I don’t know much about Baseball. I’ve seen the excellent film Moneyball and read the book, watched the final game of the 2014 World Series; and there’s that episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns hires the MLB ringers to ensure a victory for the Power Plant’s Softball team and that’s about all.
Still, The Battered Bastards of Baseball uses talking-head interviews and archive footage to tell the sort of stranger-than-fiction underdog story that any sports fan can get behind. In the early seventies actor and baseball enthusiast Bing Russell, star of Bonanza and jobbing film actor (and Kurt Russell’s father) founds A-League team the Portland Mavericks, at the time the only independent professional Baseball team in America.
Going into a dying Baseball town and operating without the backing of a Major League side is considered comical, a joke which gets funnier when Russell holds open tryouts that anyone can attend. He assembles his team of former amateurs and professionals who never made it at a higher level, a sort of unshaven, beer-bellied version of Moneyball.
The joke is on organised baseball as the Mavericks turn out be a more than capable team. Their main motivation? Revenge. Revenge on the MLB teams who cut them and their desire to prove they can play with the players affiliated with a major franchise – the “bonus babes.”
The fact that they actually put together a good win/loss record earns the ire of those Franchise clubs, as do the antics of Russell, an executive with no-one to answer to who goes out of his way to make sure the fans go home entertained. His personality and his obvious affection for his players and the local fans shines through, creating a legion of fervent supporters and the Mavericks break every significant minor-league attendance record while gaining national press coverage.
The Mavericks are soon competing for the league Pennant, but the super high attendances make the Portland market more attractive for MLB teams looking for a new minor-league franchise. The laws of the game mean that an MLB franchise can just come in and set-up their own Triple-A franchise and close the Mavericks down – providing they pay compensation to Russell. Russell goes to a court of arbitration to get the figure he thinks is fair; once again setting himself up in competition with the big boys, a fight which seems mismatched from the outset but not a fight Russell will back down from.
The Verdict: The Battered Bastards of Baseball is easy to follow even if you don’t know the slightest thing about Baseball but might lose appeal if you’re not a sports fan with at least a passing interest in the sport. However its dramas – which surely would be categorised as too unrealistic were this a fictional drama – include a Hollywood actor’s arrival in a small town, a disregarded underdog’s quest for glory and a major court case with a bittersweet and sentimental conclusion.