Should MLB and the MLBPA actually come to an agreement on parameters for a season this week, it won’t exactly be a Hollywood ending to this whole saga, but it will be reason for at least mild celebration.
If baseball does return, competitive games still won’t be played until late July, so it might be nice to have a few good Yankees-inspired flicks to satisfy our desperation until the sweet relief of big-league games finally arrives.
Below are some baseball movies featuring our beloved Bombers. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I’ve undoubtedly left out some favorites, but it’s enough to kick off a conversation about the best Yankees movies to get fans ready for a possible season.
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
A black and white classic that captures the sentiments of the era, The Pride of the Yankees is as much a salute to Gehrig’s widely admired character as it is to his career in pinstripes.
Released just a year after his death, the film is famous for its final line, based on Gehrig’s farewell appearance: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Its finale is so memorable and has been cited so ubiquitously, my younger self actually thought Gary Cooper was Lou Gehrig, confusing the film’s portrayal of the speech with the real footage of Gehrig’s farewell.
61* is a chronicle of the historic home run chase of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the summer of 1961, directed by lifelong Yankees fan (and onetime spring training invitee) Billy Crystal.
Throughout the film’s retelling of the dramatic events of the Yankees’ 1961 season, Barry Pepper is deeply sympathetic in the role of Maris, the film’s beleaguered hero.
The movie’s depiction of his grace under pressure helps elevate Maris to his rightful place in the Yankees firmament, joining Mantle, who has long captured fans’ imaginations, for all his triumphs and flaws.
Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
I’m cheating a bit with this choice; technically the characters in Bang the Drum Slowly play for the fictional New York Mammoths — but the uniforms are Yankees pinstripes, so I’m claiming this one for the Bombers.
And even though the goal of this is to provide some entertainment until we get real MLB action, this movie definitely skews toward the heartbreaking end of the emotional spectrum. Still, the story is too good to omit from the list.
The film follows the friendship between a brainy major league pitcher and his less bright, less talented catcher — played by a young, pre-superstardom Robert DeNiro — who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
It’s not exactly a feel-good story of the American pastime, but it’s touching and well rendered, and shows how baseball is often a window through which we examine the complicated stuff of life and death.
The Scout (1994)
The Scout is an uneven movie that flopped at the box office and wasn’t generally well reviewed. But I’ve always found its quirks more interesting than off-putting—getting to root for the Yankees throughout the movie probably helped.
The comedy focuses on a baseball scout Al Percolo, played by Albert Brooks, shepherding a young, troubled pitching phenom named Steve Nebraska, played by Brendan Fraser, through the gauntlet of his first major league season with the team.
Brooks is an acquired taste for some, but his exasperated wisecracking works for me. And while Fraser is no longer a marquee name, he was enjoyably goofy in this, and it’s a strange treat to see just how young he looked.
And a few more brief honorable mentions:
Major League (1989) may be about the Cleveland Indians, but it’s still fun as a Yankees fan to see the big, nasty New York Yankees stand in as the film’s villains. The ease with which the team occupies that role is a testament to its sustained success.
The Bronx is Burning (2007) is a miniseries, so it shouldn’t really qualify for this list at all. But it’s an engaging watch with a terrific cast, set during the Yankees’ tumultuous 1977 World Series season, against the backdrop of the Son of Sam murders and the city’s social and political unrest.
Baseball (1994), the documentary series by the great Ken Burns, is as broadly focused as its title suggests, but in covering the last century-plus of the game’s history, it inevitably touches upon some of the great Yankees moments over the franchise’s generations of success.