Legends On Deck

Baseball on the Big Screen: The Summers of 1993 and 1994

As the 2020 baseball season remains in limbo, I am exploring the game in other ways.  As stated previously, one thing I am doing is watching baseball movies.   In the early 1990s, there were three films that captivated the imagination of young fans like myself.  The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year and Little Big League were all released in 1993 and 1994.  As a nine and ten year old baseball fanatic, these films helped take my love of the game to a new level, as they did for many fans my age.  Here’s a look at each film and their impact 26 years later.

The Sandlot (April 1993)

The Sandlot is the most iconic of the three films and has withstood the test of time.  Since 1993, every kid that loves baseball has been drawn to this film.  “You’re killin’ me Smalls” is a widely used pop-culture catch phrase.  In 2018, The Sandlot celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary and MLB players had fun reenacting scenes the film.  The story line of this film is so good, because it’s more than just a baseball movie.  It is a coming of age story.

The main character, Scotty Smalls, spends his summer learning about baseball and life with his new neighborhood friends.  They share adventures on the ball field, at the neighborhood pool and at the carnival.  They are finally faced with a frightening task of retrieving Scotty’s step-dad’s signed Babe Ruth baseball from The Beast.  This is one of three baseball movies that personally watch on an annual basis; it’s that good.  The other two being Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.

Rookie of the Year (July 1993)

Just a few months later,  Henry Rowengartner, a struggling Little Leaguer took the Chicago Cubs organization by storm.  After his cast came off his broken arm, Henry discovered he had super human ability in his right arm that would allow him to pitch a baseball over 100 mph.  The Cubs would discover his arm when he threw back an opposing team’s home run from the left field bleachers and signed him to an MLB contract.

The film includes an entertaining performance by Daniel Stern, who plays the clumsy Cubs pitching coach, Brickma.  We will always remember Brickma’s prescription of “hot ice” for a sore arm and his rally cry, “give him the cheese!.”   It also includes the late, great John Candy as the Cubs radio broadcaster.  It includes appearances by MLB stars Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Pedro Guerrero.  The film’s plot like may be far-fetched, but it perfectly fuels the fantasies of  young baseball fans who dream of making the big leagues.

Little Big League (June 1994)

The following Summer, Billy Heywood’s life took dramatic turn when his grandfather passes away and leaves him in control of the Minnesota Twins.  Billy is a baseball encyclopedia and as owner, he fires the team Manager and names himself the replacement (after getting the approval of his mom and MLB Commissioner).  As Billy worked to gain the respect of the team, he learned about life on the road and the Twins become contenders.

This film featured many of the biggest MLB stars of the era, including Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Pudge Rodriguez, Tim Raines and many more.  It also included the biggest sportscaster of the time, ESPN’s Chris Berman.  In this way, Little Big League was fantastic showcase for the game.  Like Rookie of the Year, this film caters more to the imagination of young baseball fans.  Who wouldn’t want to be Billy Heywood?!

The Legacy

Looking back at these films more than a quarter century later, I believe they all hold up well.  The Sandlot, more than the other two, reaches beyond the realm of baseball fans.  It’s really a classic movie, geared toward kids, but  enjoyable for adults too.  It reminds us of our own sandlot (or playground) days and our own childhood memories.  It also reminds us that we are all kids at heart, still trying to make sense of the world around us.  Both Rookie of the Year and Little Big League allowed all of us to who played youth baseball, collected baseball cards, followed box scores in the daily paper and tuned into SportsCenter (and Baseball Tonight)for highlights every day an outlet for our dreams.

In July of 1994, the MLB Players Association went on strike, abruptly ending the 1994 season.  Many fans were left devastated and some would even abandon the game from then on.  As a 10 year old kid at the time, I do recall the disappointment that season.   That being said, my bond with the game of baseball had already been cemented.  In 1995, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz would capture a World Series for the Braves.  In 1996, a young New York Yankees team would return to prominence.  Ken Griffey Jr. was the biggest athlete in the world, outside of Michael Jordan.  In 1998, Cal Ripken Jr. would break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game’s streak and Mark McGwire would break Roger Maris’s single season Home Run record.  Baseball came back from “The Strike” in a big way!

In my mind, the cultural impact of these three films – The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year and Little Big League — shaped the imagination of young baseball fans of the early 1990s in a permanent way.  Today, it is our opportunity to pass these institutions on to the next generation of fans.

**Photo credit:  20th Century Fox**

Brian Koss
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