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TOP 50 SPORTS MOVIES OF ALL TIME: #38 THE SANDLOT

Someone asked me the other day if The Sandlot was going to make the list. The only answer for him? “Count on it, pee-drinking crap-face!”

After a brief sabbatical for Spring Ball, Raiola commitment, softball, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup and whatever else until we’re basically left with baseball until fall practice starts, it’s time for some more movies and speaking of baseball, The Sandlot is up to bat. But first -

MOVIES SO BAD, THEY’RE GOOD (ALMOST)

Summer Catch

Eight years after The Sandlot, the baseball movie gods gave us Summer Catch and I’m guessing the only reason the Cape Cod League didn’t sue the producers for defamation of character is because they avoided mentioning the league, the Cape or the state of Connecticut.

First, a quick shout-out to the only two positives which come to mind - Jessica Biel and Brian Dennehy. While neither Biel or Dennehy are shooting for gold statues here, they do get fist-bumps for being the only adults in the show. Biel is eye-poppingly attractive and scantily-clad in enough scenes to make sure you know it. Freddie Prinze Jr deserves neither her attention nor her sympathy and her shitty family doesn’t either.

Where Dennehy is concerned, this member of the Greatest Evil Movie Sheriffs of All Time club should’ve been giving most of that summer team the First Blood Will Teasle treatment as their manager. He looked like a man hungover on set most mornings.

However, it is an impressive cast and most are so misused/awful/both that it’s an oddly fun thing to see sort of like tornado or car crash TikToks: Prinze Jr. (convincing neither as a baseball player nor a boy over the age of 12 with his constant sniveling and blow-ups), Matthew Lillard (a walking apocalypse of a weirdo as his best friend), Fred Ward (inexplicably displaying multiple personalities as Prinze’s father), Marc Blucas (of Buffy and Angel fame - seen here soldiering through a storyline as young man with a taste for large ladies), and Brittany Murphy (everybody has to work but maybe she should’ve waited for a better role than the ditzy local drunken slut).

There’s actually a lot more here - IMDB this group for yourself - including Bruce Davison as Biel’s evil, snobby dad, who probably don’t rewatch this with their families over the holidays. But trust me, I do. Watching this shit show keep finding multiple ways to go down in flames while actors behave like lunatics is always fun. Hell, there’s even cameos from Ken Griffey Jr. and Hank Aaron!

Right now, there’s not much going on in sports for a few months. Bite the cork off a jug and enjoy Summer Catch while getting as drunk as whichever producers greenlit this dumpster fire. You’re welcome.


#38 - THE SANDLOT

I can’t take credit for it and I can’t remember who spake it, but someone somewhere once said:

“The Sandlot is a summer version of Xmas Story and both make you feel nostalgic for a childhood you probably didn’t have.”

To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Friends around my age were born on or after the year it took place. By the time I was that age (and playing Little League), baseball was much more Bad News Bears than Sandlot. Also, if I wasn’t in baseball pants, I was in shorts - living in North Carolina and summering in North Georgia, the idea of running around in the heat in jeans was unthinkable. Every day would’ve been like the Sandlot kids’ hot pool day.

In the mid 70’s in the 11-12 year old range, I used to round up guys to go to the local park for what was essentially what the Sandlot kids were doing - taking turns hitting with fielders but the most we ever got was maybe 7 and the average was 4-5. I pitched, my friend Mark caught, one person batted and we had one shagger, two if we were lucky. And we weren’t spending every moment together outside of that.

I hear people of my era talking as if we all wandered off in the morning, ran around the city or country all day, returned for dinner and moms and dads thought nothing of it. Personally, I think that’s my generation’s version of “walked 5 miles uphill to school both ways, y’all kids are soft” - in other words, bullshit.

I think of it as our generation both growing up and being told how easy we had it and being pissed this generation has waaaaay better video games. We were outside in the summer because inside fun ended with soap operas, reruns, board games and self-abuse with whatever dirty mags dad was stashing.

If I’m honest, The Sandlot probably should’ve been ranked a little lower. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable though and it DOES deserve a spot on this list. The kids especially are hilarious because they’re actual kids who can be funny, caring, loyal and, yes, cruel without realizing it or meaning to be.

But I will say this - 10-11 year old me would’ve dedicated himself 100% to helping Smalls retrieve the Babe Ruth ball from The Beast. How do I know this? Because I brought my dad’s 1929 New York Giants ball signed by Mel Ott to school one day for catch and it went down a drain. No lie. A teacher pulled me out of the grate I was crawling into. She hauled me back by my ankles as I fought to dive into all manner of underground childhood fears to retrieve the prize.

