There are more good baseball movies than any other sport and it might even be true if you expand that to combine all the other sports together, although I will not stand behind that statement. If baseball is a popular sport to tackle in movies, well you’d think it’d be a popular subject to tackle in TV shows. And... it kind of is! I’m sure there are more explicitly baseball-themed shows, but the only one that comes to mind is Pitch, which I have never seen, but was decently reviewed before it got cancelled after just 10 episodes.
But I am aware of plenty of shows that aren’t about baseball that took an episode or two to talk about baseball. That’s a long-running staple of TV shows, so much so that there’s a TV tropes on it called “The Baseball Episode.” Now I was going to give this post the title of “best” or come up with a great list, but in looking for examples, I realized I haven’t seen a decent amount of the shows, so I’ll just stick to the shows I watched and pick five comedic and five dramatic series that tackled baseball.
The Simpsons “Homer at the Bat”
I thought I’d just list the most obvious of the picks, with a ridiculous assortment of guest stars, including Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Clemens, Ozzie Smith, and Wade Boggs. Then there are the “It’s the 1992 baseball stars” like Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, and Darryl Strawberry. And then oddly, weak-hitting and at the end of the careers Steve Sax and Mike Scioscia, who may have made more sense in 1992, but they are clearly the outliers of this group.
The episode is also a parody on The Natural, with Homer’s “Wonderbat.” Listen I don’t think I need to explain this episode to most of you. The Simpsons also features Mark McGwire in a season 11 cameo, where he says “Do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?!” Actually kind of weird that Simpsons has two separate episodes with Cardinal cameos now that I think about it.
The X-Files “The Unnatural”
Here’s yet another episode with a connection to the Cardinals, but it’s not evident in watching the episode. David Duchovny said he didn’t feel confident enough in his writing abilities to write an episode until the sixth season. When he did, he asked the showrunner Chris Carter (not the baseball player) if he could work on one. He was inspired to write one after learning about Joe Bauman, who hit 72 home runs for the Roswell Rockets in 1954, a fact he learned from following the home run chase of 1998. Bauman never made majors. No home run chase, no baseball episode of The X-Files?
It’s almost too perfect that Bauman played for a team in Roswell, and he played close to the time period of the 1947 Roswell incident. So he made Buaman’s character an alien and also black, inspired by Jackie Robinson. The episode title.. is also a play on the movie The Natural. Fun fact: my first run through The X-Files, I largely didn’t like Duchovny. Something about how it doesn’t really look like he’s trying and I didn’t really think he was a good actor. But when I learned he wrote and directed this, all of that went away. In a way, it let me know that he actually did care, which isn’t necessarily evident in his acting - in my opinion anyway.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia “World Series Defense”
There are two memorable baseball-related episodes in It’s Always Sunny, and this one just happens to be more about baseball than the other. In it, Dennis is fighting a series of traffic tickets in court, and through this process, he and the gang tell the judge about horrible experience during Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. If you didn’t know, that was the year the Phillies won it all and well, this series is set in Philly.
But the episode is known in particular for one specific scene and that’s Mac’s love letter to Chase Utley. I think even non-Sunny watchers have seen that scene. Chase Utley himself has responded to that scene, a few years later. By the way the other episode in question was “The Gang Beats Boggs” which was about the gang trying to beat Wade Boggs’ record of drinking 70 beers on a plane (full disclosure: I do not believe this happened). Here’s a pretty great scene of a incoherently drunk Charlie trying to hit baseballs. But I’ll post the love letter below.
Freaks and Geeks “The Diary”
Unlike the above episodes, this episode could have been about any sport. The “geeks” in the show are always picked last for baseball in gym class and the hopelessly unathletic Bill Haverchuck (played by Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr) is tired of it. Bill decides to prank call his teacher and is bad enough at it that the teacher figures it out. They talk, the teacher agrees to let him pick teams for a change.
Sorry for spoiling a 20-year-old show, but I saw no other way to explain the following clip. Besides, the episode is called “The Diary” which is a subplot of this episode that has nothing to do with the baseball elements, so I didn’t spoil the whole episode. Another baseball connection: the bully in this show is played by Chauncey Leopardi of Sandlot fame. He’s not very good in the show, but he’s there.
Cheers “I on Sports”
Cheers never had an explicit baseball episode, but how could I possibly compile this list without Cheers, which is about a former relief pitcher who now owns a bar. He was not a very good relief pitcher, although he played for the Red Sox during the 70s and that was a good stretch for them, so he couldn’t have been that bad. Anyway, there’s a lot of references to his career and to baseball in general throughout the show. Good ole Wade Boggs shows up in one of the episodes (where they don’t believe he’s Wade Boggs, pants him, and take his wallet. It makes more sense when you watch the episode).
