Of the many skills we’re learning from the current health crisis, creative substitution might be the most necessary. There are so many things we simply can’t do without (and here I’m speaking of sensible, responsible people), that we’re not only preparing to do those things to a ridiculous degree once this nightmare is over, we’re casting our imaginations into unexplored regions in order to find something – anything – that can give us just a precious whiff of what we’re so desperately missing. 

Take baseball.

Anyone who knows me, or sees the beyond-battered Red Sox cap I will stubbornly wear until it’s literally just a frayed headband, is aware that having no baseball was the last straw. Sure, I watch old games on cable or World Series highlights on DVD and play Red Sox seasons on PS3 (sometimes all at once — I’m not proud), but that can only sustain a baseball-starved maniac for so long. So, to supplement whatever stopgap measures fellow baseball fanatics are taking in this time where insignificant pleasures turn out to have been pretty darn significant after all, here is my roster of the best movie baseball players to tide you over. By position, of course, since what else is there to do. 

Pitcher: Bingo Long of “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.” (Available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV, others.)

Any great movie baseball lineup needs an ace pitcher, and there’s nobody more fun or potent than Bingo Long, played with the effortless charisma and physical presence that should have made Billy Dee Williams an even bigger matinee idol, had racism not consistently been thrown at his head. Still, as the Satchel Paige-like leader of a ramshackle crew of barnstorming Negro Leaguers, Williams’ Long is the consummate showman, all while battling the road, unfair baseball barons and, yup, racism. 

Rest of the rotation: Miguel Santos (“Sugar”), Nuke LaLoosh (“Bull Durham”), Billy Chapel (“For Love of the Game”), Amanda Whurlizer (the original “The Bad News Bears”)

Geena Davis as catcher Dottie Hinson in “A League of Their Own. Columbia Pictures/IMDb

Catcher: Dottie Hinson of the Rockville Peaches, “A League of Their Own.” (Stream on Amazon, Showtime, IMDb.)

I was tempted to go with James Earl Jones’ prodigious, Josh Gibson-esque backstop from “Bingo Long,” but nobody controls the game like Geena Davis’ Dottie. The undisputed, if conflicted, leader of the WWII-spawned, all-woman Peaches, Davis brings a rawboned, rangy authority to the part, both with and without the catcher’s mask. Like Long, she navigates bigotry as well as injury, but is always there to make the toughest plays – and calls. Backups: Leon Carter (“Bingo Long”), Bruce Pearson (“Bang the Drum Slowly”), Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”– sorry, Crash, but there’s a reason you’re still in A ball.) 

First Base: Scott Hatteberg of the Oakland A’s, “Moneyball.” (Stream on Starz, Amazon.)

In still the best role of his movie career, Chris Pratt played former Red Sox catcher Hatteberg, whose irreparable arm injury saw General Manager Billy Beane of the lowly Oakland A’s give him one last chance – at first base. Exemplifying the film’s depiction of the cash-strapped A’s as the visionary Beane’s “island of misfit toys,” Pratt makes Hatty’s bewilderment and hope fight a winning battle for our affection, and a way to keep playing the game he loves. It’s a small part, but the resilient Hatteberg is the guy I want in the clutch. Backups: Lou Collins (“Little Big League”), Jack Elliott (“Mr. Baseball”).

“42” tells the story of Jackie Robinson. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Second base: Jackie Robinson, “42.” (Rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google, others.)

While Jackie Robinson is an American hero, it’s Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the color barrier-smashing Dodgers star that makes this biopic work. (Notice I’m not picking the actual Robinson, a non-actor who gave it his best shot as himself in 1950’s “The Jackie Robinson Story.”) Staring down bigoted players and fans (and incessant, life-threatening beanballs), Boseman captures the real Robinson’s impossible courage and dignity (and athleticism), as Robinson navigates being the first black Major Leaguer while reluctantly following team owner Branch Rickey’s dictum that to retaliate would sink the chances of black players for years to come. (And, yes, Robinson started out at first, but second was his domain.) 

Third Base: Buck Weaver of the Chicago “Black Sox” in “Eight Men Out.” (Stream on Roku, Vudu, tubi, Pluto.)

John Cusack makes the disgraced third-sacker an epically tragic American figure in John Sayles’ remarkable baseball saga. Torn between loyalty to his on-the-take impoverished teammates and his stubbornly innate desire never, ever to lose, Cusack’s loose-limbed Weaver is still swept up in the scandal that sees the players banned from the game for life. The quintessential dirt-dog on the field, the scrappy Weaver, in Cusack’s never-better performance, winds up heartbreakingly wearing dirt for the rest of time. 

Shortstop: Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez from “The Sandlot” (Stream on Starz, Amazon.)

While I’m not as fond of this kids’ movie as some, the pickings are slim at short, and the speedy and smart Rodriguez is one of the only tykes in the film I’m not actively annoyed by. Plus, we see in the film’s epilogue that The Jet actually makes it to the majors as the wily, home-stealing utility man every team needs.

Outfielders: Kelly Leak (“The Bad News Bears”), Roger Maris (“*61”), and Willie Mays Hayes (“Major League”)

Remember, this is my team, so if I want to have a juvenile delinquent, a real-life home run king, and the only good thing about the vastly overrated “Major League” roaming my outfield grass, then that’s how it’s gonna be. Before his career resurrection, Jackie Earle Haley became a child star as the creepy but undeniably talented Leak, playing virtually every position his misfit Little Leaguers lacked until he learned to be a team player and got the girl (in also excellent star pitcher Tatum O’Neal). Barry Pepper’s Maris was as touching as he was productive as the stalwart Maris, unsuccessfully coping with the stress of chasing down the Babe’s home run record while managing his uneasy friendship with golden boy Yankees star Mickey Mantle (Tom Jane). And, sure, there’s nobody in that inexplicably popular “Bull Durham” knockoff “Major League” who’s more fun to watch than Wesley Snipes’ Hayes, the showboat who, like the rest of his cartoonish Indians’ teammates, learns to straighten up and play right. Stream: “The Bad News Bears” on Starz and Amazon, “*61” on HBO, and “Major League” (if you must) on Showtime and Amazon. And then go to bed and dream of Fenway. It’s still there, I promise.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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