I said nothing at home and just hoped my father would never get the urge ever to take a look again. As far as I know, he never did. Dad, if you’re reading this? Sorry, man.

Let’s review.


MY FAVORITE SCENES

(Yeah, I left some out, but for me, these are the ones which provide the rewatches and the lines we repeat to this day)

Ham Porter: “Benny, why’d you bring that kid?”
Benny Rodriguez: “Because he makes nine of us.”
Yeah Yeah: “Yeah yeah, so does my sister, but I didn’t bring her along!”

Smalls finds the game, gets asked to play, has less than zero skills. And he rolls in sporting that goddamned amazing, beautiful duckbill hat. His inability to even almost catch or throw a ball is jaw-dropping and most of the kids do just that as they watch him flounder about. Of course, they are oblivious to how their laughter kills him inside as he runs away in tears.

Gotta admit, I could never control laughter and I would not have been able to that day. Benny the Jet did and 100% felt Smalls’ pain. We all need friends like Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.


Ham: “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”
(BTW, sound familiar? It’s a paraphrase of then Broncos and future Peru State (NE) coach, Lou Saban, yelling at the ref “You’re killin’ me, Whitey, you’re killin’ me!!” while mic’d up for NFL Films.)

After Smalls gets doinked in face by Denis Leary during a short game of catch, Benny comes by with a glove and a not horrible hat to bring him back the lot. The fellas are very dubious - but Benny insists they have to make it work so they’ll have 9. With one of the finest fungo liners ever, Benny whacks a shot right into Smalls’ outstretched glove (with Eyes Tightly Shut). He quickly teaches him to throw and we have a full gang.

Batting around, Ham jacks one into the back yard of a adjacent house (And is just so happy as they all throw gloves at him & beat him as he rounds the bases with a dreamy smile. If Benny is their Great Spirit, Ham is their voice and Fearless Warrior. Mostly fearless ). Smalls sez he’ll get it and trots to the fence. All the fellas’ eye pop white, they scream “NOOOOO” at the top of their lungs and run him down before he can be torn apart by…The BEAST.

When Smalls has no idea what that is, it’s decided much more time needed to properly tell the story.

CAMP OUT!!

As the Legend of The Beast is revealed, Smalls is introduced to Smores and, as always, is utterly confused. After asking “Some more what” for the umpteenth time, Ham finally snaps and uncorks the magical line.


Squints: “I’ve been coming here every summer of my adult life, and every summer there she is oiling and lotioning, lotioning and oiling... smiling. I can’t take this no more! Move!”

One day, it was too hot to play baseball (especially when several of these simps are wearing jeans. Too hot - no kidding??), so they decided to grab their suits and head off to the public pool. The gorgeous Wendy Peffercorn was lifeguarding and Michael “Squints” Palledorous and his developing hormones had reached the breaking point.

The Squintsident was going down.

This became a mildly controversial scene over time as some considered it akin to making light of sexual assault. We remember the scene - Squints fakes drowning, is rescued by Wendy and then realizes his bliss as she performs CPR, stopping momentarily to wink at his buddies who believe him dying, before wrapping his arms around her and shooting his shot. With tongue.

A sputtering Wendy immediately kicks them all out dragging and slapping Squints the whole way - and if you ask me, the punishment fit the crime.

Now, the big smile from her and the post-script about their marriage and nine kids probably did send the wrong message. But I think everyone took the scene for what it was - a little nerd getting a smooch then slapped silly. I never heard any stories about prepubescent copycat crimes, so I give it a pass.


Ham: “You play ball like a girrrrrl”

Best just to drop this scene in. Ham destroys the chode Little League pitcher in a roast battle with that line and then the fellas hand the smarmy little shits their collective asses in the big showdown while Ham keeps wreaking psychological havoc on their non-existent mental toughness. Score a big W for our heroes.


Bertram: “Big Chief - the BEST!”

Of course, great victories demand memorable celebrations and this one was certainly that. They put on their finest dress shirts and headed to the carnival destined for what could only be described as Tilt-a-Whirl incident. Everyone in the theater who’d ever experienced or at least witnessed the effect of chewing tobacco products on pre-teens was already getting queasy as soon as Bertram broke out the Big Chief.

