“Moneyball” certainly has the enthusiastic reviews and crowd-pleasing nature usually needed to get on base at the Oscars. It tells the real-life story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of the Oakland A’s, who used statistics to assemble an intensely competitive team on a tight budget. However, it must overcome the academy bias against baseball movies.
Sports films about an underdog are usually a surefire way to the Academy Awards, as proven last year when boxing drama “The Fighter” racked up seven nominations including Best Picture. Athletics ranging from football (“The Blind Side,” 2009) to wrestling (“The Wrestler,” 2008) have captured voters’ attention in recent years. However, the last baseball film to be nominated for Best Picture was “Field of Dreams” in 1989.
“Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner, was an enormous box office success and scored nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. The tale of a man who hears ghostly voices that tell him to build a baseball field in his field of crops remains a sports film classic today. Its surprising Best Picture bid stole a base from contenders like “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Do the Right Thing.”
A year earlier, Costner had helped propel the baseball comedy “Bull Durham” to an Oscar nomination for its original screenplay. Co-starring Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, “Durham” is about a fan who chooses a minor-league ball player each season to have an affair with.
“The Natural” hit it big with the academy in 1984. The story of Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), a middle-aged batter who pulls a struggling team out of their rut in the 1930s, managed four nominations. It did, however, lose those bids for Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), Cinematography, Art Direction, and Randy Newman‘s lovely score.
Back in 1973, Robert De Niro won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for his supporting role as a terminally ill major league catcher in “Bang the Drum Slowly.” De Niro would have to wait a year to win an Oscar (“The Godfather: Part II”), as it was Vincent Gardenia, as the team’s manager, who ended up getting nominated at the Oscars.
Tab Hunter and Gwen Verdon sang and danced “Damn Yankees” (1958) to an Oscar nomination for its musical scoring. The film adaptation of the Broadway hit centers around a baseball-obsessed older man who makes a deal with the devil to be young and fit enough to play for the now-defunct Washington Senators.
Two baseball biopics earned writing nominations in 1952 and 1949. “The Pride of St. Louis” follows the life and career of pitcher Dizzy Dean (Dan Dailey) through the early 1940s. In “The Stratton Story,” James Stewart plays Monty Stratton, a major league pitcher who made a minor league comeback after a hunting accident leaves him with a wooden leg.
The film that won over the Academy and baseball fans alike was “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942). This unforgettable biography of Lou Gehrig managed an impressive eleven Oscar nominations, winning for Editing. Best Picture was among the film’s nods, along with citations for lead performers Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright.
The last baseball flick to even come close to scoring an Oscar nomination was “A League of Their Own” (1992), about the first female professional baseball league. The film’s star, Madonna, got a Golden Globe nod for her number-one hit song “This Used To Be My Playground” but struck out with academy voters.
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