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 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
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.
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.
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.