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Play Ball! The 12 Best Baseball Documentaries to Stream Now

From Ken Burns and Spike Lee to ESPN’s new series on Derek Jeter, this is an all-star lineup you won’t want to miss

spinner image Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees looking at his bat while at the plate during a game in 2009
Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees in action during Jackie Robinson Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, on April 15, 2009.
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN

The 2023 Major League Baseball season kicks off on March 30, and fans will notice a few updates to their beloved game, including a new 30-second pitch clock and larger 18-inch (instead of 15-inch) bases. It’s as good a time as ever to brush up on the history of America’s pastime, which happens to be a favorite subject of filmmakers. Here are 12 baseball-themed documentaries to add to your starting streaming lineup. And if you’re looking for some extra innings’ worth of content, we’ve put together a watch list of episodes about America’s favorite pastime from ESPN’s award-winning docuseries 30 for 30. Play — or, rather, watch — ball!

Reggie (2023)

Reggie Jackson, the baseball Hall of Famer known as Mr. October, is finally getting his due. This revealing new Prime Video Original documentary explores the life and career of the right fielder whose clutch hitting led to five World Series titles, for the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees.

Watch it: Reggie, on Prime Video

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Facing Nolan (2022) 

Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, 76, played professionally for 27 seasons, tying the record for the longest career in MLB history. Along the way, he racked up a series of impressive records, including the most no-hitters (seven) and the most strikeouts (5,714). He also played a game with a bloody jersey after getting smacked in the face with a ball, raised cattle during the off-season and struck out a whopping seven pairs of fathers and sons. In other words, his career provides excellent fodder for producer Bradley Jackson’s feature-film directorial debut, much of which is told from the point of view of the players who faced off against the Ryan Express.

Fun fact: Thanks to his incredibly long career — which stretched from the LBJ to the Clinton administrations — Ryan also holds many dubious records, including the most wild pitches and the most grand slams and stolen bases given up.

Watch it: Facing Nolan, on Apple TV, Netflix, Prime Video

The Captain (2022)

ESPN Films has emerged as one of the most celebrated producers of documentaries in recent years, with O.J.: Made in America and The Last Dance both earning critical acclaim and a slew of awards, including an Oscar, a Peabody Award and three Emmys between them. Last year, the studio premiered its new seven-part documentary series The Captain, about New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, who was recently enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Executive produced by Spike Lee, 66, the show features candid interviews with Jeter, his family and his former teammates and coaches, such as Roger Clemens (60), Mariano Rivera (53), Darryl Strawberry (61) and Joe Torre (82).

Fun fact: A team hasn’t won back-to-back World Series since the 2000 Yankees, which pulled off an impressive three-peat. 

Watch it: The Captain on Apple TV, Hulu

Baseball: A Ken Burns Documentary (1994)

Burns, 69, brought his meticulous research and encyclopedic scope to this 1994 docuseries, which charts the rise of baseball over the course of nine “innings,” or episodes. Featuring interviews with the likes of Billy Crystal (75), Doris Kearns Goodwin (80) and Studs Terkel, the show focuses on subjects such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal, the Negro Leagues and the groundbreaking career of Jackie Robinson, who later got his own Ken Burns documentary in 2016. In 2010, Burns introduced a “tenth inning” to the series, a two-part, four-hour special that covered the 1998 home run chase, the steroid scandal and the ways in which baseball helped America heal after 9/11.

Fun fact: Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first Black player in the major leagues in 1884 — six decades before Jackie Robinson.

Watch it: Baseball: A Ken Burns Documentary, on Apple TV, Prime Video

Fastball (2015)

Kevin Costner, 68, narrates this in-depth (and surprisingly geeky!) look at the speediest pitching style, which takes only 396 milliseconds to reach the batter. Dozens of former players — including Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron — weigh in on the fastest pitchers they ever encountered, as they break down the art (and science) of throwing and hitting a fastball. While then–Cincinnati Red Aroldis Chapman is on record for the fastest radar-verified pitch at 105.1 mph in 2010, the documentary raises the question of whether a past pitcher, such as Nolan Ryan, 76, may have ever bested him, and experts turn to physics for the answer.

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Fun fact: According to scientists in the film, we may have reached the limit of how fast a human can throw a ball. As Sports Illustrated’s Ali Fenwick wrote about the film, “Any faster and the force required would literally rip the pitcher’s arm off.”

Watch it: Fastball, on Apple TV, Peacock, Prime Video

Hardball: The Girls of Summer (2019)

This inspiring documentary follows four of America’s top female baseball — not softball! — players, as they work their way toward the Women’s Baseball World Cup in South Korea. But it also turns a much wider lens on the role of women in the sport, featuring such towering (if oft-forgotten) figures as Jackie Mitchell, who struck out Babe Ruth, and Maria Pepe, whose family sued Little League Baseball for gender discrimination after girls were barred from playing in the 1950s.

Fun fact: Milkmaids in 15th-century England invented a precursor to baseball called stoolball, in which they set their milking stools in a circle and used them as early bases. 

