Top of page

Baseball and the Law Goes Hollywood

Share this post:

The eight men from Eight Men Out movie fame.  [“Fix these faces in your memory”: A cartoon ran by newspapers in 1920 during the Black Sox Scandal. Wikimedia Commons]
With thanks to Margaret Wood for the idea and to her and Jim Martin for some of the entries below, this post is a light-hearted look at baseball and the law in film.

Let’s start with movies about cheating and gambling.

First we have the obvious Eight Men Out, a 1988 film about the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 where Chicago White Sox players threw the World Series.  Even though the titular players were found innocent in a court of law, they were nonetheless banned from the sport for life.

Another classic baseball film, The Natural (1984), also contained a thread about throwing games for money.  This time it was an owner (the “Judge”) who offered the film’s star character, Roy Hobbs, $5,000 to tank the rest of the season.  Roy Hobbs, of course, refused (this was Robert Redford, after all).  The Judge later ups the ante by telling Hobbs that another player has taken the bribe so Hobbs might as well benefit too.  Redford–I mean Hobbs–holds firm and we get our happy ending fade-out of him playing catch with his son.

More illegal sports gambling is seen in 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Here, gangsters are looking to win a big bet by getting a star player (played by Gene Kelly) knocked off the team.  This movie is notable, if for no other reason than you get to watch Kelly sing and dance.

Although not even addressed in the film, cheating is a main aspect of It Happens Every Spring (1949), where a mild-mannered professor invents a substance that repels wood.  He goes on to become a Major League pitcher who can strike out any batter.  But he eventually runs out of his “magic potion” before, presumably, he was found out and held accountable for his crime.

Want to talk estate law and wills?

Well, we have the 1951 screwball comedy Rhubarb, where in his will a man leaves his Brooklyn baseball team to his beloved cat.  Again we have gangsters and an epic court battle to decide the fate of the team.

And you might say that one of the stars of the film Fever Pitch (2005) is the Boston Red Sox season tickets that have been willed to main character Ben by a beloved uncle.  The tickets figure prominently in the plot about a diehard fan who loses, and ultimately wins back, the girl of his dreams–all owing to his Red Sox tickets.

How about some contracts law?

The 1958 film Damn Yankees tells the tale of a Washington Senators fan who makes a deal with the devil so that his team can beat the New York Yankees and win the pennant.  Can we throw in body snatching (or would it be kidnapping) as well?  In this film, the fan, Joe Boyd, is turned into star player Joe Hardy, and the Senators go on a winning streak. For those of us who love classic musicals, this one contains the hit song “Whatever Lola Wants”– well worth the price of admission.  Perhaps the other extreme to this film would be Angels in the Outfield (1951 or 1994) where celestial beings interfere with the game to help a hapless team (the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1951 version) win.

Speaking of kidnapping, in The Fan (1996), the protagonist, Gil, kidnaps star player Rayburn’s son and demands that Rayburn hit a home run for him or the son will die.  Oh, and Gil also murders a few other people along the way to his ultimate death.

For films on a topic of law before there was law, pre-civil rights era issues are depicted in both The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), a biopic starring Jackie Robinson himself, and the more recent 42 (2016), which has the added bonus of Harrison Ford playing Branch Rickey.

Got any others to add to the list?  We’d love to hear from you.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.