Directed by: Chapman Way & Maclain Way.
Professional sports are an interesting business. For millions of fans, watching them is about the love of the game, but for the teams, leagues and many of the players, it is about the money. There is a lot of money to be made, and someone is going to make it. The Leagues operate with impunity – they can pretty much do whatever the hell they want, and no one can do anything about. The documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball is about one of the last times in America where someone was able to operate outside their jurisdiction, and make money doing it. So, of course, sooner or later it all had to come to an end. According to everyone involved though, it was a hell of a good time while it lasted.
In 1973, Bing Russell (father of Kurt) had just ended a very long run as Deputy Clem on Bonanza. He had been a working actor for years – doing any role in any TV show or movie that was required of him. But he had been working for years, and was bored. His first passion – before acting – was baseball. He had even had a short career as a minor league player. When the Portland Beavers – a Triple-A farm club decides to leave time, Russell sees an opportunity for himself. He decides to start a Single-A team – called the Mavericks – and move into Portland. Unlike every other team in minor league baseball, his team wasn’t affiliated with a major league club. There used to be a lot of Independent clubs, but the majors slowly put them out of business. Russell wanted to bring it back. The first step was to get some players – so he holds open tryouts. He assembles a real life, ragtag group so popular in movies, but in real life. Surprisingly, they’re pretty damn good. Through five seasons, the Mavericks plays some great baseball, come close to winning a pennant – but never do – and will do pretty much anything to entertain the crowd – who show up in droves. They have the highest attendance in the league by a mile. In Portland, Russell was a hero. In traditional baseball circles, he was hated.
The documentary is a lightweight, feel-good documentary that reminded me of something you would see as part of something like ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. I don’t that as an insult – that series has had some excellent documentaries in it – but it explains why after its Sundance premiere, Netflix acquired the documentary and have made it available to all of their subscribers as of last week. It plays well on a TV screen.
The movie isn’t great, but it’s a lot of fun – which I think probably describes the team it documents, so it’s appropriate. Every year it seems we see any number of too good to be true sports stories – and here is another one. If you like these, than The Battered Bastards of Baseball will satisfy.