Director: Billy Crystal
Stars: Thomas Jane, Barry Pepper, Anthony Michael Hall, Richard Masur, Chris Bauer, Christopher McDonald, Jennifer Crystal Foley
As much as he’s a great actor and master showman, Billy Crystal has never been shy about his lifelong fanaticism for the New York Yankees. A native of the Big Apple, Crystal is a regular talking head in Yankee documentaries, but his ultimate love letter to the ball players in pinstripes came in 2001, when he directed the excellent HBO made-for-TV sports drama 61*.
Strongly acted by Thomas Jane and Barry Pepper, it’s the story of home-run kings Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who, in the summer of 1961, chased down Yankee great Babe Ruth’s single-season homer record, much to the simultaneous delight and anger of NYC’s die-hard fans. Crystal and screenwriter Hank Steinberg went to great lengths to ensure historical accuracy, a clear indicator of Crystal’s immense fandom, but the strength of 61* is the director’s willingness to not romanticize Mantle and Maris; they’re faults are on display alongside their superlative game-playing competence.
5. 61* (2001)