Top 10: Who are the best baseball movie actors of all-time?

Mar 28, 2024, 12:35 PM

baseball movie Kevin Costner Field of Dreams...

Kevin Costner walks onto the field prior to a Field of Dreams MLB game in Iowa on Aug. 12, 2021. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Opening day has arrived for the 2024 MLB baseball season, including here in Seattle where the Mariners will take on the Boston Red Sox for the first four games of the campaign. And if you’re anything along with me, the return of baseball comes with the need to revisit my favorite baseball movies.

Everybody has a personal favorite, whether it’s Bull Durham, Major League, or if you’re a true ball-knower, the unparalleled Little Big League (just watch the actual baseball-playing scenes a little closer the next time it’s on and you’ll know what I mean).

The debate of which baseball movie is the best of all-time has raged on for years, and it’s hard to find a consensus pick. But what about the best baseball movie actor? Now that’s an interesting conversation.

First, I have a couple parameters. Like the Baseball Hall of Fame, consistency needs to be part of an actor’s candidacy here, so I’ve limited this list to people who have been in at least two baseball movies, and they need to have appeared in uniform in at least one of those films (if it wasn’t for this, I’d have Geena Davis as a serious contender for a spot high on the list). Secondly, baseball skills are what we’re looking for most here – the more convincingly they looked like a big leaguer, the higher they are on the list.

So with that all out of the way, here it is: the 10 best baseball movie actors of all-time (plus one honorable mention).

Honorable mention: Michael Papajohn

The go-to guy in the 90s when you needed a real athlete to play some ball in your movie. He never said much, but his diving catch in Little Big League and presence as the big bad Yankees hitter in For Love of the Game brings a lot to those films.

10. James Earl Jones (The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, Field of Dreams, The Sandlot)

Gotta start the real list off with a legend. The reason he’s ranked No. 10 is he’s actually hurt by his one turn as a character in uniform. In The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, a romp from the 1970s about a barnstorming team of ex-Negro Leagues players, he’s got a decent batting stance but no stride in his swing, which takes the wind out of the sails of his Josh Gibson-inspired character. That movie has both Darth Vadar and Lando Calrissian playing baseball, though, so it’s really worth checking out if you’ve never seen it.

But you know why he really makes the list. It’s because James Earl Jones saying “BASEBALL, RAY” during his epic monologue in Field of Dreams is as iconic as anything ever said in a baseball film.

Did you watch it? OK, then now you’re ready for opening day.

9. Neil Flynn (Major League, Rookie of the Year)

“The Janitor” from Scrubs (or Lindsey Lohan’s dad in Mean Girls, if you prefer) has a small part as a construction worker and fan in Major League who has a love/hate relationship with a “Wild Thing” loyalist. A few years later, he played a moderately convincing first base as Stan Okie of the Chicago Cubs in Rookie of the Year. That’s not nothing considering a key scene in that movie involves pickoff shenanigans – what would be a kids baseball movie without a hidden ball trick or two?

8. Robert Wuhl (Bull Durham, Cobb, Arli$$)

Wuhl gets the edge on Flynn on extra credit for his role as Arliss, which gives him serious sports cred. He honestly still might have been ranked here just for his character in Bull Durham being involved in the most memorable mound visit in cinema history.

7. Chelcie Ross (Major League, Trouble with the Curve)

I’ve never seen Trouble with the Curve (it has a bad reputation for its lack of baseball authenticity), but you tell me crafty veteran right-hander Eddie Harris was in a second baseball movie and that’s enough for No. 7. Sorry, Jobu. (Ross also had roles in Hoosiers and Rudy, so he’s a true sports movie legend.)

6. Art Lafleur (Field of Dreams, Mr. Baseball, The Sandlot)

The same guy played Chick Gandel and the ghost of The Babe, and was a Yankees coach in between. That’s a true baseball man in any book.

5. David Strathairn (Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own)

Strathairn is an acting great who, along with John Cusack’s Buck Weaver, carries Eight Men Out as knuckleballing Black Sox ace Eddie Cicotte (play that name in Immaculate Grid sometime, he always gets a low score). He’s also sneaky good as the not so benevolent commissioner type of the AAGPBL in A League of Their Own.

4. Timothy Busfield (Field of Dreams, Little Big League)

Now we’re getting to the serious players. After having to play the absolute worst non-believer in Field of Dreams, Busfield got his redemption as a sweet swinging Minnesota Twins first baseman in Little Big League, which is the most underrated baseball movie of all-time (the on-field action is second to none, and that is not up for debate).

Not only did Busfield learn to hit left-handed for the role, he stood in the box against Randy Johnson for real to shoot the climactic scene. Alas, “Sweet” Lou Collins was robbed by Junior in the end as the Mariners ruined the Twins’ season to make the playoffs on the big screen – a year before the M’s reached the postseason for the first time in real life.

3. Charlie Sheen (Eight Men Out, Major League)

This is gonna be controversial. “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn might be the best character in baseball movie history, and Sheen was legit throwing the heater in the 80s. I think his playing is just OK as center fielder Happy Felsch in Eight Men Out, however. Not that it was necessarily his fault, as he had to have been hampered by the fact that he had some horribly unconvincing dropped flies because he was playing someone deliberately throwing games. His swing in the background during the credits doesn’t look half bad, at least.

2. Dennis Haysbert (Major League, Mr. Baseball)

And here’s why Sheen is third. Haysbert showed he had real baseball chops in Major League as Pedro Cerrano, but he’s arguably even better in Mr. Baseball, which is a lost classic — well, kinda. As a movie, it’s pretty terrible. As an authentic representation of Japanese professional baseball and the “gaijin” Americans playing abroad, it’s incredible. While Cerrano couldn’t hit the curveball, Max “Hammer” Dubois is better with breaking pitches as he teaches Tom Selleck all about the shuuto.

The main reason Haysbert gets the edge over Sheen, though, comes from the movie where they were teammates. Why? He actually hit the home run in the pivotal game in Major League. Seriously – everybody that was there says he hit the ball out in front of a massive crowd of extras at Milwaukee County Stadium. To me, an actor hitting an actual homer beats an actor throwing in the 80s. Unless…

1. Kevin Costner (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game)

… that pitcher also played a minor league lifer and was the main character in one of the greatest baseball movies that will ever be made. Crash Davis. Ray Kinsella. Billy Chapel. OK, maybe you don’t know that last one because For Love of the Game has the same problem as Mr. Baseball – bad movie, great baseball (helped even more by the presence of the legendary Vin Scully). Regardless, there’s no arguing Costner has the greatest baseball movie resume there is.

He switch-hit and caught in Bull Durham, threw fastballs in the 80s and real breaking balls in For Love of the Game, and gave us the neverending debate of “Do you throw catch or have a catch?” with the final scene of Field of Dreams. And there’s no better lesson for young pitchers everywhere than this: “Strikeouts are fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.” Now if that doesn’t scream “baseball,” I don’t know what does.

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Top 10: Who are the best baseball movie actors of all-time?