In this episode, Sam’s old friend thinks he’d do a good job as a television sportscaster. Although, he doesn’t want to do it, Sam agrees to give it a try for a week. He is horrible at it. Like “attempts to rap” bad at it. Interestingly enough, Sam talks about how artificial turf is worse for players, and the other two anchors give him shit about it, but Sam is completely correct! Should have stuck to his guns on that one.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Take Me Out to the Holosuite”
Holosuite episodes were not typically the favorite of Star Trek fans and seemingly end up causing more problems than they’re worth, but maybe they should have all been about baseball, because this has fell on several top DS9 top 20 lists and even falls on Vox’s Top 25 essential episodes of all of Star Trek. Deep Space Nine is another show that has made it’s love of baseball clear, right from the pilot episode. Set way in the future, baseball is a dead sport, but Sisko, the captain, loves the sport and talks about the past time frequently throughout the show. Not to step on any toes, but actually yes to step on toes, this seems like pretty good evidence he’s the best captain of Star Trek.
....Anyway, Sisko is challenged by a former classmate to a game of baseball. The former classmate is a Vulcan and thinks a team of Vulcans will beat the Deep Space Nine crew. Seeing as nobody on the DS9 crew has the love of baseball that Sisko does, you can probably guess what’s going to happen. Fun fact: the actor who plays Rom, Max Grodenchik, was actually too good at baseball and had to play with his opposite hand to look worse.
South Park “The Losing Edge”
Unlike the other entries on this list, it is abundantly clear that the creators of South Park do not like baseball. Which may honestly try your patience when watching this episode. Because it is VERY CLEAR THEY DO NOT LIKE BASEBALL. How do I convey this properly? The plot of the episode is that the boys want to purposefully lose so they can stop playing baseball in the summer. The problem is that every other team also wants to lose and they try losing too.
But what makes this episode work is the fact that the traditional sports movie arc is actually given over to Randy, whose arc is... fighting other parents in the stands. Which is responsible for the much used “I thought this was America” with a beat up Randy in his underwear, getting arrested.
Band of Brothers “Points”
Not exactly a television program known for baseball, the miniseries nonetheless chooses to end the series with the characters playing baseball, with their futures narrated by Dick Winters. He stops their game to tell them that Japan has surrendered, they take it in but do not cheer, and then go back to playing baseball.
Now I do not know if this particular scene is invented or is based on something true (I’m sure they played baseball - it was that popular of a sport - but is that how they found out about the surrender?), but I think baseball is supposed to be representative of innocence, childlike fun and of course America. While they play baseball, they seemed to completely have forgotten about the war and are just having fun.
Curb Your Enthusiasm “The Car Pool Lane”
It is very, very clear that Larry David loves baseball. I chose to pick only one of the two Larry David sitcoms - sorry I just like Curb more. And in this episode, Larry is trying to get to a baseball game, but some seriously bad traffic is delaying it. So he picks up a prostitute so that he can drive to the game in the car pool lane.
This episode literally saved a man’s life. A man on death row claimed his alibi was that he was at a baseball game in 2003 and that they were filming something, but couldn’t remember what. His lawyer eventually found this episode, and saw his client brush against Larry and got him free. There’s a documentary on Netflix called “Long Shot” about it.
(Obviously “The Boyfriend if I picked a Seinfeld episode)
The Twilight Zone “The Mighty Casey”
I couldn’t find a better baseball episode from a dramatic show, but The Twilight Zone is one of the best shows of all time, so I felt like this was a good inclusion, even if this episode is not very good. Yeah if you want to watch The Twilight Zone for the first time today, it’s important to note that they had to make 36 episodes per season and 80 percent of them were written by Rod Serling, so yeah the quality wasn’t always top notch.
But hey I can sell you on this episode I think. If you want to watch great acting, it does feature Jack Warden as the coach. Warden has his own baseball connections: he later starred in the television series Bad News Bears, which lasted one season, and was on the not particularly well-remembered movie and critically panned Ed, where a chimpanzee plays baseball. I watched that when I was very young, and I liked Matt Le Blanc so I liked it, but probably best to leave that in the past if I want good memories of it. Neither of those connections sold you, so Warden is more known for one of my favorite movies ever, 12 Angry Men, and also All the President’s Men. I do not have a link for you, as this aired in 1960.
And that’s the list. I know there are more choices. I saw some shows I have seen before, but never seen the episode in question, and saw some shows I would like to see, but never seen before. And of course Seinfeld SHOULD be here, but well I ran out of room. So dear reader, I assume if I missed something, you may find it in the comments or perhaps you’ll share it yourself, because there’s a good chance I just simply haven’t seen your suggestion.