Sunday, July 27, 2014

Portland's Battling Bastards of Baseball

The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Directed by Chapman and Maclain Way
With Bing Russell, Kurt Russell, Jim Bouton
Todd Field, Rob Nelson
Netflix Films
Five Scoops of Bosco

Reviewed by Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

Sometimes truth can be more interesting and stranger than fiction in movies and baseball.

If you didn't know any better and thought the sports documentary The Battled Bastards of Baseball was fiction you might be inclined to walk out of the theater because it is almost unbelievable.

But it's all True.  Every minute of it.

First time Directors Chapman and Maclain Way have crafted a fun, interesting, and energetic independent film about an independent minor league baseball team in the 1970's.

In 1973 Portland, OR, lost its longtime Minor League baseball team, the Portland Beavers due to lack of interest and low attendance. Bing Russell, who briefly played baseball professionally before enjoying a Hollywood acting career (including a long stint as deputy sheriff on Bonanza) , fulfills a dream of his to own a baseball team.  He buys the territory and forms a short season Single-A team to operate as an independent (without major league affiliation) that competes in the same league as Major League Affiliates.

The Way Brothers, who are the grandsons of Bing Russell, had exclusive access to the family archives and tell the story through home movie footage, old photos, and portions of a Baseball Television Show hosted by legendary baseball player and announcer Joe Garagiola,  as well as interviews of the players and coaches on the team.

There was a time in baseball history when there were several independent professional baseball teams across the country.  But by time the 1970's rolled around there were none.  When the Mavericks were formed they were the only one.  They had to play in a league against Major League Affiliates.

When tryouts were held for the team, Russell placed advertisements in national publications including the Sporting News.  He was expecting maybe 30 or 40 from the Portland area to show up.  What he got was around 500 guys that came from all corners of the country and one from South Africa who wanted to fulfill their dream of playing professional baseball.

The team was made up of mostly cast-offs from major league organizations that had given up on them.  They had a tremendous chip on their shoulder to start and were made up of the oddest and quirkiest bunch of guys you could ever imagine.  They led the league in facial hair.  One guy looked like Charlie Manson.  They had a left handed catcher.  They had a dog for a mascot who they would intentionally run out on the field if they thought the relief pitcher needed more time to warm up.  They had another guy light kerosene soaked brooms on fire when they were about to sweep a team. They had a 23-year old woman General Manager.

Almost as interesting as the story itself is the cast of characters in the movie.

Iconic Actor Kurt Russell is Bing's son and was also a major league baseball prospect back in the day. He played for the Mavericks and helped his dad in the front office.  He used be the young baseball player in instructional baseball films produced by his Dad in the 1960's.

Todd Field, who would go on to become an Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe Director for his movies In the Bedroom and Little Children was the enthusiastic batboy for the team. He tells the story that he told the management at the batboy tryout "That he just HAD to be the batboy for this team". He was told to hustle so nobody could deny him and that is what he did.

Rob Nelson, who was the first baseman on the team went on to create Big League Chew, the extremely successful bubblegum company.  He actually cooked up the first batch while playing for the Mavericks.

Jim Bouton, the blackballed Major League Pitcher from the New York Yankees for writing his controversial book Ball Four, started his comeback with the Portland Mavericks and tells us about his love of the game and why he took the stint with an independent minor league baseball team.

After five wonderful and successful years in Portland, with the team outdrawing and setting minor league attendance records, Major League Baseball decided it wanted to move back into Portland and re-establish their Triple A team there again.

The Documentary ends with Bing Russell's court battle with Major League Baseball over his territorial right to a team.  The outcome is almost as unbelievable as the rest of the movie.

This movie is a must-see for baseball fans and baseball historians alike.

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