The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 85%, based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Perhaps less than absorbing for non-baseball fans, but nevertheless underpinned by strong performances from the cast and John Sayles' solid direction."
When the film was first released, the film industry staff at Variety magazine wrote:
"Perhaps the saddest chapter in the annals of professional American sports is recounted in absorbing fashion in Eight Men Out...The most compelling figures here are pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn), a man nearing the end of his career who feels the twin needs to ensure a financial future for his family and take revenge on his boss, and Buck Weaver (John Cusack), an innocent enthusiast who took no cash for the fix but, like the others, was forever banned from baseball."
Film critic Roger Ebert was underwhelmed, writing,
"Eight Men Out is an oddly unfocused movie made of earth tones, sidelong glances and eliptic[sic] conversations. It tells the story of how the stars of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team took payoffs from gamblers to throw the World Series, but if you are not already familiar with that story you're unlikely to understand it after seeing this film."
Ebert's television colleague Gene Siskel said, "Eight Men Out is fascinating if you are a baseball nut ... the portrayal of the recruiting of the ball players and the tight fisted rule of Comiskey is fascinating ... thumbs up."
Critic Janet Maslin spoke well of the actors, writing,
"Notable in the large and excellent cast of Eight Men Out are D. B. Sweeney, who gives Shoeless Joe Jackson the slow, voluptuous Southern naivete of the young Elvis; Michael Lerner, who plays the formidable gangster Arnold Rothstein with the quietest aplomb; Gordon Clapp as the team's firecracker of a catcher; John Mahoney as the worried manager who senses much more about his players' plans than he would like to, and Michael Rooker as the quintessential bad apple. Charlie Sheen is also good as the team's most suggestible player, the good-natured fellow who isn't sure whether it's worse to be corrupt or be a fool. The story's delightfully colorful villains are played by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Edson (as the halfway-comic duo who make the first assault on the players), Michael Mantell as the chief gangster's extremely undependable right-hand man, and Kevin Tighe as the Bostonian smoothie who coolly declares: 'You know what you feed a dray horse in the morning if you want a day's work out of him? Just enough so he knows he's hungry.' For Mr. Sayles, whose idealism has never been more affecting or apparent than it is in this story of boyish enthusiam gone bad in an all too grown-up world, Eight Men Out represents a home run."