By Gregory Crofton
Independent films, yes, everybody knows about them. Indie baseball? That existed too, at least it did for five seasons in Portland, Ore., back in the ’70s. Think the baseball version of “Slap Shot,” a wild sex-and-beer-fueled hockey team from the 1977 movie starring Paul Newman.
Thankfully a man named Bing Russell gave life to the Portland Mavericks, a team that became a sanctuary for some lost souls who loved baseball. Russell – an actor on the TV show “Bonanza” for 13 years and father of Hollywood star Kurt Russell – established the “A” league team after he had finished with the entertainment business and decided to return to his first love, Minor League baseball.
The Portland Beavers, a traditional Major League-associated team, decided to call it quits on the city because of flagging attendance. Bing stepped in and formed the Mavericks. To find talent, he conducted open tryouts that drew players from as far away as South Africa and brought in a wide variety of characters to form a team that fans connected with. They also could play and win – base stealers like Reggie “That’s Not My Gun” Thomas, and third baseman Steve “Cut” Collette.
“The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a film that can be enjoyed by non-baseball fans. It starts out a little slow and doesn’t reveal any of the player’s hijinks like it should, but its layered story builds to a satisfying finish. The Mavericks’ long-gone days come alive, allowing you to appreciate Bing’s gunslinger’s take on life. You also find out who invented Big League Chew, and how the club’s bat boy, Todd Field, created a heck of a life for himself.
The only obvious downside are the blindingly white backgrounds used during interviews with players, coaches etc., but inventive design, titles and graphics make up for all that white. Written and directed by Bing’s two grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, 27 and 23, nephews of Kurt Russell, this doc is billed as a “Netflix Original.”
The online video service paid to release the film exclusively, but it also had one-week theatrical runs in L.A. and New York to qualify for the Oscars, according to the Los Angeles Times. It’s unclear if Netflix has had any sway over “Bastards” final cut since it premiered at Sundance in January. Odds are Netflix signed the doc because it’s about baseball, and all that data they own told them that Netflix viewers like documentaries about baseball.
A Hollywood version of the Mavericks’ story is in the works. According the Los Angeles Times, Justin Lin, executive producer and director of “Fast & Furious 6,” bought the rights, and Todd Field is in line to write and direct.