Joshua Rich
April 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Grand Slam: The Pride of the Yankees, The Jackie Robinson Story, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham

Now that the Yankees and Red Sox are trading blows and steroids are back in the headlines, we consider four movies revolving around the Greatest Show on Dirt. All feature America’s pastime, yes, but all are linked more unexpectedly: They’re not actually much about baseball.

Trading on ideas of heroism and determination amid adversity, The Pride of the Yankees tells of sweet, doomed Lou Gehrig, an athlete whose ballpark-size devotion to his wife supersedes even his devotion to the game. It’s a moving tale, with Babe Ruth hamming it up alongside the ever stoic Gary Cooper. It’s also apart from The Jackie Robinson Story, a similarly themed but ickily whitewashed take on the man who broke baseball’s color barrier. Though inspiring, the slapdash movie omits any honest sense of the trepidation Robinson faced — even with him playing himself. Indie stalwart John Sayles’ most commercial film, Eight Men Out, spotlights one of the sport’s more shameful episodes: the Chicago White Sox’s throwing of the 1919 World Series. Smart and meticulously styled, it depicts deception and dishonor with rare insight. And then there’s Ron Shelton’s ode to grown-up relationships, Bull Durham, a quirky, fact-loaded romantic comedy that endears itself in the way the quirky, fact-loaded game it covers does. And like the other movies here, it revels less in sport than in swinging at that cinematic curveball known as the American condition. Yankees: B Robinson: C Eight: A- Bull: B+

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