Seen ‘Major League’ three times this week? Offbeat baseball movies, shows and documentaries you can stream right now
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Kudos, Ken Burns. Earlier this month, with the coronavirus pandemic canceling sports and shutting many inside their homes, the famed documentarian made his “Baseball” series free to stream via PBS.

So, with Opening Day not expected to arrive anytime soon, we wondered — what else is out there to stream?

We weren’t looking to create a list of the classics — if you’re wondering, “Major League II” is available on Netflix, though you’ll have to rent the original if you want to stream that future-predicting film legally. (If you want a quick way to find something else mainstream, you can try searching here.)

Instead, we asked our writers to recommend something for baseball fans to watch that might not be the most obvious choice, from movies to documentaries to … YouTube channels.

Here’s what they came up with.

“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” (documentary film)

What it’s about: Actor Bing Russell — Kurt’s father — created a ragtag independent baseball team called the Portland Mavericks in the 1970s. Hilarity ensues in this 2014 documentary.

Why it’s worth watching: The doc boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with good reason. If you’ve missed it so far — not completely obscure, it got a standing ovation at Sundance and has been very visible on Netflix — this is maybe the best time ever to watch it: We all need to escape from the news a little, and, though maybe not entirely revelatory, this one is about as fun as documentaries get.

Where can you stream it: Netflix

— Matt Marrone

“Brothers in Exile” (documentary film)

What it’s about: The story of half-brothers Livan and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and their incredible — and separate — escapes from Cuba in the 1990s to play baseball in the United States. Livan, the younger brother, defected first, and he became the World Series MVP as a 22-year-old rookie with the Marlins in 1997. El Duque had an even more harrowing adventure, leaving Cuba in a small boat on Christmas Day, 1997. Less than a year later, he was helping the Yankees win the 1998 World Series and on his way to becoming one of the greatest postseason pitchers in history.

Why it’s worth watching: There were 30 players born in Cuba who played in the majors in 2019, including Aroldis Chapman, Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig and Yoan Moncada. While it’s now easier for Cuban players to get to America, the Hernandez brothers risked their lives to open doors that had been closed since the early 1960s.

Where can you stream it: ESPN+

— David Schoenfield

“Foolish Baseball” (YouTube series)

What it’s about: A baseball YouTube channel that puts together awesome video essays about noteworthy seasons and drafts — complete with 8-bit baseball video game graphics. Here you’ll find deep dives on everything from a 2012 Justin Verlander inning and what it says about spin rate and velocity to the value of backup catcher Jeff Mathis to the all-time prowess of the 2011 MLB draft.

Why it’s worth watching: There’s been a burgeoning number of prominent YouTubers focused on baseball, and Foolish Baseball is a good place to start for its excellent mix of analytics, baseball history and pure entertainment.

Where can you stream it: YouTube

— Joon Lee

“Home Run Derby” (TV series)

What it’s about: Hittin’ dingers.

Why it’s worth watching: Because you want to see Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays. And Mantle vs. Ernie Banks. And Hank Aaron vs. Eddie Mathews. And Mays vs. Harmon Killebrew. And 22 other matchups of nine-inning, one-on-one home run-hitting contests filmed in 1960 and broadcast in glorious black and white. Beware: This is not going to look pristine on a 70-inch flat-screen. But that’s part of the charm of this one-season forebear to today’s derby. The winner gets $2,000. (In 2020 money: about $17,500.) The announcer, Mark Scott, is right out of generic-’60s-host central casting. And the matchups are actually great. As Mantle staged a comeback against Mays in the series opener, Scott noted it, prompting Mays to throw GIF-worthy shade Scott’s way. That alone is worth the price of admission — which happens to be free, thanks to the generosity of a YouTube user who uploaded all 26 episodes.

Where can you stream it: YouTube

— Jeff Passan

“Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story” (documentary film)

What it’s about: The Taiwanese baseball star- — winner of 19 games in back-to-back seasons as a New York Yankee — tried to keep his career going after a series of injuries, a decade after his big-league debut. Documentary cameras followed him “over four years through 21 cities in three countries,” which gives you a sense of how nomadic the end of a great career can become.

