The Sandlot – What Was The Greatest Summer Of Your Life?

By Mike Shaeffer 

The Sandlot, USA, 1993

Directed by David Mickey Evans

Filmed in Utah, the 1993 coming-of-age film The Sandlot wonderfully captures the summer of 1962 through the eyes of nine middle-school boys, and—in what was certainly a case of life imitating art—this cast of unknowns would later admit that the summer they spent filming this cinematic gem was, indeed, their favorite summer. Just like Simon Birch—another film involving an ill-fated baseball—this story opens with the voice of an adult narrator recalling one of the more memorable chapters from his youth. A good sports drama involves conflict, and the main pickle in this adventure stems from a stepfather’s prized baseball being knocked over the fence of the neighborhood sandlot that plays host to a summer-long baseball game. Normally, a 95-cent baseball would just be replaced, but this ball was autographed by the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, and the neighboring yard is patrolled by a drooling monster of a dog known to the boys as “The Beast.” 

Co-writer, director, and aforementioned narrator David Mickey Evans takes a page out of Ridley Scott’s suspense-building playbook from the original Alien and only provides us with growls, howls, and rattling fences until we are finally given a glance at Hercules, the baseball-collecting English Mastiff belonging to a blind recluse, played by national treasure James Earl Jones (Conan the Barbarian, Dr. Strangelove, and the baseball classic Field of Dreams). Steven Spielberg and a bevy of coy velociraptors would use this taunting trick two months after The Sandlot hit theatres with a little indie flick called Jurassic Park.

But back to the ballpark. Do you know which cast member deserves a pat on the back for his performance? Denis Leary as the aloof stepdad of Scotty “You’re killing me!” Smalls (Tom Guiry). Leary’s performance is the most nuanced and restrained of his career—and he plays a Yankees fan! The Boston-bred comedian is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and to have such a vocal entertainer pull off such a convincing Yankees devotee deserves special recognition. Hats off, sir.

A good sports drama also holds up over time. Who would you guess is older—The Sandlot or Miley Cyrus? Miley is, but only by a couple of months. I have no clue if Miley will be a powerful bit of nostalgia a quarter century from now, but I’ll stick around and find out. Point being, The Sandlot will hold up as well as The Pride of the Yankees (1942), a movie I’ve seen well over twenty times. In decades to come, The Sandlot will age even better than, say, The Bad News Bears, simply because The Sandlot has better characters (“Yeah, yeah”) and the period—the ’60s vs. the ’70s—is captured in a way that reinforces the notion of friendship, teamwork, and a more innocent time.

Of the various baseball movie-ranking charts available online, each one lists The Sandlot in the top ten, with Baseball Almanac giving The Sandlot a favorable number two slot behind Major League. A favorite of mine—overlooked on just about all these online rankers—is Stealing Home with Jodie Foster and Mark Harmon, but other usual suspects include A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out, The Natural (wherein Robert Redford uses Wonderboy to betray Samuel L. Jackson—hail Hydra!), and the Kevin Costner triple play of Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and The Untouchables (granted, DeNiro only brandished a bat in one scene, but what a scene; to round out a baseball trifecta, this easily edges out Costner’s For Love of the Game—with apologies to Sam Raimi).

Before arriving at the movie’s main conflict, the neighborhood rascals discover the nauseating effects of mixing chewing tobacco with a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. (A little IMDb trivia: the tobaccus vomitus was a combination of chewed-up beef jerky and licorice—almost as tasty as real chaw.) There is also a desperate scene where the myopic Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) fakes drowning in the deep end of the local pool, just to receive mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by the lifeguard of his dreams, Wendy Peffercorn (Marlee Shelton). There is also some genuinely funny trash-talking throughout—“Is that your sister in right field? Is she naked?”—and some earnest camaraderie among the sluggers that transcends time.

Does the band of brothers retrieve the Babe Ruth baseball and conquer Hercules? If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not here to spoil that pickle. But I can tell you that, when you consider the most menacing dogs of the cinema, Cujo barely cuts it. The correct order is:

10. Ray Harryhausen’s animated Cerberus from Clash of the Titans

9. Cujo (Stephen King’s canines get double entries on this list—see #5).

8. Gozer the Gozerian’s guard dogs from the original Ghostbusters

7. Damien’s hounds from The Omen

6. Bunny from Hudson Hawk

5. Chomper from Stand By Me

4. Milo from The Mask

3. Hercules aka “The Beast” from The Sandlot

2. Puffy from There’s Something About Mary

1. Umbrella Corporation’s Dobermans from Resident Evil

On behalf of the fine writers and cinephiles here at MIDG, enjoy the rest of your summer, steer clear of the chewing tobacco, and try not to get into any pickles.

Mike Shaeffer is a slam poet, playwright, director, and English teacher who lives in Fairbanks, AK.

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