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I Just Rewatched ‘The Sandlot’ As a Parent—Here’s What Holds Up (And What Doesn’t)

written by CHRIS WALKER
the sandlot rewatch"
the sandlot rewatch
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

When it comes to nostalgic films I think about from my childhood (which happened in the magical time of the late ’80s and early ’90s), there is a “top five” list that exists in my mind that is always evolving. But among those movies, one remains a consistent, ever-present member of that list: The Sandlot.

I don’t know whether it’s because of the sports elements or the bonding between a misfit group of friends in the film, but the movie still resonates strongly with me and is one that I had looked forward to sharing with my children. There are few things in life that just feel like summertime, too, and The Sandlot is definitely one piece of media from “back in the day” that makes me remember my own summertime hijinks as a kid.

Upon recently rewatching the film, which is available on Disney+, my nostalgic feelings were reaffirmed—but also slightly challenged as a parent watching it with kids. While consistent with the movie’s era, some scenes are problematic. Still, the film has endured, and many families may be rewatching it this summer, too. Here’s one parent’s take on how The Sandlot holds up today.

A Millennial Coming-of-Age Sports Film Unlike Any Other

Released in 1993, The Sandlot is one of many kids’ sports films I remember seeing from the ’90s. Oddly enough, the majority of these films I remember focused on the national pastime of baseball—Rookie of the Year, also released in 1993, and Angels in the Outfield, released a year later, come immediately to mind. Unlike those films, which took place in the era they were released, most of The Sandlot happens at a different time—in the summer of 1962, to be exact, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California.

The film is also recognized as a formative piece of Millennial culture, so much so that some have advised bosses to screen it in their workplaces to “inspire” workers from that generation. Indeed, I can easily say, “You’re killing me, Smalls!” to just about anybody else my age, and it will more often than not elicit a laugh or some other response based on the film.

the sandlot rewatch
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

What Is ‘The Sandlot’ About? You’re Killing Me, Smalls!

The Sandlot is a coming-of-age film focusing on Scott “Scotty” Smalls, a boy whose mother and step-father, Bill, moved him to the area at the start of the summer of 1962. Because school is out, it’s a tough time for him to make friends, says adult Scott—the film’s narrator.

He is encouraged by his mom to stop sulking inside the house all day with his Erector Set and to find some real-life friends to get into “some trouble” with. He discovers a group of boys playing at a run-down baseball field, the titular sandlot. Needing a ninth player, Benjamin “Benny” Rodriguez, the leader of the team, convinces the other boys to let Scott play, too, despite his inability to catch or throw a ball more than a few feet. Benny crafts a plan to help the newcomer win the others over, telling Scott to hold his glove up and that he’ll hit the ball directly to him. Miraculously, this works, and “Smalls” is accepted into the group.

But when a home run shortens their game, Scott tries to retrieve the lost ball by climbing the fence it flew over, only to be screamed at and dragged down by the other boys, who warn him of what is on the other side—a monstrous dog called the Beast.

Later, when the Sandlot players again run out of baseballs to use for their games, Smalls runs home and grabs one that is sitting on his stepdad Bill’s shelf… which is autographed by none other than Babe Ruth, one of the greatest players of all-time, and who, in 1962 when the film takes place, was the record-holder for the most home runs in a single career (Hank Aaron would break that record, but not until more than a decade later). But Smalls has no idea who Baby Ruth is. Inevitably, the ball signed by “the Great Bambino” goes directly into the Beast’s yard. The remainder of the movie involves the boys’ creative plans to get the ball back, with some summer hijinks and unexpected consequences.

the sandlot rewatch
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Is ‘The Sandlot’ Appropriate for Kids Today?

Although a movie primarily about baseball, some of the most memorable moments in the film are the non-sports scenes—with some of them raising my eyebrows. Recounting seeing the film in my childhood, I had forgotten about the more problematic actions the kids from 1962 took and how we, as adults today, would normally try to steer our kids away from them, not laugh about them. Here are some scenes parents should be prepared to talk about if watching The Sandlot with their kids:

Glossing Over Real Issues in 1962

There are many subtle nods to the decade, including small details like the baseball caps the kids in the film wear. One boy sports a blue cap with a yellow “C” emblazoned on it, an homage to the then-up-and-coming UCLA baseball program at the time. 

Another cap that is featured is more important, in my mind—a white hat with the red letters of “K” and “C” is worn by the movie’s sole Black child character, the pitcher Kenny “The Heater” DeNunez. The team that hat belonged to was the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, a historical recognition of an entire set of baseball players who didn’t get the accolades they deserved in Major League Baseball until just this year when their stats were combined with the MLB’s in late May.

This comes into play again later on in the movie, but we’ll get to that soon.

The film also romanticizes this time in American history without discussing anything that was actually going on during that time. And while the movie acknowledges the existence of the Negro Leagues, the social advances brought about by the Civil Rights Movement (and various other things going on at the time) are largely ignored.

Glorifying “Boys Will Be Boys”

The way the film treats women—including telling another player that they “throw like a girl” as the worst insult imaginable—is probably accurate to the time the film took place, but it is unnecessary misogyny that does little to advance the plot. 