Why it’s worth watching: During the period of time this documentary covers, Wang is simultaneously a national icon and relegated to pitching in an independent league, the humblest level of professional baseball. The film is often very quiet and very ponderous. It captures the solitude of a ballplayer’s life, as, for example, when the camera lingers on Wang dropping one dumpling at a time into boiling water.

Where can you stream it: Netflix

— Sam Miller

“One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story” (movie)

What it’s about: In 1978, Tigers speedster Ron LeFlore turned 30 years old and led the American League with 68 stolen bases and 126 runs scored. At the time, the steals total was the most in a season by any Detroit player since Ty Cobb. A few years prior to that, LeFlore was in prison for sticking up a bar. He was discovered as a ballplayer while still serving out his sentence by Billy Martin, then the Tigers’ manager. Sound like the stuff of movies? You bet! It was a made-for-television classic that aired on CBS late in the 1978 season. It’s based on LeFlore’s autobiography.

Why it’s worth watching: Well, first and foremost, there is the baseball-“Star Trek” crossover because LeFlore is portrayed by a very young LeVar Burton, who went on to fame as Geordi La Forge in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and now hosts an entertaining literary podcast. (Okay, Burton was already famous for starring in “Roots” but let’s not split hairs.) Also, among those who played themselves in this super, high-budget megaflick were Martin, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline and Jim Northrup. It was directed by William A. Graham who, thanks to IMDb, I now know went on to direct “The Return to the Blue Lagoon.”

Where can you stream it: YouTube

— Bradford Doolittle

“This Week in Baseball” (TV series)

What it’s about: A weekly show from the late ’70s and early ’80s that — you guessed it! — recapped the week in baseball. It included the top storylines, features, highlights and bloopers, as narrated by legendary broadcaster Mel Allen.

Why it’s worth watching: If you were a fan during those days, just hearing the first few notes of the signature opening theme song is enough to get your blood pumping (and the closing theme ain’t too shabby either). But even if you’re not reliving those days, the clips are a fun history lesson about the great players of the era and a look back at how the game used to be played — and consumed. We’ve come a long way.

Where can you stream it: YouTube

— Steve Richards

To rent or buy …

“Million Dollar Arm” (movie)

What it’s about: Two kids who have never played baseball win a reality show in India and come to the United States to pursue professional careers.

Why it’s worth watching: The big-screen debut of an indisputably charismatic, undeniably handsome up-and-coming actor (Jeff Passan), who plays the role of “Scout” by standing in a parking lot, which isn’t exactly a realistic place for two wannabe major league players to try out but this is Hollywood and certain liberties are allowed. Anyway, much as Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin help guide this movie past its limitations and into classic Disney feel-good territory, the highlight is really the “Scout,” whose rogue charm steals the one scene he is in for less than one second.

Where can you stream it: Available to rent via multiple services

— Jeff Passan

“Sugar” (movie)

What it’s about: Sugar is the story of a (fictional) Dominican pitching star Miguel “Sugar” Santos trying to make his way through the minors to reach the majors — and support his family — starting by leaving his home country to play for a Class A team called The Swing in the fictional town of Bridgetown, Iowa.

Why it’s worth watching: Even though it’s a work of fiction, the documentary-style nature of it drives home the reality of what a young player from another country goes through while trying to make it big in professional baseball. From his living with a farm family in a new country to ordering food when the menu is in a foreign language, you’ll gain a whole new understanding of what really goes into the progression through minor league baseball.

Where can you stream it: Available to buy on Amazon, YouTube

— Dan Mullen

“When It Was a Game” (documentary film series)

What it’s about: A unique collection of home movies, crafted from pristine 8- and 16-millimeter films that had long been hidden away in the attics and closets of former players, trainers or fans. The films (there were three separate documentaries that originally aired on HBO in the 1990s) bring to life — in full color — baseball in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, an era we usually just see in black and white. Former players add narration to the silent clips.

Why it’s worth watching: The snippets do include some game action, but many of the clips are what you might expect from home movies: Players relaxing in the dugout, taking batting practice, interacting before games. But you’ll see Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, long past retirement, meeting up at an All-Star Game. Or Joe DiMaggio hitting. Or Ted Williams. Plus the wonderful color of Ebbets Field or Fenway.

Where can you stream it: There are clips on YouTube, but you might just have to order the DVDs (it’s worth it!)

— David Schoenfield

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