Toward the end of the 1989 film "Field of Dreams, " author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) tells Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
"This field, this game: It's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."
Baseball is so deeply ingrained in the tapestry of American life -- and has been for so long -- that it makes perfect sense filmmakers would turn to the game for inspiration and for perspectives on what is good (and bad) about this land.
More than 250 movies have been made about baseball, going all the way back to 1898 when Thomas Edison produced "The Ball Game." The sport has been used for deep human drama ("Eight Men Out"), comedy "Major League, " explorations of coming of age ("Sandlot") and rich allegory ("The Natural").
On Sept. 21, another baseball film will take the field -- "Trouble With the Curve," which looks a veteran scout on what could be his last scouting trip for the Atlanta Braves. Is it one of the best baseball films ever? Here's the competition: our lineup of the five best, pre-"Moneyball" movies about the National Pastime:
1) 'Field of Dreams' (1989)
There's such thematic richness and love of the game in this Phil Alden Robinson film that it has to be No. 1. Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears voices telling him to build a baseball field in his cornfield. When he does, he finds himself playing host to the ghosts of baseball past, most notably Shoeless Joe Jackson. But his journey is only beginning, as he travels across the country to bring reclusive author Terence Mann and former baseball player Archibald "Moonlight" Graham to Iowa. Beautifully acted -- especially by Jones as Mann and Burt Lancaster as the older Graham -- and filled with memorable dialogue, "Dreams" is sentimental in the best possible way. Anyone who doesn't shed a tear when Kinsella turns to the ghost of his father, a former baseball player, and says, "Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?" has no heart.
2) 'Bull Durham' (1988)
Kevin Costner, the star of "Field of Dreams, " goes two for two with this Ron Shelton-directed look at life in the minor leagues. It is arguably the most authentic of all baseball films in the way it captures the game, both on and off the field. And it has three memorial characters: Costner's lifetime minor leaguer Crash Davis, Tim Robbins' phenom pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh and Susan Sarandon's baseball groupie Annie Savoy. Its mixture of comedy, drama, romance and the allure of the sport is hard to beat.
3) 'Eight Men Out' (1988)
The year 1988 was a very good one for baseball movies. In addition to "Bull Durham, " there was this John Sayles film, perhaps the best baseball picture based on true events. "Eight Men" focuses on the eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox -- including Shoeless Joe Jackson (see "Field of Dreams") -- who conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series. It captures the era beautifully, deals smartly with a complex morality tale and features good performances from a cast that includes Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, Bill Irwin, John Mahoney and David Strathairn.
4) 'Major League' (1989)
More than a few baseball fans I know positively despise this movie, a rowdy comedy about the Cleveland Indians' sudden rise to challenge the New York Yankees for the pennant. But for a lot of fans, it rings true (particularly the clubhouse scenes), and some of the scenes are absolutely hilarious (Bob Uecker as the team's radio announcer is a hoot). Best of all, you find yourself cheering for this band of misfits and castoffs (sound familiar, Giants fans?). If you think some of the comedy is over the top, remember the recent TV images of the Giants' Pablo Sandoval talking to his bat. There's a scene just like it in "Major League."
5) 'A League of Their Own' (1992)
Part comedy, part period piece, part history lesson, "League" has aged particularly well as a movie. Not only does it put a forgotten piece of baseball history, the World War II-era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, in the spotlight, but it also has some terrific acting from Tom Hanks and Geena Davis as a former all-star slugger turned manager and his star player. Plus, the cast looks credible on the field. Extra credit for one truly unforgettable line: "There's no crying in baseball."
Left on base
These films were stranded when we made up our list of the Top 5 movies:
6) "Moneyball" (2011)
7) "The Natural" (1984)
8) "The Bad News Bears" (1976)
9) "61*" (2001)
10) "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973)