Four baseball videos bring the old pastime back. Reviews of ''Official History of Baseball,'' ''50 Greatest Home Runs,'' ''Greatest League Championship Series,'' and ''Greatest Pennant Races''

By Chris Nashawaty
September 23, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Four baseball videos bring the old pastime back

September should be a time for unfettered pennant races and Kwik-E-Mart preparation for the World Series. But with the intrusion of yet another strike, the only sure thing for pro-sports fans anymore is the annoying Hank Williams Jr. Monday Night Football theme song.

Makes a fan want to see baseball uninterrupted by talks of contracts and salary caps. Of course, you could rent The Natural or The Pride of the Yankees again. But for a dose of hardball uncompromised by phony performances and plots, Orion Home Video has released four titles showcasing the old American pastime’s real stars. Let’s go to the videotapes.

The Official History of Baseball looks at the game back when it was still a game, tracing baseball’s evolution to the multimillion-dollar business it is today, while trying ever so hard to be the encyclopedic Ken Burns documentary. Unfortunately, in its attempt to be broad, the film spreads itself too thin. Nonetheless it does score with some nice archival footage of Babe Ruth rounding the bases in a jerky old-newsreel trot and Lou Gehrig’s teary-eyed ”Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech.

The 50 Greatest Home Runs in Baseball History serves up a king’s feast of taters, dingers, and long balls. That’s right, nearly an hour of home runs and nothin’ but. Narrated by Mel ”How ‘Bout That” Allen, Home Runs serves up such gems as Hank Aaron’s 715th, Carlton Fisk’s 12th-inning game winner from the 1975 World Series, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 Shot Heard Round the World, and 47 more. Despite some cheesy Casiotone music between money shots, this is the fix for fans with a tater jones.

If you’re looking for gut-wrenching team drama instead of individual achievement, try the two best tapes of the bunch: The Greatest League Championship Series and Baseball’s Greatest Pennant Races. Both are balanced mixes of highlights and interviews with the key players in these tooth-and-nail fights to get to the Series. In addition to outstanding footage, both tapes provide unintentionally hilarious backward glances at our culture. Whether it’s the formality of the suits and hats that dot the stands during the 1951 pennant race between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, or the Afros, muttonchop sideburns, and a pimpish Telly Savalas in a fur coat at the 1976 American League playoffs, both tapes capture the feel of their eras. Between the two, the nod goes to Pennant Races, since it’s a little more selective. Best moment: the scintillating 1978 race between two of baseball’s greatest (and most vociferous) rivals, the Red Sox and the Yankees, during which, as sportswriter Peter Gammons relays, Boston pitcher Bill ”Spaceman” Lee called Yanks manager Billy Martin a Nazi. Now, that’s baseball. Don’t you miss it. History of Baseball: C+; Greatest Home Runs: B; League Championship Series: B+; Pennant Races: A-