Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Premiered July 11, 2014 on Netflix
Directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way
Written by Chapman Way and Maclain Way
Cast: Bing Russell, Kurt Russell, Todd Field, Rob Nelson, Jim Swanson, Frank Peters, Robert Richardson, Carren Woods, Jon Yoshiwara, Joe Garza, Joe Garagiola, Max Patkin, Jim Bouton
My brother first told me about this baseball documentary a few months before its premiere on Netflix, and his description alone had me more than eager to check it out: a look at an independent Class A minor league team called the Portland Mavericks, who for five seasons in the mid-1970s played in the Northwest League, and were the only independent team in the country. They were made up of cast-offs, misfits, and low-end major league players, and at the time were considered the laughingstock of the baseball world…until they started to win.
The team was created, owned, and operated by former television and bit-part movie actor Bing Russell (father of actor Kurt Russell), and besides being a former minor leaguer himself, Bing was also a tremendous fan of the sport, who grew up mingling with New York Yankees greats during spring training when he was a kid living in Florida. And even though he was a fledgling team owner, he knew quite a bit about the game, and loved what he was doing, emphasizing fun over anything else; that enthusiasm not only spilled over to the players, but to the fans as well, who wholeheartedly supported the Mavericks and helped the team become a success.
However, because he went against the grain, Bing eventually drew the ire of those at the administrative level of the Northwest League, the minor leagues, and even the major leagues, and though the team continued to win (finishing in first place four of their five seasons), there were many in the baseball hierarchy who didn’t appreciate the team’s unorthodox—yet successful—ways of doing things. Soon the Pacific Coast League took notice of the attendance marks, and pushed their way into the territory, calling on minor league rules to force the Mavericks out of Portland. But Bing wouldn’t go without a fight, and that part of the Mavericks story is just as interesting as the rest.
I really had a blast with this documentary, and though I’m a fan of baseball and the historical side of the game, I’m guessing even non-fans and casual viewers will have an enjoyable time with it as well, and enjoy the stories and accounts as much as I did. As far as baseball goes, there’s plenty in the presentation to bask in (including interviews with former players and team members, film and video footage of games, and archival photos and newspaper clippings), but what this documentary also offers is a quaint, feel-good look at a small-town team that was lovingly embraced by a city, and how one man followed his dream and brought it all together, back when such endeavors were still entirely possible in baseball.
If you have eighty minutes to spare, and have Netflix at your disposal, I’d say give The Battered Bastards of Baseball a shot…I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how entertaining and agreeable it is. From a young Kurt (yes, he played for the Mavs) to big leaguer Jim Bouton, and from left-handed catchers to ball dogs to Oscar-nominated batboys, there’s plenty enough to keep even the most baseball-deficient person hooked. And believe it or not, if it weren’t for the Mavericks, the world—including yours truly—would never have been introduced to the shredded pink deliciousness that is Big League Chew. (9/10)