22. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Directed by Sam Wood
Starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, and Babe Ruth
Whereas most sports movies get their emotional heft from telling stories about seemingly ordinary people who go on to do the extraordinary, The Pride of the Yankees takes a different tack. It weaves a tale about a man of humble beginnings who goes on to be a legend in his sport, but that’s not why the film is considered a classic. The reason for the movie’s enduring popularity is that its story is a profoundly heartbreaking one that also manages to be quite inspiring.
The film relates the mostly true life story of iconic Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig (Cooper). Initially intending to pursue a career in engineering, Gehrig leaves school at a young age to pursue a more financially lucrative and fulfilling career in baseball. Though this decision at first upsets his mother, Gehrig’s tenacity and talent wins over his family, and later, the entire nation. And just as Gehrig establishes a reputation as baseball’s iron horse, an unthinkable tragedy occurs. Lou is diagnosed with the disease that will not only swiftly end his career, but his life.
Given the circumstances, no one would’ve blamed Gehrig for giving into despair. Being struck down in the prime of his career and life had to have been profoundly painful. But as the film documents, Gehrig chose to make his final public statement one of gratitude, not bitterness. Instead of focusing on all the things that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis took from him, he instead remarked on how fortunate he was to be able to have achieved so many of his dreams. And because it perfectly captures the sincerity of Gehrig’s measured outlook on life, The Pride of the Yankees is a film that’s hard to get through without crying.