To mark the opening week of baseball, several big-screen movies and little-known shorts celebrating the sport are arriving on DVD.
Perhaps the most unusual is Kino's "Reel Baseball: Baseball Films of the Silent Era."
The highpoint of the two-DVD set is 1920's "Headin' Home," which stars a very young and surprisingly skinny Babe Ruth in his first major starring role.
The Babe isn't a great thespian, but he has charm to spare in this fictionalized version of his rise to fame. And the baseball sequences are crackerjack.
The collection also features an undated one-minute newsreel showing Ruth learning how to use a pottery wheel.
Even more enjoyable is "The Busher," a 1919 baseball comedy starring Charles Ray, a young Colleen Moore and John Gilbert.
Rounding out the discs are 11 shorts, including a one-minute sequence from 1899's "Casey at the Bat or the Fate of a 'Rotten Empire' " -- one of the first baseball movies -- as well as the 1922 experimental sound recitation of "Casey" starring a onetime matinee idol, DeWolf Hopper.
Legendary New York Giants Manager John McGraw is featured in the 18-minute excerpt from 1917's "One Touch of Nature," and even Felix the Cat gets into the game in 1922's "Felix Saves the Day."
The collection also features a few comedies, including 1914's "Hearts and Diamonds," starring rotund John Bunny as a widower with two daughters who woos a wealthy baseball fanatic, and 1925's "Butter Fingers," with the walrus-mustached Billy Bevan.
Sony is pitching a double bill of baseball films: 1950's "Kill the Umpire" and 1962's "Safe at Home."
In "Kill the Umpire," William Bendix tries his best to make this limp-noodle of a slapstick farce work. At least it's better than the baseball movie he starred in two years earlier, "The Babe Ruth Story." This time around, he plays an umpire-hating baseball fan who ends up becoming an umpire.
Players from the minor league baseball team the Hollywood Stars appear in the film, as well as major leaguers Gilly Campbell and Duke Snider.
"Safe at Home" stars New York Yankees legends Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle at the height of their popularity. Mantle seems a bit more at ease on the screen than the wooden Maris.
This low-budget hokum revolves around a glum boy (Bryan Russell, who later became a fixture in Disney films) who tells his fellow players on his Little League team that his father knows the Yankees sluggers. When they ask him to prove it, he sets out to find the players.
It's a kick to watch Maris and Mantle in the baseball sequences -- just fast forward through the dialogue.
Though it received decidedly mixed reviews when it was released, 1984's "The Natural" captures the romanticism, fantasy and dark side of the sport.
Based on the novel by Bernard Malamud, the Barry Levinson-directed film stars a perfectly cast Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, an aging baseball player with a mysterious past who gets his chance at the big leagues.
The supporting cast is top-notch, including Glenn Close in an Oscar-nominated performance, Kim Basinger, Robert Duvall, Robert Prosky, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth and Wilford Brimley.
Caleb Deschanel supplied the impressionistic cinematography and Randy Newman the evocative, nostalgic score.
The new two-disc DVD features a plethora of informative new extras as well as Levinson's director's cut, which adds about 15 minutes of footage while deleting other scenes.
The 1989 box-office hit comedy "Major League" returns to DVD in the "Wild Thing Edition," featuring an AstroTurf cover.
Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes and Dennis Haysbert star in this R-rated comedy about how a bunch of misfits transform the Cleveland Indians into a group of winners.
"Major League" has its share of laughs but pales in comparison to Ron Shelton's far more sophisticated and sexier "Bull Durham," released the year before.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Theater makes a pitch to baseball fans
`Pride of the Yankees' leads off at Aero Theatre
The American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica is celebrating the start of baseball with "Let's Play Two: A Baseball Celebration."
The retrospective opens Thursday with a great doubleheader: 1942's "Pride of the Yankees," starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, and 1949's "The Stratton Story," with Jimmy Stewart.
"The Natural" screens Friday, with the 1976 comedy "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings," starring Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams.
The raucous 1976 comedy classic "The Bad News Bears" screens Saturday afternoon, and the 1993 family film "The Sandlot" is the Sunday matinee.
Rounding out the Cinematheque series Sunday is the 1989 baseball fantasy "Field of Dreams," which was nominated for a best picture Oscar, and "Eight Men Out," John Sayles' dark 1988 drama about the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
-- Susan King