For Opening Day: Five Terrific Baseball Movies, None Of Which Star Kevin Costner

Opening Day is finally here, and we can once again try to resolve our love/hate relationship with the Houston Astros.

As of this writing, they are undefeated, so -- so far, so good.

Baseball, for all its problems, has long had an unbreakable hold on Americans. So have movies. So here are five great baseball movies to put you in the mood, and none of them star Kevin Costner.

61* (2001)

Our hopes were not high when we learned Billy Crystal would be directing this; the King of Schmaltz always seems to need to have everyone know he's the Yankees' number-one fan. Schmaltz and needy fanboi-ness: Bad combination.

But Crystal surprised us with a nice period piece, featuring great performances in the Maris and Mantle roles, marred only by saccharine bookends featuring Mark McGwire, something we'd guess wouldn't be included today.

The Stratton Story (1949)

The go-to pick from this era is typically

Pride of the Yankees

. We like that well enough, but never quite buy Gary Cooper as a baseball player.

The Stratton Story

tells the tale of Monty Stratton, a major leaguer who lost a leg in a hunting accident and made a comeback. It features the Jimmy Stewart/June Allyson pairing that worked so well in

Strategic Air Command

and T

he Glenn Miller Story

, and it gets bonus points because WW2 vet Stewart made it partly to offer encouragement to wounded vets trying to adjust to civilian life.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Never for a minute do you believe Robert DeNiro as a major league catcher, even if it is the pre-steroid era. But this slightly sticky movie overcomes that and offers a nice peek into baseball in the 1960s-70s era (bonus points for Mets fans, seeing the old Shea Stadium and Kiner's Korner set, here in the clip).

The Natural (1984)

Points for: Having an actual baseball player (Robert Redford) in the lead role; Points Against: Setting a bar for a music-and-effects finale that every cheap sports movie everafter would feel obligated to try to top, without success. (Lightning


sparks from broken lights?) Points also taken away for absolutely turning on its head the finale from the book. But the War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo has a nice `30s feel to lend authenticity to the often-ludicrous script.

Eight Men Out (1988)

The only bad thing about this movie is how historical nit-pickers will bore you to death pointing out mistakes. Otherwise, it's a got a very good period feel, the baseball scenes ring true, and the cast is impeccable (David Straithorn, John Cusack and John Mahoney shine; plus it's got Studs Turkel, of all people).

Sure, it's about fixing a World Series, but....at least it's not about steroids.

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