The Best Baseball-Related Pop Culture to Get You in the Mood for Opening Day
Rekindle your love of the game ahead of the new season with these movies, books, songs and more
At long last, after months of uncertainty thanks to a frustratingly long labor dispute, Opening Day is here. The drawn-out lockout and the incessant bickering between players and owners — not to mention some new rule changes that seem designed to alienate purists — has left many fans with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths headed into the 2022 season.
With all that in mind, it’s understandable if you need a bit of a palate cleanser to kick the season off right and remind you why you became such a fan in the first place. America’s pastime has been inspiring great art for hundreds of years now, from “Casey at the Bat” all the way to “Batter Up.” Whether you’re in the mood for a classic movie, a fascinating book, a catchy tune, a TV series to stream or a new podcast to get into, there’s more baseball-centric pop culture out there than you could ever begin to wrap your mind around. To help you sift through all of it and get yourself in the mood for Opening Day, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites below.
Field of Dreams (1989), The Sandlot (1993), A League of Their Own (1992), Major League (1989), Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), The Natural (1984), Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), Bad News Bears (1976), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Fear Strikes Out (1957), 42 (2013)
Baseball movies tend to run the gamut when it comes to genre and tone. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, there is, of course, Kevin Costner having a catch with his dead dad in Field of Dreams or Gary Cooper delivering a stirring rendition of Lou Gehrig’s “today I consider myself the luckiest man in the world” speech in The Pride of the Yankees. If you’re looking for something more light-hearted, you can’t go wrong with a classic comedy like Major League or a more recent entry into the baseball movie canon, Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a Dazed and Confused-esque coming-of-age tale centered around a college team. If you want to watch a rag-tag group of kids to rekindle your childhood love of the game, you’re obviously going to want to go with The Sandlot or Bad News Bears. And if you’re feeling especially outraged by the new universal designated hitter, it’s time to revisit Crash Davis’s famous “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter” speech from Bull Durham.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (2004), Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams by Robert Peterson (1992), Ball Four by Jim Bouton (1970), The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn (1972), Catcher in the Wry: Outrageous but True Stories of Baseball by Bob Uecker (1982), The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski (2008), Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin (1998), Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker (2010), The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse by Rich Cohen (2018), Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire (1996), Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel (1983), The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski (2021)
Baseball writing can range from statistical analysis and historical reporting (if you’re a sabermetrics nerd, Moneyball is your Bible) to heartfelt examinations of fandom and family, like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s nostalgic memoirWait Till Next Year. There are some fascinating insider accounts to pore over, like Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four (which sent shockwaves through the league when it was originally published) or Bob Uecker’s hilarious memoir Catcher in the Wry. If you’re more of a masochist, there are tales of lovable losers like The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse (though that one ultimately has a happy ending thanks to the unforgettable 2016 World Series) or Seasons in Hell, a behind-the-scenes account which chronicles the “worst team in baseball history,” the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers. This year marks the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, and there’s plenty of excellent writing that delves into baseball’s complicated history with race, from the essential Negro Leagues history Only the Ball Was White to Baseball’s Great Experiment and the more recent The Soul of Baseball.
“A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman (1988), “Dock Ellis,” S. F. Seals (1993), “Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen (1984), “Centerfield,” John Fogerty (1985), “Catfish,” Bob Dylan (1975), “1976,” The Baseball Project (2011), “Bill Lee,” Warren Zevon (1980), “Joe DiMaggio Done It Again,” Wilco and Billy Bragg (2000), “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke),” Terry Cashman (1981)
Forget “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or fight songs like “Meet the Mets.” As catchy and beloved as they may be, they don’t hold a candle to some of the other baseball-inspired tracks that have been penned throughout the years. Some tell tales of fallen heroes, like “1976,” inspired by the death of 1976 American League Rookie of the Year Mark Fidrych, by The Baseball Project (the baseball-themed supergroup consisting of Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon). Others, like Bob Dylan’s “Catfish,” Warren Zevon’s “Bill Lee” or the appropriately psychedelic “Dock Ellis,” draw inspiration from beloved personalities. None, however, are as simultaneously hilarious and gut-wrenching as Steve Goodman’s beautiful “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” which sees the legendary songwriter both poking fun at the hapless team he loved so much and confronting his mortality. (Goodman died of leukemia three years after he wrote the song, and some of his ashes were spread at Wrigley Field.)
You no doubt already have all your go-to baseball shows for reporting and analysis, so for the purposes of this list, we’ll stick to the essential miniseries and other narrative-based series. Danny McBride’s first HBO show Eastbound & Down, about former pro pitcher turned high-school gym teacher Kenny Powers, becomes less about baseball (and increasingly absurd) as it goes on, but it’s a must for comedy fans. For a more dramatic vibe, there’s Pitch, the prematurely canceled Fox series about the first (fictional) woman to play in the major leagues. And of course, if you’re looking for an exhaustive docuseries to sink your teeth into, Ken Burns’ Baseball is the best there is. As luck would have it, it’s currently streaming for free on the PBS site through April 29.
We’re barely scratching the surface here when it comes to baseball podcasts. (As it turns out, people who love baseball also really love talking about baseball!) But if you’re new to the medium and just looking to get started, these are some great ones to sink your teeth into, whether they’re more straightforward conversations about the sport’s latest storylines (Talkin’ Baseball, Baseball Tonight), podcasts hosted by current or former players (The Compound, R2C2) or historical deep dives (This Day in Baseball).
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