Experience it again for yourself below. By the way, the rewatch made me remember how playing “Tequila” over the scene gave it an extra little level of nausea.


Timmy: “Smalls, you mean to tell me you went home, swiped a ball that was signed by BABE RUTH, brought it out here and actually played with it?”
Tommy: “And actually played with it?”

Another script turner. After their big win, the boys settle back into the game. In the midst of his turn at the plate, Benny portends a bad omen when he pulls a Roy Hobbs and knocks the cover off the ball. As it’s their last ball and only the foolish brave dare challenge The Beast (my wooby!), it appears the day is done until Smalls makes the fateful decision to snag Bill’s Babe Ruth-autographed ball.

(Quick question - how did no one, especially the pitcher Kenny, not notice an autograph on the ball and think to check it out? 0% chance this happens.)

The looks on their faces are priceless when an utterly distraught Smalls explains the ball’s significance. The rescue attempts ensue and I never fail laugh uproariously at the bloodcurdling group screams and destruction of property (including erector sets and a vacuum cleaner) which follow each failure. Lotsa failures and lotsa screaming.


The Babe: “Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die, follow your heart kid, and you’ll never go wrong.”

With all attempts to retrieve a now utterly disgusting and worthless baseball foiled, it’s time for Babe Ruth’s spirit to step into his dreams and let Benny know his friends are all useless poop emojis and only he can win the Biggest Pickle Ever. Benny unboxes his PF Flyers and prepares to take on The Beast

(We’re going with PF. Flyers instead of Chuck Taylors - was it that low of a budget? C’mon, Sandlot producers.)

Anyway, we’re off - and I see this scene a little different than most. Poor Hercules.

And the challenge begins! Benny hops into Beast’s horrid, junk-filled back yard where he’s tied in by an anchor chain from a WW2-era destroyer (Mr. Mertle - is he really a nice guy?). Beast is so happy to see one of the mini-hoomans, he immediately grabs a ball to have the game of catch/fetch he’s dreamed of watching the boys play day after day. And then? That little shit steals the goddamned ball, jumps the fence and runs off! The pawdacity!

100% within his rights, Beast busts through the fence and commences to chasing the thieving rat all over town, not the healthiest thing for a large doggo to be doing on a hot and humid day. Nonetheless, just before he’s about to run Benny down, The Jet hops the fence and inexplicably flips onto his back instead of executing a tuck and roll.

Beast knows he has him and stomps through the fence a second time when the goddamned thing falls on him!! A good boi deserves none of this but thankfully, Smalls, the mini-hooman with a soul, haplessly tries to save him. Unable to lift the fence by himself, he then avails the help of Benny to help him and The Beast is able to escape. Thanks, Benny - least you could do.

After slobbering his thanks to Smalls, Beast leads them over to his baseball stash and begins fishing them out as if to say - “HERE! Geez, you little assholes, all I wanted to was play too! Hoomans.” (Shakes giant head.)


Mr. Mertle: “I take it back. You’re not in trouble, you’re dead where you stand.”

In the final major scene, the boys come rolling around with Hercules, Beast’s real name, and knock on the front door of his owner and….OH MAH GAWD!! IS THAT JAMES EARL JONES’ MUSIC???!!

Big James comes rolling in and not only 100% takes over the end of the movie but also answers the question, “How do you make an imaginary summer of sandlot baseball with your buddies end even better than it began?” Simple. Add JEJ as blind Josh Gibson, his insane room of baseball memorabilia, and his baseball stories including both Negro Leagues games and barnstorming against MLB Hall of Famers.

And a big sweet ol’ doggo as your baseball mascot. He probably needed a bowl of cool water more than a baseball liner in August, but we’ll let that slide in the name of artistic license.

Way to go, James Earl Jones. Way to go.

(Oh, everyone started moving away, Hercules lived to 199 in dog years, Benny became a Dodger legend and Smalls became a sportswriter. Old Benny steals home. The end.)


