August 5, 2014

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Chapman Way & Maclain Way, 2014

Documentaries are so great because they often expose the viewer to a particular subject that may have become forgotten in time. Something under-appreciated. Something that may have slipped between the cracks. Quite often its something that surely should not have, something that needs to be remembered. Something that needs to be cemented in the fabric of time forever. The King of Kong introduced us to the bitter Donkey Kong high-score world record bitter battle between Steve Wiebe and super-douche Billy Mitchell. If you haven't yet seen this doc, it's a must see. If you have, it was another great story that had you rooting for the underdog. There's certainly an underdog in the Battered Bastards, and it's the Portland Mavericks. Most sports fans have probably never heard of them. But they were a team of misfits, put together by retired-actor Bing Russell (father of Kurt Russell, star of shows Maverick & Bonanza). These are men who were forgotten by the the commercial Baseball empire. Big Baseball, if you will. They were pushed to the side. But Bing Russell opened the doors for them. He introduced open tryouts to anyone who would like a shot at the team. Expecting a handful of applicants, he was surprised to find hundreds at the door waiting for their chance to prove themselves. And much to everyone's surprise, they were good. They were scrappy. They had a chip on their shoulders. They played their hearts out. Some of them, like pitcher Jim Bouton, were even ex-MLBers who were blackballed by the league and found a new home in the independent circuit. They broke the rules of baseball etiquette, with their facial hair and questionable hygienic practices. They probably would have failed a drug test had they been given one. But they were a loyal bunch who would jump into the stands and drink a beer with their fans after a victory. Men of the people. A team a city can easily get behind, and they did. They came in droves.

Like all great stories (and many great documentaries), you need your bad guy. The bad guy in this story is Big Baseball. Embarrassed after the Mavericks not only proved to be successful on their own but even defeated actual Minor League franchises, they had to clean the egg off of their faces. And so they attempted to. But the real hero in the story is Bing Russell. He gave the everyman a chance with the most fan-friendly team ever created. You find that these players not only enjoyed their success with the Mavericks but even credit that period of their life to future successes. You can certainly credit Bing with creating an accessible team whose story is worthy of the film treatment.

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