The start of spring signals the beginning of another year of Major League Baseball. As sports fans look forward to another season, join BIO in looking back at the lives of some of the most fascinating ballplayers in the history of the game. You won't have to take a trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown to learn about the game's biggest icons, because many of them are the subjects of great movies. Here are some of those true-life baseball stories.
Lou Gehrig—The Pride of the Yankees (1942): The Pride of the Yankees follows Lou Gehrig on his journey through the minor leagues to his eventual placement behind Babe Ruth in the New York Yankees lineup. In 1925, Gehrig became the Yankees' first baseman and held the position for 15 seasons, setting records and winning multiple championships. In 1939, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is now also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The movie depicts Gehrig's famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, where an emotional Gehrig proclaims himself to be "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth." Film legend Gary Cooper portrayed Gehrig, while Babe Ruth played himself.
Jackie Robinson—The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), 42 (2013): In 1945, Branch Rickey, general manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs to a contract, officially integrating Major League Baseball. Robinson made his debut for the Dodgers in 1947 and began an incredible career that would not only bring the Dodgers a championship in 1955, but change baseball forever.
Initially jeered and abused by other teams and fans, he continued to play and paved the way for other African-American players to join the major leagues. In 1950, he starred in his own biopic, The Jackie Robinson Story. In 1997, Major League Baseball retired his number—42. Players wearing "42" at the time were allowed to keep their number, making Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees the final player wear the number.
In 2013, Robinson's story returned to the big screen in 42, about his historic 1947 season with the Dodgers. This time, Chadwick Boseman portrayed the ballplayer, with Harrison Ford starring as Rickey, the general manager who saw him as the ideal man to shoulder the burden.
Babe Ruth—The Babe (1992): Arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, George Herman "Babe" Ruth was also one of the game's biggest personalities. Born in Baltimore, he was sent to an orphanage at the age of seven where Brother Matthias Boutlier introduced him to baseball. Starting as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, he held the record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched in a World Series until 1961.
But Ruth became better known as the game's first great power hitter, as he set longstanding records for most home runs in a single season, slugging percentage, and all-time home runs. He toured the world as an ambassador for the sport and retired in 1935 after being traded from the Yankees in 1934 to the Boston Braves. He was later portrayed on screen by film and TV star John Goodman.
Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle—61* (2001): Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs seemed like an unbreakable mark. Since he set the record in 1927, few players had ever come close to reaching the magic number of 60 until 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, "The M&M Boys" of the New York Yankees, started hitting home runs at record pace. Mantle suffered a series of health problems, which took him out of the running to break the record. Maris passed Ruth on the last day of the season with his 61st home run.
Ford Frick, baseball commissioner at the time, declared that an asterisk be placed next to the number because Maris had played in more games during the season than Ruth. In 1991, the asterisk was removed. In the film directed by Billy Crystal, Barry Pepper played Maris and Thomas Jane played Mantle.
Jerome "Dizzy" Dean—The Pride of St. Louis (1952): The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals were a hot-headed, hard playing, cast of characters. Known as the "Gashouse Gang," the lineup featured Leo "the Lip" Durocher, Joe "Ducky" Medwick, and their ace pitcher Jerome "Dizzy" Dean. The last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a season, Dean was loud, cocky and impulsive. Once while pinch running, Dean was hit in the head with a throw. Famously, the next day's headlines read "X-Rays of Dean's Head Reveal Nothing." After his playing career was cut short by injury, Dean became a television personality.
Jim Morris—The Rookie (2002): Jim Morris had given up on his dream of returning to Major League Baseball after a shoulder injury forced him to retire in 1983. He taught high school science and coached the baseball team, The Owls, in his hometown of Big Lake, Texas.
In 1999, in a bid to inspire The Owls to victory, he promised that if they won the division championship, he would try out for a major league team. The Owls won the title, and Morris kept his word by attending a tryout for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. To everyone's surprise, the 35-year-old Morris was pitching harder and faster than most, with his speed approaching 99 mph. He was signed to a contract and made his debut for the Devil Rays in September 1999. Dennis Quaid brought his life story to the big screen.
Ty Cobb—Cobb (1994): Ty Cobb is remembered as one of baseball's greatest players, but also one of its most notorious. Angry and intense, he played the game to win at any cost, often sliding with his spikes up so that any defensive player would be hurt in the collision. A tremendous player, his legacy is marred by violent encounters with other players and fans. After being heckled by a fan in New York, Cobb jumped into the stands and began beating the man even after he found out the man was handicapped.
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in its inaugural class, Cobb still holds the record for highest career batting average and career batting titles. In the film based on the work of sports writer Al Stump, the baseball great was portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson—Eight Men Out (1988): "Say it ain't so, Joe." Eight Men Out tells the true story of the Chicago White Sox's loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. Eight members of the White Sox, including star "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, intentionally lost the series, believing they would be paid $10,000 each by gangster Arnold Rothstein. From the first pitch of the first game, sports journalists and baseball management could see that something was definitely wrong.
Though the players were indicted by a grand jury and eventually found not guilty, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, declared that any player who consulted with gamblers could no longer play professional baseball. All eight players were banned for life. Their story can be seen in the film directed by John Sayles.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—A League of Their Own (1992): At the beginning of World War II, with most of the country's men fighting overseas or helping with the war effort, baseball owners feared that professional baseball would be canceled. To compensate, they created the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) to keep baseball in the public eye.
Girls were recruited from all over the country to try out at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Women wore skirts and were instructed that although they were playing baseball, they were to remain undeniably feminine. Although men's baseball was never canceled, the AAGPBL lasted from 1943 to 1954. Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Max Carey were two of the league's most famous managers.