Thoughts/Triv

  • Denis Leary and Karen Allen are kind of wasted here? I mean, Bill could be a much bigger jerk with Leary driving that avatar. BUT. It IS a kids movie, remember, and their brief appearances are appreciated.
  • Seriously. Did anyone else besides me think “SWEET DOG! WOOBY!!!” when the Beast made his first actual appearance?
  • Thom Guidry (Smalls) and Mike Vitar (Benny) were introduced to begin rehearsing weeks before the others so their bond would seem genuine. It worked - the other actors showed up and thought those two were long-time friends. They actually still talk and get together frequently and remain good friends to this day.
  • April 6th of this year was the 30 year anniversary of the release. For those near Omaha on June 24th, there will be a showing of The Sandlot at The Orpheum followed by an interactive discussion with the original cast including stories and anecdotes.
  • Theres’s no way y’all don’t wanna know this so hear ya’ go from IMDB: “The vomit used in the ride scene was made from split pea soup, baked beans, oatmeal, a little water and some movie gel. They used paint guns to discharge it and they actually nailed a few people in real life by accident. The chewing tobacco was made from beef jerky and licorice. Some of the actors also became sick filming the ride scene.”
  • Filming took place in 1992 when Basic Instinct was released. If you guessed the young members of the cast snuck out of their housing and into a screening of this steamy classic, you guessed right - and the imagined visual of their facial expressions has had me laughing my ass off ever since I discovered that nugget. As always - not all heroes wear capes.
  • OK OK, I went with the story they needed nine of them to be full. But with a batter, doesn’t that make 10? Or is the batter’s position just left empty? And if it’s not, is Smalls sitting against the Little Leaguers? If anyone wants to dive deep, take a watch and jump in the comments. Aren’t you glad I think of this weird shit so you don’t have to?
  • The boys saying “She doesn’t know what she’s doing to us!” “She knows exactly what she’s doing!” at Wendy is a shoutout to the prisoners of Cool Hand Luke using almost the same exact lines during the scene when the road gang was being tortured by the lovely lady washing her car.
  • James Earl Jones (Mr. Mertle) and Art Lafleur (Dream Babe Ruth) also played in Field of Dreams together as Terence Mann and White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil respectively.
  • Benny the Jet was played by Mike Vitar but guess who played older Benny stealing home for the Dodgers in the movie’s final scene? That would be Mike’s older brother, Pablo Vitar.
  • The “Great Hambino”, actor Patrick Renna has barely aged a day.

And saving the best for last for my hockey fans:

  • Mike Vitar (Benny the Jet) also appeared as the speedy Luis Mendoza in Mighty Ducks D2 & D3.
  • Speaking of the Mighty Ducks, Brandon Quintin Adams (pitcher Kenny DeNunez) played Jesse Hall in Mighty Ducks 1 & 2. Who played his father? Omaha acting legend, John Beasley who founded the John Beasley Theater in 2002.

Quality of Sports Scenes: While a bunch of 10-11 years olds aren’t going to hit 5-stars here, they all come off as legitimately solid baseball players who swing the bats with authority. Score - *** - Pelini

Music: Tequila and Wipeout were the only songs I actually remembered without looking things up and other than that, don’t really recall much else. The music did fit the time. Score - ** - Solich

Love Interest: Heh, heh, Wendy Peffercorn was memorable but it’s probably best to knock 2 stars off since Squints was a minor character and another one off just not give off creep vibes. Score - ** - Solich

Adrenalin/Goosebump Scenes: It’s a comedy. And while watching them mudhole stomp the Little Leaguers was fun, we’re mostly laughing at Ham’s insults. Old Benny’s steal of home is about it. Score - *1/2 - Frost

Comedy: This and rewatchability are what put The Sandlot on this list. The young cast hits its stride when they’re all chattering and chucking insults together. Squints has his moments, but this movie truly made The Great Hambino a legend who will never die. Score - ****1/2 - Devaney

Unintentional Comedy: Not much as far as I remember. All of the comedy seems 100% intentional and if there was any time period stuff which went wrong, I missed it. Score - none - Riley

The Training Montage: I guess I’ll give it one star since technically the entire movie is a training montage.Score -* - Frost

Rewatchability - Boom. It’s gonna get all the stars. What it does, it does well and about the only time it stays slow for more than a minute or two are the opening scenes before Smalls hits the field. After that, it’s always one fun scene or another which can be jumped into. Score - ***** - Osborne

OVERALL - - Score - *** - Pelini

See y’all soon for #37.

PREVIOUSLY:

#50 - THE MIGHTY DUCKS

#49 - AMERICAN FLYERS

#48 - WIND

#47 - THE NATURAL

#46 - BLOODSPORT

#45 - YOUNGBLOOD

#44 - THE REPLACEMENTS

#43 - ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS DRAGO - THE DIRECTOR’S CUT

#42 - KINGPIN

#41 - RUSH

#40 - THE WATERBOY

#39 - GOON