Watch it: Hardball: The Girls of Summer, on Apple TV, Peacock, Prime Video

No No: A Dockumentary (2014)

The list of MLB players who have pitched no-hitters is a very small group, but there’s an even more exclusive club: those who did so while on LSD! Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis battled addiction issues throughout much of his life, and he claimed to be tripping on the psychedelic during his impressive no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1970. The game became such a pop-cultural touchstone that it was later referenced in a number of songs, books and short films. Ellis would go on to devote his life to counseling others with substance abuse issues.

Fun fact: The 1971 Pirates were the first team in MLB history with an all-minority starting lineup of Black and Latino players, including Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

Watch it: No No: A Dockumentary on Apple TV, Prime Video

Screwball (2018)

South Florida steroid peddler Tony Bosch is responsible for one of the biggest scandals in major-league history: He’s the man who prescribed performance-enhancing drugs to the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez (50) from his strip mall “health clinic” in Coral Gables. In this surprisingly funny true-crime docudrama by Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben, Bosch operates like a character out of an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel, surrounded by mob connections, drugs and corruption. In a surreal twist, the major figures from the scandal are played by child actors, who lip-sync their way through conversations and confessionals.

Fun fact: A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season after his name showed up on the list of athletes using PEDs.

Watch it: Screwball, on Apple TV, Prime Video

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The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

In 1973, actor Bing Russell created the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor-league team that played in the Class A-Short Season Northwest League and wasn’t affiliated with any major-league team. Though the Mavericks were made up mainly of misfits and has-beens, they had winning seasons for all five years of their existence, before they disbanded in 1978. Bing’s son Kurt, 72 — yes, that Kurt Russell! — played for the team in its inaugural season, and the documentary was directed by two of Bing’s grandsons, Chapman and Maclain Way, who also helmed the Emmy-winning Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country.

Fun fact: Another of Bing Russell’s grandsons is MLB first baseman Matt Franco, 53.

Watch it: The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix

A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation (2018)

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that was only the beginning of the long road to the desegregation of pro sports. Following his brave lead, a new generation of Black and Latino players toiled away on farm teams in remote towns across the country, some in the Jim Crow South, as they worked their way up to the majors. The documentary features interviews with such players as Mudcat Grant, Orlando Cepeda (85) and Deacon Jones (88).

Fun fact: The Boston Red Sox were the last major-league team to integrate when they added Pumpsie Green to the lineup in 1959. 

Watch it: A Long Way From Home: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Desegregation, on Apple TV, Prime Video

Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel (2018)

This 2018 documentary follows the Cinderella story of Team Israel — which ESPN compared to the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team — on their unlikely journey to the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Ranked 41st in the world, the underdog squad comprised players who were either Israeli citizens or Jewish Americans eligible for citizenship under the country’s Law of Return. The roster included such MLB players as Sam Fuld, Ike Davis and Cody Decker, who famously introduced Team Israel’s mascot, the Mensch on a Bench.

Fun fact: In the film, the teammates pose with a mural of Sandy Koufax, 87, the legendary Jewish player who skipped Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the holiest day in Judaism, Yom Kippur.

Watch it: Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel on Apple TV, Prime Video

Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011)

Narrated by John Leguizamo, 62, this gripping and gritty documentary offers a stark look at the world of baseball recruitment in the Dominican Republic, a system where corruption runs rampant. “Forget feel-good boys-of-summer tales,” writes New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger. “This film shows a shady business in which scouts and the teams they represent try to manipulate teenage players, and to some extent the players do some manipulating of their own.” Our main entry points into this world are the 15-year-old players Miguel Ángel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista.

Fun fact: As of 2021, Dominican-born players made up more than 11 percent of the MLB.

Watch it: Ballplayer: Pelotero, on Prime Video, Tubi

The Essential ‘30 for 30’ Episodes About America’s Favorite Pastime 

Since the docuseries premiered in 2009, ESPN’s 30 for 30 has shed light on some of the most interesting stories in baseball history. Here is a list of episodes that will take you out to the ball game — and teach you something interesting in the process! You can stream episodes on Apple TV, ESPN+, Hulu and Prime Video.

  • Jordan Rides the Bus (2010), about Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball and brief foray into minor-league baseball.
  • Little Big Men (2010), about the Kirkland National Little League’s historic upset victory at the 1982 Little League World Series.
  • The House of Steinbrenner (2010), about the legacy of George Steinbrenner’s ownership of the New York Yankees.
  • Four Days in October (2010), about the Boston Red Sox’s comeback win against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. 
  • Fernando Nation (2010), about Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 arrival with the L.A. Dodgers.
  • Catching Hell (2011), about Steve Bartman, the fan who tried to catch a foul ball during the 2003 NLCS and was scapegoated for the Chicago Cubs’ continued championship drought.
  • Goose (2012), about Reece “Goose” Tatum, who played in the Negro Leagues and then became a Harlem Globetrotter.
  • You Don’t Know Bo (2012), about two-sport wonder Bo Jackson.
  • The Day the Series Stopped (2014), about the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which started just before Game 3 of the World Series.
  • Brothers in Exile (2014), about half-brothers Liván and Orlando Hernández, who fled Cuba and became MLB pitchers.
  • Doc & Darryl (2016), about the connection between Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
  • Long Gone Summer (2020), about the controversial 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
  • Once Upon a Time in Queens (2021), about the 1986 Mets, a team that’s often regarded as one of the best in MLB history.

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