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The Battered Bastards of Baseball

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Imagine that a TV star decides to buy a minor league franchise when his TV show is cancelled. With his son, a former Disney child star who outgrew the roles he was playing, he forms the only minor league ball club in America which is not associated with a Major League team. They hire a crazy, washed-up AAA ball player to manage the team and they fill the roster with the players no one else wants. Everyone thinks they’ll fail, but there are pennant races, a legal battle with the baseball establishment and the players, heck even the batboy, go on to find wild success off the field in business and entertainment. It’s a script so outrageous that Hollywood would never make it, because no one would believe it could ever happen… but it did.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a documentary that tells the actual story of real life Class A minor league baseball team the Portland Mavericks: Owner Bing Russell, a minor league ballplayer who had a career ending injury and moved to Hollywood to become a TV star, his son is Kurt Russell, who had about as much success as his father in baseball, and much more than his father in Hollywood, and the rag tag team of players and managers they assembled to play against the powerhouse farm teams of major league baseball.

Before the first open tryouts that Bing held for the Portland Mavericks, also notable for inspiring Big League Chew bubblegum, he told the hopefuls the same thing he told his players throughout the team’s existence: Just have fun. And it seems that the directors of BBB, Bing’s grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, took this to heart, because watching it was the most fun I had at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The Way brothers show that their grandfather combined his love for baseball and the spectacle of Hollywood to make going to the Ballpark something fun for everyone. He encouraged the antics of both his players and coaches. His star player led the league in game ejections. One game, 5 mavericks were ejected from the game, including Bing himself and even the batboy. Once, the manager rotated all the players on the field every inning so that every player played every position that game. After sweeping an opponent, infielder Joe Garza brought the clubhouse broom onto the field and used it to sweep off home plate in celebration. Bing thought it was so funny he encouraged Garza to keep doing it. Any time the Mavericks were about to sweep an opponent, out came the broom. He would run onto the field and sweep or jump onto the dugout and dance with the broom while sweeping. He would eventually start lighting the brooms on fire. When Garza was asked in a post-game interview how the league felt about it, he said, “All they can do is fine me. You know, uh Bing, the manager has been paying my fines.”

Local Sportswriters compared Bing’s approach as a minor league owner to a mad chemist performing experiments in a lab, sometimes they blew up in his face, but more often than not they worked. And his experiments weren’t always silly. He was the first professional owner to hire a female general manager. The next year he became the first person in professional baseball to hire an Asian American general manager. You would expect these landmarks to be made by an owner with the gravity of Branch Rickey, who broke baseball’s race barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, not the guy who encouraged a player to light a broom on fire and then paid the inevitable fines that followed.

In looking back on her time with the Mavericks, GM Carren Woods said, “Bing was a guy who loved baseball. Even if you didn’t like baseball at all, he could make you fall in love with it.” I don’t know if this story of Bing Russell will make you love baseball, but if you’re like me, it’ll make you love the Portland Mavericks, his Battered Bastards of Baseball. To find out if he succeeded in making Portland love baseball, you’ll have to watch the movie.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is currently streaming on Netflix and is not rated. I highly recommend it for ages 16-18, but because of the use of some strong language, please check with your parents before viewing.

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Author: David Pate

David Pate is a stand up comedian, karaoke singer and a writer and director of short films.  When he has a free minute he writes movie reviews as well.  His other reviews and updates on his short films live at The Life Cinematic.

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