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SFF’14 Movie Review: “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”

January 30, 2014

Screen shot 2014-01-30 at 3.26.12 PM

This is quite the unique documentary, a film about the beginnings of a rag tag group of hooligan ballplayers, led by an aging film/TV actor, not to mention featuring his son, Kurt Russell somewhere in there within the line up of the players. Writer/directors (and brothers), Chapman & Maclain Way decided to do a documentary about their larger than life grandfather, Bing Russell, and the escapades of his beloved minor league ball team, the Portland Mavericks.

Bing Russell was an actor by trade, starring in beloved shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza”, not to mention his inclusion in John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven”. Be that as it may, Bing was a baseball fan first; it was always baseball first, then acting. He wanted to be a ballplayer, more than anything, and he’s come close in his youth, but never amounted to the dream. Later in life, he was given the opportunity to buy a minor league team based out in Portland, the Mavericks, a ‘fitting’ name for a team.

Bing’s Mavericks certainly don’t come off as such; they were a team many professionals saw as an immediate failure. However Bing managed to put the naysayers to rest, by generating unimaginable success. The Mavericks beat out every minor league teams attendance records, managed re-launched the controversial career of Jim Bouton, a man forced into retirement after his stint with the Astros. Bing hired the first female general manager in Baseball, Lanny Moss, who brought the team to the championship in 1973 & ’77. Not to mention he signed his own son, Kurt, and made him team Vice President. Oh, and with all that to boot, the Mavericks are responsible for the birth and success of Big League Chew, yes, the bubble gum.

One could say that what Bing was trying to accomplish could be compared to an indie filmmaker making his or hers first feature film. You build a team/crew, you work hard (days/nights), and when the finish product is presented, you can only pray that some people will fill the seats in support for your precious baby. Bing’s love for baseball and the team itself was gargantuan at best, when the official league took everything way from him all because they were the oddball ball team, Bing fought for the right and proper earnings that the team was worth to him.

There’s so much story to be told in the Chapman brothers tale of acting and ball playing, and rightfully so, with the announcement that “Fast & Furious” filmmaker Justin Lin has acquired the position of directing/producing a narrative adaptation of the Way brothers doc, the hopes of telling Bing’s story for a wider audience are closing in. After seeing Kurt discuss his dad both in the film, and the Q/A, I’m sure this is something he’d be proud for his dad to hear; that the magic of the Mavericks will continue on.

GRADE: A

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