The Cult Classics of Summer: The Sandlot (1993)

Ice cream. Bike rides.  Swimming pools.  Summertime has a knack for evoking imagery from the happy-go-lucky days of youth when school was out and one’s biggest concern was what neighbor friend to visit that day.  For many boys growing up in suburbia, chances are part of summer vacation involved playing an outdoor sport, and none is more iconic for this season than good old-fashioned baseball.

The Sandlot depicts boyhood in the 1960s with baseball as its backdrop, and it is the quintessential nostalgic summer film—much like A Christmas Story is to winter.  Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is a new kid in town and befriends his neighbor Benny (Mike Vitar), who convinces him to come out and play baseball with his friends.  Despite being a clueless ballplayer and experiencing his share of ridicule from the rest of the team (“You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”), Scotty eventually wins over the friendship of his naysayers.  All is well until Scotty steals his stepfather’s Babe Ruth-signed baseball to play with, and after a miraculous home run that he hits, it ends up in the yard of a ferocious dog nicknamed “The Beast.”

The film is a time capsule of pure Americana.  From its lively soundtrack boasting songs like Ray Charles’ soulful rendition of “America the Beautiful,” it effortlessly throws the viewer into 1962.  Combined with its sun drenched color scheme, ample slow motion shots, and voiceover narrative from adult Scotty, the film is the reminiscence of a simpler era, while concurrently feeling like a collective experience that is virtually timeless.  The 4th of July baseball game the boys attend is a perfect example of this:  the montage of fireworks and carnival rides at nighttime feels like a memory that many American families have had, regardless of the decade.  The Sandlot’s greatest success is its portrayal of a nostalgia that feels universal yet simultaneously specific, encouraging a sense of preservation for the past.

The other success of this film is its ability to capture the wonder of childhood.  Many of the sound effects are larger than life:  the sound of the ball whooshing through the air and the cartoonish snarling of the dog, for example, force the audience into a heightened sense of awareness that makes the young characters’ perspectives more relatable.  The grainy, black-and-white, high-contrast “scary story” sequence turns the simple tale of a misbehaved pet into a terrifying monster movie.  The imagination of the boys is further amplified when they are forced to think of ingenious, hilarious ways to retrieve their ball from “The Beast” unscathed.  It is rare for a film to show youth in a way that celebrates and emulates its inherent nature so purely.   


That said, it is a film that also unabashedly celebrates boyhood specifically.  The female characters are virtually nonexistent and are solely present to fill out the story of the male cast.  The only female of any substance is Scotty’s mother, and the boys’ crush Wendy is objectified, made worse by the stunt her greatest admirer pulls by the swimming pool, sneaking in for a kiss during CPR while she is serving as a lifeguard.  The salvaging factor here is that the film consistently pokes fun of traditional machismo.  When the boys are introduced to Scotty one by one, they each spit on the ground like “tough guys” in a way that looks absurd.  During their 4th of July antics, they decide to be “manly” and take far too much chewing tobacco to the point where they lose their lunches.  Despite the lack of female representation, it is not a film that is degrading women, but rather one that addresses the pressure on boys in their developmental years to act certain ways, all of which ultimately works to their detriment and make them look foolish. 

Regardless of whether you are a sports fan, regardless of the era in which you grew up, and regardless of your gender, The Sandlot makes you feel as though you’ve spent an entire summer with these boys.  It has a mythos and charm about it that exude youth and imagination and make it essential summer viewing for anyone that misses the carefree days of summer vacation.  As Babe Ruth says in the film, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” and The Sandlot is undoubtedly a legend.

--Andrea Riley