Baseball is a sport that’s either seen as a religion or a boring crawl. While there are merits on both sides, it’s not an easy sport to turn into an entertaining film. Most focus on the people and less on the sport as a whole.
So with people as the focus, you can tell interesting stories about heroes and underdogs. This is one of those films.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a documentary by Chapman and Maclian Way.
The film follow the defunct Portland Mavericks, an independent Single A ball team from the 70s. While every other team in the farm system (single A, double A and triple A) was run by a major league team, the Mavericks weren’t, which meant the could do things differently. However, that also meant that the team would have to scout players, sign them, arrange games and worst of all pay them on their own.
The film follows the team and their founder Bing Russell as he takes his baseball loving roots to Hollywood working as a bit actor. Soon after his roles stop coming he starts the franchise for only a $500 franchise fee.
The Mavericks then draft their own team from open tryouts picking up random people who were either dropped or ignored by major league teams. While the team of rejects seemed like a freak show at first, their raw talent soon made them one of the best teams in the Northwest League.
The film features interviews with local sports reporters, baseball historians as well as some of the people who either played or worked for the organization such as blackballed former New York Yankee Pitcher Joe Bouton, former batboy turned Academy Award nominated director Todd Field, left handed back catcher and Big League Chew creator Rob Nelson and Bing’s son, player/vice president turned actor Kurt Russell.
Over the course of the films 73 minute running time the film focuses on the rise and eventual courtroom battle that killed the team.
The main theme of the documentary is the telling of a classic underdog story. From the get go the Mavericks had a lot against them. From the lack of major league funding to being operated out of a town that seemingly didn’t want baseball, the Mavericks were able to fight against the established norms and become a media darling.
From the interviews that are presented it’s clear that this team was less a baseball team and more a family that just happened to win games and the hearts the people of Portland.
As you’d expect the film follows the history of the team chronologically as the team becomes more and more popular. The film also focuses on some of the taboos that the team broke such as having the first Asian manager or even having a female general manager.
Bridging the interviews is a great deal of footage taken from news stories as well as personal home movies shot with no sound. These images end up adding the believability of the stories that the players are telling with all of these larger than life people playing for the love of game as well as a way to stick it the major ball teams.
What makes the film so special is that’s it’s presented in a way that non-sports fans can understand with little time spent in the technical elements of baseball. The focus is on the people and the story, and that’s the films strongest part.
Despite that there are a few problems with the film. A lot of the film is dedicated to bashing the MLB as a whole, and while the majority of the film focuses on people who were rejected by organized baseball it would have been nice to get a rebuttal from the other side. With a short running time of just over an hour this could of made film longer and added more depth to the story.
Instead what we get is a lopsided story about how amazing this team was and how they were robbed of recognition and eventually the team. While the film is based around the amazing nature of an independent team, it would have been nice to get another opinion.
That being said, the film is pretty damn good as it is. While it’s only July and there are so many other films yet to come, this one is already at the top of the list for not only one of my favourite Doc’s but films in general.
If you love an underdog story, and who doesn’t, then the Battered Bastards of Baseball is a home run (lame I know). You should go out of your way to see it.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is distributed by Netflix and is available in all of their regions.