The Battered Bastards of Baseball Review


It’s a shame “For the Love of the Game” is already spoken for as far as baseball movie titles go. I think Chicago Cubs fans could be a little peeved at the implication that the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league franchise are baseball’s true battered bastards…

The love of the game, though, is a phrase repeated often in The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the first feature film from brother directors Chapman and Maclain Way. It’s the reason why actor Bing Russell—fresh off a 13-year stint on Bonanza—packed up and moved to Rip City to start his own baseball team. During the squad’s run from 1973 to 1978, it was the only independent minor league team in America, meaning the other Single-A teams the Mavericks competed against—not to mention every other Single-A team and all Double-A and Triple-A teams—were stocked with guys who had Major League aspirations. Not so with the Mavericks. These guys had nothing to play for but, you guessed it, the love of the game.

It’s Russell, though, who puts himself out there the most. He’s unfortunately no longer with us, but the film’s interview subjects (including the one and only Kurt Russell, who was the Mavericks’ Vice-President, as well as a player for one season) speak lovingly of his passion for baseball and this misfit group of players. He was a fan of the sport for his entire life, but the level of his fandom isn’t easy to describe. He was a guy who didn’t just watch the game and root for his favorite team. He analyzed player movements and swing patterns. He created instructional videos for young people and those coaching them. And while he tried to play—he always said he wanted to be the first man with a World Series ring and an Oscar—an injury shifted his focus entirely to Hollywood.

His biggest risk in forming his own team might well have been selecting Portland as his team’s hometown. Until the Mavericks set up shop in town, the city was home to a Triple-A team—the Beavers—that no one cared about or came to see. It was a dead baseball town, and now, a Hollywood actor wanted to come in with a team full of guys who all failed when it came to traditional professional ball. Yet, in a twist that seems straight out of a scripted movie, the team clicked and played brilliantly.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells Russell’s and the Mavericks’ stories very well, and while it’s a very traditional talking-head piece without much in the way of a greater point to make, it remains an entertaining doc from start to finish. It’s a classic case of the truth being stranger than fiction—who’d have thought the squad’s lone Oscar nominee would be neither Bing nor Kurt, but rather bat boy Todd Field of In the Bedroom and Little Children fame. We’ll see if that remains the case with a major studio remake (courtesy of Fast & Furious director Justin Lin) on the way, but in the mean time, fans of baseball, the Russells, and even those precious, battered Mavericks fans have a lovely movie to help them remember the team’s glorious run.

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