There’s also a scene where Michael “Squints” Palledorous, a nerdy but sporty member of the crew, objectifies lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn as she crosses the street, with the camera panning to her backside as she walks away—a weird and disturbing directorial choice in the film, given her teenage status. Later, Squints tricks Wendy into kissing him, feigning a drowning in the deep end of the pool and, while she tries to resuscitate him using mouth-to-mouth, forcing his hand on the back of her head and pushing his lips deep onto hers. 

The film glorifies this act, noting that it was wrong but framing it in a way that makes it acceptable to the viewers—especially since it comes to pass that Squints and Wendy get married, the narrator of the film later reveals.

“What he done was sneaky, rotten, and low… and cool,” the film describes Squints’s action. “He had kissed a woman. And he had kissed her long and good.”

As a father of a young teenage boy, these scenes give the wrong impression that consent is an iffy subject that can sometimes be ignored. I have taught my son otherwise, that bodily consent must ALWAYS be given, whether you’re kissing, hugging, or engaging in any physical act with another person. And as the step-father of a young girl, the scene is troubling for another reason, as it suggests that such transgressions should be excused, that “boys will be boys” and we should just move on—a “lesson” that I definitely don’t want her to believe is true or acceptable.

Chewing Tobacco at The Fair

Then there’s the chewing tobacco scene. This is yet another example of the “boys will be boys” mentality. While at a summer fair, the Sandlot boys take turns chewing tobacco that one of the players snuck out from his house, only for them to get sick on an amusement ride, violently throwing up on themselves (and others) during it. 

The lesson here is easy to understand: Don’t use tobacco, especially if you’re this young. The movie gets props for trying to make tobacco chewing look bad. But again, the framing is an innocent right of passage—albeit with some natural consequences—yet we don’t know whether they got into any trouble when they got home from their fair with their tobacco-puked stained clothes.

the sandlot rewatch
Source: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Lessons from ‘The Sandlot’

Focusing on Friendship

Still, there are endearing scenes, too, outside the baseball field. Like when Smalls first joins the boys in their treehouse overlooking the Beast’s backyard. Catcher Hamilton “Ham” Porter shows Smalls how to construct a s’more treat, something that I recall learning at summer camp myself from a friend around the same time the film was released. Watching the film as an adult, I recalled that memory, and also when I taught my son how to make s’mores, too, bringing a smile to my face while watching.

Gaining New Perspective

Near the end of the movie, the boys then meet the Beast’s owner, Mr. Mertle, a blind, former Black baseball player in the Negro Leagues who once played with Babe Ruth in an exhibition game. Mertle also informs them that the Beast’s real name is Hercules, and in subsequent scenes, the dog becomes something of the team’s mascot!

The old ball being ruined, Mertle allows Scott to return to his step-father an even better prize—a ball signed by the entire 1927 New York Yankees team, famously known as Murderer’s Row. Bill forgives Scott, though he does punish him for taking the Babe Ruth ball, but the two bond together, with Scott finally calling him “dad” without adding “Bill” after it. Smalls also promises to visit Mr. Mertle to talk about baseball in exchange for the piece of memorabilia. 

The friendship with Mr. Mertle that the boys develop, and the stories of his own ballplaying that he tells them, is also an important lesson for kids watching the film. Racism can be a difficult topic for parents to discuss with their children, and while The Sandlot doesn’t go that far into the systemic problems and barriers Mertle faced, it doesn’t hide them, either. The movie provides a good backdrop for parents to start a meaningful dialog with their kids about the issues that existed back then, as well as the problems that still exist in society today.

Providing Consequences With Compassion

These scenes were important to me as a kid but resonate even stronger as a parent. I’ve lived the perspective of being a kid who knows they’ve done something wrong and has to face the consequences—of having to take that long walk back home and expecting the worst punishments possible. But as a dad now, I have another perspective: that of trying to teach a lesson while also showing compassion to my children, of being stern when you need to be, but also helping my kids to understand that no matter how much trouble they think they’re in, they can always come to me for help. 

‘The Sandlot’ is Still Great to Watch With Your Kids—Just Come Prepared

This movie still resonates with me for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a trip down memory lane that transcends many generations—when I was a kid first watching it, my own parents could probably relate to the 1960s feel of the film. Now that I’m in my 40s, I have nostalgic memories of watching it as a kid.

As mentioned before, however, there are parts of the movie that I’ve overlooked before my rewatch, probably because my strong nostalgia for it interfered with a more serious critique. That being said, those parts of the film can be addressed by parents having honest conversations with their kids when they watch it today. There is a “pause” button for a reason, after all. 

For the most part, The Sandlot still holds up. It’s full of laughs and jokes that remind parents what it’s like to be a kid again, if just for an hour or so. And for kids today, it still holds a pretty valuable lesson—that if you’re going to get into a “pickle” of any kind, it’s best to have some good buddies to back you up.

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the father of a teenage son and a “bonus dad” to a tween daughter. A writer since 2005, Chris has a breadth of knowledge when it comes to parenting, some of which he learned firsthand through trial and error.