I Used To Love The Sandlot — Until I Rewatched It As An Adult
The cult classic film isn't the home run you remember it being.
If I’m being honest, I’ve never been a big fan of sports. It doesn’t matter what kind of sports we’re talking about — football, soccer, basketball, baseball) — watching others throw different-shaped balls around has never been my thing. Sure, I enjoyed playing them in school, but there was never much interest outside of that. However, when it comes to watching movies about sports, now that’s a whole different ball game, my friends.
From Ted Lasso and Remember the Titans to Space Jam and A League of Their Own, it’s ironically almost impossible to find a sports movie I don’t enjoy. In fact, the 1993 classic The Sandlot was one of my go-to favorites to watch as a kid. It was funny, full of hijinks, and chock full of comedic adventures. Yet when I recently went back to watch The Sandlot as an adult, I was shocked at how much my attitude toward the film has changed over the years. What was once a beloved classic — it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year — now feels wildly outdated and even cringeworthy at times.
That’s not to say that there still weren’t enjoyable parts of the movie. That s’mores scene with “You’re killing me, Smalls!” continues to make me laugh out loud. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, through the eyes of an adult, there are some serious flaws with several of these storylines. I’m not sure if I simply didn’t register these red flags as an innocent little kid or if modern society has opened my eyes to how some things used to be portrayed. Either way, The Sandlot is definitely problematic by today’s standards and hasn’t aged nearly as well as I thought it would.
So Much Toxic Masculinity
Let’s start with the strenuous relationship between Scotty Smalls and his stepdad, Bill. Played by Denis Leary, Bill serves as a source of fear and intimidation for Smalls throughout the film. He seems to really only acknowledge the young boy if he’s approached by him directly, and when it happens, Smalls is clearly very uncomfortable and nervous. Eventually, they do spend a little time together when Bill tries to teach Smalls how to throw and catch a baseball — but that results in the kid getting a black eye. And what is Bill’s reaction to the incident? He says things like, “But at least you caught it,” while half-heartedly apologizing and adding, “Gotta watch out for that curve.”
Honestly, the whole dynamic reeks of toxic masculinity and perpetuates the idea that since Smalls is a sweet, sensitive boy, he needs to toughen up and learn from the pain to get better at sports and become a “real” man. This ongoing notion that boys who show emotion and vulnerability are weak is such a tired trope that does nothing to elevate the quality of the film. If anything, it makes me more reluctant to introduce the movie to my young son so those toxic notions don’t get ingrained into him like so many other boys who’ve come before him.
The Adult-Child Dynamics
In keeping with the whole Bill-Smalls relationship, it’s also worth discussing the central focus of the plot. While playing baseball with his friends, Smalls uses (and then loses) Bill’s cherished ball signed by the late, great Babe Ruth. Of course, not being a huge baseball aficionado like the other boys, Smalls had no idea how valuable the ball was until it went over the fence into the lair of “The Beast.”
However, once he realizes his mistake, Smalls is terrified of what Bill will do if he discovers what happened. He and his friends try everything to get that ball back, despite how dangerous they think the task would be. (Little did they know, that dog was actually a real softy.) But the point is that Smalls never once felt like he could explain what happened to Bill and apologize. He didn’t even feel like he could tell his mom about it, which indicates his belief that she would tell Bill and take his side over her own child. I would hate it if my kid felt he couldn’t come to me with any problem he had. Even if he knew I’d be upset, I would still want him to think of me as a source of support, not a source of fear.
Consent, Consent, Consent
Then there’s the scene at the pool when Squints pretends to drown so that the attractive lifeguard, Wendy Peffercorn, would give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When she does, Squints then proceeds to kiss her without her consent. Understandably, she is immediately angry and remarks, “You little pervert!” His friends, however, applaud his efforts and treat the moment like a heroic achievement. As a kid, I remember shrugging off the whole thing, thinking it was just a prime example of “boys being boys.” But as relatively innocent as Squints’ little trick was, it is not the best message to send to young boys about how they should treat girls. It sets a dangerous precedent that consent isn’t always mandatory because wanting something enough justifies taking control of someone else’s autonomy.
By including this scene, the movie not only seems to condone Squints’ actions but takes it one step further by having him ultimately marry Wendy later on in life, implying that his “bold” actions were rewarded and that even though a woman initially objected, it’s what she really wanted after all. Granted, I understand that this is a children’s movie, and the exchange was meant to be for comical amusement with no dark, hidden agenda. (Even the narrator of Adult Smalls refers to the act as “sneaky, rotten, and low.”) Yet, at the same time, I would argue that some serious topics like consent shouldn’t be joked about in any capacity, because even the most innocent-seeming wrongdoings can lead to a slippery slope.
So while The Sandlot will always hold a special place in my heart, it’s definitely not the home run classic I thought it was.