One of the most acclaimed baseball documentaries of recent years, Aviva Kempner’s “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” offers a love letter to the Detroit Tigers’ first baseman and to a different era. Appealing not only to fans of the sport, the film depicts American life in the 1930s and ’40s, a country’s love for the game, and how a Jewish American player who defied prejudice to become a beloved Hall of Famer.
Greenberg also figures in Peter Miller’s “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story.” The film, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, debunks the commonly-held misperception that Jews are non-athletic by examining the rich history of Jewish ballplayers. Looking at the careers of such star players as Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, Miller’s film details how they and others helped combat anti-Semitism and stereotypes, and, in fact, contributed to the widespread assimilation of Jews into popular culture.
Terry Lukmire’s “4192: The Crowning of the Hit King” takes as its subject the lauded, and controversial, Pete Rose. Focusing more on the former aspects of the baseball legend than on his much-publicized fall from grace, the film pays tribute to the man who broke Ty Cobb’s record for most hits made by a major league player.
From the heights of the professional league to the aspirations of amateur players, Kenneth Eng’s “Kokoyakyu – High School Baseball” looks at the phenomenon of the sport in Japanese high schools. Bringing a distinctive cultural spin on the game, Japan has developed a national obsession, as witnessed in this doc following two teams as they fight their way to the annual national competition, Koshien.
Also exploring another nation’s view of the sport, Jared Goodman’s “Road to the Big Leagues” looks at the importance of the game in the Dominican Republic. With MLB recruiting the majority of its foreign-born players from the tiny Caribbean island nation, success for Goodman’s young protagonists means a way out of poverty. For more on big league dreams in the DR, also check out Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley’s “Ballplayer: Pelotero.”
Finally, for the truly hardcore fans, check out the Emmy Award-winning “Ken Burns’ Baseball.” This multi-part, 18 1/2 hour epic is a comprehensive ode to the country’s love of the sport, contextualizing societal developments through different notable eras of the game.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Indiewire @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the Iw-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Be sure to check out the great non-fiction projects available to watch free of charge. Disclosure: Some of the selections are titles provided to Hulu by SnagFilms, the parent company of Indiewire.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, Senior Programmer for DOC NYC, and a consultant to documentary filmmakers and festivals. Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).