Swinging for the Fences: Reflections of American national identity, cultural myths, race, gender, and change.

Baseball Films and Their Reflections – By Tristan Goodwin, 42779936

Late 20th and early 21st century baseball films are littered with reflections of change, race, gender, and national identity. These reflections take shape within the narratives in films such as 42, Sugar, A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out, The Natural, and The Sandlot. In particular they represent different perspectives in relation to the role played by baseball in representing concepts of change, race, gender and national identity. However the most significant reflection within these films is the representation of baseball as “America’s national pastime”. This encompasses the embodiment of characteristics that are seen as intrinsically American within the films narratives. Quite often this embodiment occurs through the central characters journey throughout the film. However in films such as A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out, and Sugar, the films form a critique on certain aspects of the role of baseball as America’s national pastime.


In reality baseball is seen as purely American entertainment. Eight Men Out highlights the susceptibility of athletes to corruption, especially within the context of increasing commercialism in sport. This film dramatizes the events of the 1919 World Series match fixing scandal by members of the infamous “Black Sox”. The issues reflected within the film are directly contrary to the imagined memory of baseball and its role as America’s National Pastime. In effect this film serves to highlight the fallible nature of athletes, who are often presented by baseball as being heroes who embody all that it is to be American.

As scenes such as this show, gender roles in both 1940’s American society and baseball are correlated into rigid structures. So what is it that A League of Their Own reflects? Ferrante argues that the film is a reflection of the struggle for women to gain recognition and acceptance in a male dominated industry and society, whilst Bullock argues that it reflects the opportunity for baseball to exist as a mode of societal change. However these reflections are directly contrasted by the reality of the role of women in contemporary baseball  and American societal expectations of masculinity within the sport. This is highlighted by the recent experiences of female teen baseball sensation Mo’ne Davis who captured America’s attention with her dominating display during the 2014 Little League World Series. Fenno argues that this notoriety is primarily due to her being a female who is able to dominate male opponents.

Certainly the reflection of baseball as a male domain is evident in multiple films. From The Sandlot to The Natural, masculinity plays a prominent role within the narrative. In The Sandlot this reflection takes the shape of adolescent males growing to embody the gendered stereotypes of 1960’s America. This communal growth encapsulates aspects of the culturally indoctrinated American values and dominant national ideologies such as democracy, opportunity, fair play, team spirit, and competitiveness. The Natural depicts a man’s struggle against adversity whilst attempting to chase the American dream. Canby’s analysis of the film describes the main character as the quintessential small town American boy of the 1920’s. Both these films reflect the perceived ideals of masculinity in American culture, and also highlight the significance of the American dream in relation to baseballs role as America’s national pastime.

The concept of the American dream is also directly related to concepts of race and changing national identity. This is the central tenant of the 2008 film Sugar, which chronicles the journey of a young Latin American baseball player in his search for the American dream. However the film reflects the barriers faced by non-Anglo baseball players and the issues faced by immigrants within the context of contemporary America. Anderson’s describes the film as being an immigrant parable that provides an alternative view on the fractured American Dream which no longer holds a singular conformed identity. This reflects the impact of immigration and race on the development of national identity.


Race and national identity are also reflected in the film 42. The biopic 42 provides a dramatization of the rookie season of Jackie Robinson, who was the first player to break baseball’s colour line in 1947. This event reflects the growing significance of the Civil Rights movement in the United States following the end of the Second World War, and also highlights the way in which changing race relations impacted the way in which Americans perceived national identity during that time. The significance of this event is evident in the remembrance of Robinson’s achievement in contemporary American society.

So what can we conclude from the reflections present within these films? Firstly it is evident that baseball is seen as something that represents American national identity and perceptions of masculinity. This prominent place in American representations is indicative of the cultural myth of baseball as America’s national pastime. Secondly these films provide an insight over the course of a century as to the changing nature of race and national identity. Whilst change may have occurred, it is evident that barriers still exist within American society for non-Anglo Americans. Finally it is unmistakable that baseball still remains an intrinsically masculine sport, which embodies qualities that are seen to be desirable American male attributes.



42, (2013), motion picture, Warner Bros Pictures, Los Angeles.

A League of Their Own, (1992), motion picture, Columbia Pictures, Los Angeles.

Eight Men Out, (1988), motion picture, Orion Pictures, Los Angeles.

Sugar (2008), motion picture, Sony Pictures, New York.

The Natural (1984), motion picture, TriStar Pictures, Los Angeles.

The Sandlot (1993), motion picture, Twentieth Century Fox, Los Angeles.

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, J. (2009), “Sugar”, Newsday, April 16, 2009, available from http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/sugar-1.1219144

Bullock, T. (2012), From housework to home runs: Women hit the big time in ‘A League of Their Own’, in  Screen Education, No. 65, pp. 131-136.

Canby, V. (1984), “The Natural (1984) FILM: REDFORD AND DUVALL IN MALAMUD’S ‘NATURAL’”, New York Times, May 11, 1984.

Fenno, N. (2014), Mo’ne Davis’ legacy isn’t done with this Little League World Series, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2014, available from http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-mone-davis-baseball-20140823-story.html#page=1

Ferrante, K. (1994), Baseball and the Social Construction of Gender, in Women, Media and Sport: Challenging Gender Values, New York: SAGE Publications, p. 256.


2 comments on “Swinging for the Fences: Reflections of American national identity, cultural myths, race, gender, and change.

  1. This is a really interesting topic that you have chosen! You have clearly demonstrated the changing within America’s national identity through race and gender. The specific movies used are very insightful, and will certainly change the way I watch baseball films in the future!
    It was particularly interesting to read about Mo’ne Davis, who is both showing change through gender and race simultaneously! Nice work 🙂

  2. Hi Tristan, a really great topic that clearly combines your passion for sport with history. I love that you were able to demonstrate aspects of American culture and national identity through baseball films. In particular, I liked the link you made between baseball and American ideals such as competitiveness, team spirit and chasing the American ideal. By using baseball films to demonstrate these ideals, I am able to see American culture in practice. It is a shame that baseball has been associated with notions of manliness and female segregation, and the clip you included clearly demonstrates that. It is obviously difficult to change the culture and identity of the sport, however I would hope that considerations of equality would be made in the future. I’d be interested to here if any other sports, such as particular NFL and basketball provoke the same ideas expressed in your argument.
    Great job though!

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