 in 2016 and 19-for-24 this year.

He knows his cinema. He knows his baseball.

So why not have Axford rank the 10 best baseball flicks of all time? Two thumbs up for his thoughtful delivery.


1. The Sandlot

I’ll start off with the easiest one for me. I enjoyed it as a kid, but my boys right now love it. They love watching it, and I love watching them watch it. As soon as baseball season rolls around, they want to emulate it. They want to talk about it. They say, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls.” They say that all the time when their friend throws the ball and they miss it, so it’s really great to be able to watch that and see my boys enjoy it as much as I did.

2. Fastball

The most recent one on the list is one I screened last year at the Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s narrated by Kevin Costner and is actually a very good film on the history and the mechanics and the science behind the fastball. They try to solve the ultimate question of who threw the fastest fastball of all time. So it goes over some players, you know: Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, Aroldis Chapman. It’s just a very interesting historical look. There was one particular pitch that they clocked. I won’t give away the ending. It even goes over the story of when Bob Feller threw against the motorcycle. They actually clocked that to see how fast it was in real-time.

3. Field of Dreams

I’m going to stay on kind of the same theme, because Kevin Costner narrated “Fastball.”  This Costner movie I also enjoyed very much. It brings it back for me to high school. I did a paper in English class on W.P. Kinsella, the Canadian who wrote the book. He wrote on baseball, but he mostly wrote Native American stories. That brings me back to some roots of high school and actually some English course work. For me, watching “Field of Dreams” brings a true love of the game and nostalgia back. If you enjoy the game and if you are just a casual fan, it can bring that level up to love.

4. Bull Durham

Since we’re staying on Kevin Costner … this is THE film for aspiring ballplayers. When you are in the minor leagues, when you are in college, you watch it on bus trips. If it comes on even now, I’ll stop and watch it. Once again, it’s one of those films that has the one-liners, it has the fun characters. You certainly see glimpses of minor league life that you can attest to. There may be a little embellishment, but it’s all baseball.

5. Major League

I think a lot of my love for this movie is in the comedy, the one-liners. It just rings true all the way, but playing parts of five years in Milwaukee, being with Bob Uecker, he is Harry Doyle. Harry Doyle is Bob Uecker. It is incredible to be around that person. I was fortunate enough to be around him for five years and now when I watch that film, I see him. And it’s incredible. I feel blessed and very lucky to have been around him for as long as I was. I enjoy that. Charlie Sheen was good, too.

6. Eight Men Out

Same person (Sheen), completely different style of movie. I think it’s great because it’s different from everything else. It’s different from “Field of Dreams,” from “Bull Durham,” from “Major League.” Those are romanticizing baseball. This doesn’t romanticize. It’s not subdued, they don’t try to pad it with anything soft, they just kind of give it to you as it is. There’s a lot of great dialogue. There’s a lot of great acting. A good film where you can actually see baseball done in a good, dramatic, storytelling way instead of a romanticized version.

7. Sugar

I haven’t seen it since it came out a few years ago, but I remember loving it. It’s the struggle of a Dominican ballplayer trying to make it in the big leagues. That’s a side of the game that people don’t realize or see. They did it in a good way. Without doing it as a documentary, as a feature, you actually get to see the struggle. You see the hurt, the harm, the anger, the love that can come along with trying to make it in this game. And you really feel the differences in the two countries.

8. The Natural

I love it for the romanticized version of baseball. And it’s something that I studied in film school. The cinematography was incredible. It was nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography. Also Glenn Close was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. It’s hard to knock an Academy Award-nominated baseball film, especially one as beautiful and as gorgeous as that one. There are a couple of particular scenes, obviously when he hits the home runs and there’s the lights, lightning and the flashing. And in his struggling moment in that final game when Glenn Close comes to the game and Robert Redford looks up in the crowd, it’s very subdued, almost Sepia tone, and she stands and has this angelic light atop her and behind her. It’s  a very beautiful film.

9. Moneyball

I don’t think I could do this list playing for the A’s without mentioning the other Academy Award-nominated baseball film. I mean, even if you didn’t read the book from which it came, and the awards and the accolades it got, I think this was a nice telling of a good story of a side of baseball you never see. It’s incredibly well-acted and done very, very well.

10. A League of their Own / Bad News Bears

I couldn’t decide, so we actually have a top 11. I tend to push toward “A League of Their Own,” maybe because I see it more often. But it’s hard to put down the original “Bad News Bears” with Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. Just being able to watch that from 1976, to be able to see and to watch and to enjoy that style of comedy, is good. The dryness, the utter disregard for what could be a kids’ movie that absolutely is not. I think that’s a good quality. And “A League of Their Own,” I think it’s well-acted, too. It gives you a romanticized side of the game that’s different from all the others, but you see it from the other side, from the female perspective of the sport. That’s not something you see very often.

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