The Battered Bastards of Baseball Review
Packed with unlikely heroes, corporate villains, and lovable misfits, this spirited documentary recounts the story of the Portland Mavericks, America’s only independent baseball team from 1973 to 1977.
Founded by Bing Russell (the former sheriff from 60s show Bonanza), the Portland Mavericks were the only independent baseball team playing in the United States from 1973 to 77. After Portland’s previous, more famous baseball franchise the Portland Beavers moved to Washington, Bing began forming the mainstay of the Portland Mavericks squad with tryouts for anyone who filled out the form, inviting (initially to the chagrin of Portland’s weary sports fans) a slew of ex-Major League players, misfits, castaways, has-beens and never-weres, with the hope of unearthing a team full of diamonds; for a short time, a young Kurt Russell would even step up to the plate first as a designated hitter (substitute for the pitcher), and later vice-president.
Bing Russell - Kurt's father and grandfather of director Chapman Way - is the inspiration-behind-the-perspiration with nothing to lose but pride. The Battered Bastards of Baseball delves headfirst into the story of the Portland Mavericks, relying upon the ever-giving tropes you'll find in every sports movie: the washed-up star player with hopes of regaining a former glory, the manager with a team full of losers to unite, fighting against bureaucratic fascism, the battle to win over the hearts and minds of the indifferent and just plain fed-up city dwellers.
Through evocative, fast-paced narration and candid interviews with Bing’s more famous son Kurt, sports journalists, as well as former Mavericks’ staff and a few of the key figures involved in this rebel sporting clique, the end result is a raucously entertaining, requiring only the most fundamental knowledge of baseball, all the time giving a big middle finger to what we think about cliches. Complimenting the endearingly partisan recollections of specific games and moments, the film keeps insider terms and references to a minimum whilst highlighting the major events and their significance to a casual or non-fan. Old-timey filters and a saccharine orchestral score further add to the burgeoning sentimentality and unabashed bias. Luckily for the Bastards, it’s passion over vanity here in Portland, and Kurt Russell is playing.
At its core, The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells the David vs Goliath story, heard a few times before; Darren Aronofsky said recently, cliches can be good if they’re done right. The Mavs are champions of a rebellious spirit rarely seen in the homogenized modern world of professional sport, where money is the reigning, defending champion; where the keys to the kingdom are 'moral fibre' and political correctness. So revel in the glorious underdog baseball story that waves a nonchalant middle finger at all of it - a real-life “Homer at the Bat”, Slap Shot meets the Bad News Bears, Tessie blaring in the background, hot dogs, sweaty jerseys and romance, the love of the game.
It’s amazing what you don’t know about the game you’ve played your whole life, said Mickey Mantle, quoted at the top of 2011 baseball biopic Moneyball; the same goes for a game you’ve never played and never truly watched until the art transcends the sport. It’s better than paintin’ houses.