For those sports fans like me, who are really missing watching live sports either on TV or in person, here’s something to help you pass the time.
Here’s some of my favorite all-time sports movies, in no particular order:
THE ROOKIE — A 2002 Disney release that featured Dennis Quaid in a sort of true story about high school baseball coach Jimmy Morris, whose Reagan County team in Big Lake, Texas, challenged him to try out for a major league baseball team.
The players were amazed at how hard Morris threw the ball in batting practice. Morris, who’d hurt his left pitching arm in an earlier stint in the minor leagues, promised he’d try out if the Owls won a district title. The Owls, who said in real games the baseball looked like a “beachball” after they’d been accustomed to Morris’ fastball, advanced to the playoffs and Morris kept his promise.
The 35-year-old hit 98 mph on two radar guns for 12 straight pitches in a tryout for Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay scouts asked Morris to throw again a couple of days later and he hit 97 on the gun in the rain.
Morris, who had a wife and three children, accepted an offer from Tampa Bay, and after quickly moving up in the minor leagues, made his MLB debut against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 18, 1999, striking out Royce Clayton on four pitches. Morris wound up pitching in 16 games in two seasons in the Big Leagues.
The movie stuck to most of the facts about Morris though in the interest of time left out his outstanding football career. He played wide receiver on a state high school championship team at Brownwood and then earned all-American honors as a punter at Angelo State. One reason I’m fond of the Morris story is that I saw him catch a touchdown pass in a state semifinal game against Rockwall.
THE STRATTON STORY — Another true-life baseball story about Monty Stratton, who was from the Wagner Community in Hunt County. This 1949 feel-good film features Jimmy Stewart as Stratton, one of the top pitchers in MLB who loses a leg in a hunting accident but makes an inspirational comeback. Stratton became one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues while pitching on a wooden leg. Stewart does a fine job as Monty and is believable as a pitcher, much more than Van Johnson, who was also considered for the part.
June Allyson also does a wonderful job as Monty’s wife Ethel, who greatly aided his comeback. Monty was a consultant on the film and made sure it stuck pretty close to the facts, including the time he won on a slot machine with his last coin. He told me he never gambled much after that lucky break. He said he didn't need to gamble again because he knew what it felt like to lose and to win.
THE BAD NEWS BEARS — Another baseball film but this one was a hilarious romp that featured Walter Matthau coaching a terrible Little League baseball team whose ace pitcher was a girl played by Tatum O’Neal. The Bears got better with practice and even hung tough in a showdown with the best team in the league, coached by the tough actor Vic Morrow. But unlike a lot of films, the Bears lost the big game but still made us smile when they got back at the arrogant winners after the game. Actor Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played the lumpy Engelberg, later graduated from Highland Park.
One of my favorite actors in the film was Jackie Earle Haley, who played the outlaw Kelly Leak, the best hitter and fielder on the team.
BREAKING AWAY — Jackie Earle Haley played a part in another one of my favorite sports films. This 1979 film, which won an Oscar for best original screenplay, is all about cycling: on bicycles, not motorcycles. Dennis Christopher plays Dave Stohler, a young guy in Bloomington, Indiana, who spends a lot of time riding his bicycle and courting an Indiana University coed while pretending to be an Italian. Stohler gets found out as a phony Italian but wins our hearts with his courageous ride in the Little 500 bike race, an IU tradition.
This time the film lets the good guys, or in this case, the Cutters win. Cutter as in stonecutter. Dennis Quad is also in this film but the actor who really commanded my attention was Paul Dooley as Stohler’s father. I still bust out laughing when dad, who owns a used car lot, almost has a stroke when he repeats the word “refund.” That film was a great inspiration to me when I was feeling low as a hospital patient and helped me eventually get bitten by the cycling bug.
BRIAN’S SONG — A real tearjerker about the life and death of Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, masterfully played by James Caan. Pic’s close relationship to Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) carries the 1971 made-for-TV film. Pic lifted up Sayers when he’s recovering from a knee injury. Sayers is there for Piccolo in his battle with cancer. Actress Shelley Fabares plays Piccolo’s wife Joy. She later returns to football in the TV series “Coach” as coach Hayden Fox’s love interest.
Well, there’s a few of my favorite films that deal with sports. Maybe during this break from sports I’ll watch some more interesting sports films or rewatch some of these classics.
David Claybourn is sports editor of the Herald-Banner.