Yes, we’re all stuck at home thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. And yes, we can only watch Tiger King so many times before looking for alternative fare. Here are some suggestions for baseball-themed viewing pleasures on streaming media.
First, you can watch some real baseball with both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball opening the vaults to games broadcast in 2019 and 2018. On MLB.tv, you can view any game from the 2018 and 2019 seasons, including the postseason. Some teams are also opening the vaults both for radio and television broadcasts: The Seattle Mariners are airing classic Mariners games on 710 ESPN (including Randy Johnson’s June 2, 1990 no-hitter on April 3) and vintage television broadcasts on Root Sports through April.
New and existing subscribers to MiLB.tv can stream more than 6,500 games from the 2019 season, beginning today. The preview will be offered free to fans until the 2020 Minor League Baseball season begins. The MiLB.tv archives include over 18,000 hours of MiLB content, including every Triple-A and Double-A game from 2019 and more than 1,500 games from other classifications. Seven league All-Star Games are available to stream, as well as select playoff games and the Triple-A National Championship Game.
In both cases you’ll need to set up a free subscription to each service.
Then there are obvious choices of baseball movies, and if you’re like us, you’ve already burned through Bull Durham (IMDb tv), The Natural (Netflix) Bad News Bears (Starz), Eight Men Out (Tubi), Moneyball (Starz), Major League II (Netflix) and Field of Dreams (Starz). You can also rent Major League, The Sandlot, Pride of the Yankees, Damn Yankees or A League of Their Own via Amazon Prime.
But there’s a whole bunch of baseball movies that warrant attention. One of our faves is 61*, currently offered on HBO Now. The story of 1961’s home-run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, the film features strong performances from Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane. Despite attempts by the New York City press to inject a nasty rivalry into the pair’s pursuit of a home-run record, the movie focuses on the pair’s friendship and their clubhouse relationships. There’s also quite the commitment to verisimilitude from director Billy Crystal, with Tiger Stadium, having just closing after the team’s move to Comerica Park, filling in for Yankee Stadium.
Ballparks also play some key roles in other baseball and non-baseball films as well, either as a weapon for evil Magneto to the whole rationale for Ferris Bueller taking a day off. Check out Jesse Goldberg-Strassler’s ranking of the ten best performances by Major and Minor League Baseball ballparks on the silver screen.
If you know the works of Mark Harris, you’re probably familiar with Bang the Drum Slowly. If you’re not, invest in a paperback edition (or check it out for free from Kindle Unlimited) and then spend $2.99 to stream the underrated film from Amazon. Michael Moriarty is Henry Wiggen, an erudite pitcher with the New York Mammoths who befriends a simple-minded third-string catcher, Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro). After a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease for Pearson, Wiggen and his teammates support Pearson through a difficult season. Yes, it’s a baseball movie with plenty of shots of the original Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, but it’s also a relationship story. Paul Newman starred as Henry Wiggen in a 1956 television adaptation; you can find it on YouTube.
Some other underrated baseball movies worth the search: Kill the Umpire (DirecTV), a light comedy where a former player turns umpire and hijinks ensue; Alibi Ike (TCM.com), with Joe E. Brown as a small-town phenom who falls in with the wrong crowd after making the majors; and American Masters: Ted Williams(PBS/Netflix), a respectful look back at the Red Sox star. Sadly, it doesn’t look like some forgotten classics, such as HBO’s Long Gone, are available for streaming.
There are also many great baseball documentaries that fly under the radar these days. It’s hard not to admire Netflix’s The Battered Bastards of Baseball, an account of loveable rogues fighting for one last stop before leaving the baseball train. Owned by Bing Russell (father of actor Kurt Russell, who played a month for the Mavs), the independent Portland Mavericks attracted fringe players who wanted one last shot at pro ball. At the time the Northwest League featured four independent teams, and the lack of affiliation meant every team needed to sign its own players. It wouldn’t be a story of a colorful ragtag team without Jim Bouton; incredibly, he pitches well enough in Portland to get a tryout and subsequent appearance with the Atlanta Braves.
Similarly outstanding: No No A Dockumentary (Starz), a loving look at Dock Ellis’s meteoric and weird career.
Speaking of documentaries: Ken Burns’ landmark Baseball documentary is available both on Amazon Prime and PBS. While you may not agree with some of Burns’ assertions—Keith Olbermann famously tallied 160 errors over its 20 hours—there’s still plenty to enjoy during this leisurely paced review of the National Pastime. The interviews with Buck O’Neil and John Thorn alone are worth your attention.