The Sandlot Hits the Nostalgia Sweet Spot
By Michael Gluckstadt
Twenty-five years after it hit theaters, the ‘90s classic still brings out the inner child in anyone.
The three most American pastimes are baseball, movies, and indulging in nostalgia, and they combine to their full effect in The Sandlot — a film set in 1962, released in 1993, and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
The plot, such as it is, concerns young Scotty Smalls and the mission he and his friends undertake to retrieve an errant baseball from the yard next door. But what the film is really about is long summer afternoons, good-natured trashtalk, and the mischief typical of growing boys.
Smalls, as his peers call him, is joined by a collage of characters with names like "Squints," "Yeah-Yeah," and Hamilton "Ham" Porter, who delivers the film's most quoted line — "You're killin me, Smalls" — with the all-knowing confidence of a 12-year-old talking down to a 9-year-old. The crew is led by Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, their fastest runner, strongest hitter, and best dresser.
In the early ‘90s, kids' baseball movies were as ubiquitous as slap bracelets and Game Boys — Rookie of the Year, Little Big League, and Angels in the Outfield all came out within a year of The Sandlot. But a quarter-century later, none of those films have major leaguers reenacting entire scenes.
The film's staying power derives from how well it captures the feeling of childhood — not just the bygone era of Erector Sets and PF Flyers (both namechecked), but evoking the timeless moods of early adolescence: creativity and boredom, fun and fear. When Smalls loses a ball signed by Babe Ruth that belongs to his stepfather (Dennis Leary), it feels like a fate worse than death. You can understand why the gang go to absurd lengths to retrieve it from the den of the murderous dog known as "The Beast."
Babe Ruth — or "The Great Bambino," "The Sultan of Swat," and "The Colossus of Clout" as the boys refer to him in a chorus — hangs over the film as a presence, at one point literally taking the form of a talking ghost (Art LeFleur). That children in '60s Los Angeles would revere a member of the 1927 Yankees isn't an anachronism; it's a testament to baseball's generational nature: Men playing catch with their sons (and yes, in this film at least, it is just men and sons), passing down tips for catching the curve and aphorisms like, "Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."
Unlike most sports movies that work their way toward The Big Game, the actual competition in The Sandlot is almost besides the point. There are only nine kids in the field, so the bulk of their play is really just batting practice. Baseball is just the setting where life plays itself out.