I have a personal connection to The Battered Bastards of Baseball. More on that in a bit.
Reviewing films only found on Netflix isn't something I normally do. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is my first-ever exception. I have several reasons for reviewing the film. One is purely professional and two are just plain personal.
Professional goes first and morphs into the personal. I rarely find a baseball movie I don't like. And I love more of them than I just like. Documentaries about the formerly titled National Pastime are even better than biopics about this player or that, or those rare baseball movies that are pure fiction.
This one got released on Netflix I suspect because of the money it costs to get a movie distributed into theaters. That's unfortunate. It would, I think, win major awards if it was ever shown in theaters.
The bottom line: This is one hell of a good movie and a lot of fun even if you don't love or even like the game.
Personal reason No. 1. I love baseball. I grew up playing the game. When we weren't swimming, my friends and I would spend hot summer days in Kennewick playing baseball at whatever field we could find that wasn't packed with other kids doing the same thing.
I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say summers in Tri-Cities are brutally hot. That never seemed to matter and we would play ball from the time we could escape our homes in the morning until whatever time we had to head home to Mom and Dad's for dinner.
While I never watch the game on TV anymore unless it's the World Series or a league playoff series game, I do love the game and understand it well enough to coach.
Personal reason No. 2. As noted earlier, I have a connection to the team that is the subject of The Battered Bastards of Baseball.
Actor Bing Russell's great claim to fame was a bazillion years as the sheriff on the long-running TV series Bonanza. He may have been an actor, but Russell's passion in life was baseball. Before going into acting, Russell played professionally and did several definitive films on how to play the game. The player used in films was his young son Kurt.
Yes, that's actor Kurt Russell, who also -- no pun intended -- sports baseball as his lifelong passion but whose career was cut short by nonproductive seasons and a beckoning Hollywood.
In 1973, Bing bagged acting and established a minor league baseball team in Portland. The city's triple-A team, the Beavers, abandoned the city, and Portland's gorgeous Civic Stadium was going to sit empty. While the city wasn't eager to embrace Russell and his idea, he eventually secured the stadium and baseball stayed in Portland.
His team would play in the Class A Northwest League, whose teams in 1973 included the Tri-City Triplets and the Walla Walla Padres.
Those teams -- and all others in the league -- were affiliated with major league baseball. Russell's was not. At the time, he had the only independent baseball team in the nation and to date the most successful independent baseball team in history.
That's a significant part of his story and this movie.
Baseball experts pooh-poohed the notion that an independent team could work -- much less win -- without the affiliation of a major league baseball connection. Pooh-poohing the experts, Russell moved forward. His team was extraordinarily successful. It set minor league attendance records that were nothing short of astounding for an A league team.
Russell's team -- packed with older players and players who had been rejected by other minor league teams and the majors -- won. And they didn't just win; they won big.
The team played five seasons in Portland from 1973-77. To find out why they left, you'll have to see the movie.
My connection with the Portland Mavericks came in the initial year of 1973. I was working as a disc jockey at a Portland area bar and nightclub. One of the team's players, Robbie Robinson, lived in an apartment above the establishment. He used to pop in, and we became friends. Robbie got me tickets to the games and I was able to catch a lot of the home games. I spent time in the dugout and met and befriended many of his teammates.
The players included Kurt, who I didn't hang with but who seemed like a really nice guy.
The team members I spent time with were a blast. Most of the time spent with them was during the day and at this or that river around the Portland area. Other than being a lot of fun and a fairly adventurous soul, I suspect a big part of the friendship was based on A) I had a vehicle and could get us places, B) my vehicle was an old forest service Chevy van and in the nonrequired seatbelt years of the '70s I could pack it with people, and C) I was the drug connection for several of the Maverick's players.
In addition to working as a disc jockey at that club, I was going to broadcast school and trying to get my then required broadcasting license. To "supplement" my income, I sold marijuana and occasionally a jar of speed.
A couple of weeks after I met Robbie, he got me fired. My boss had just spent a quarter of a million dollars renovating his club, and Robbie asked him if he could cash his paycheck because he needed to buy some pot from me. Ten minutes later, I was unemployed.
But that was OK too. More time for me to go to night games and enjoy a most fun summer.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is done by Bing's grandsons and Kurt's nephews, Chapman and Maclain Way. They mix interviews with their uncle and others from the team with news and personal footage of the era. Among those interviewed is Todd Fields, who was the team's bat boy. He, like Kurt, went on to act and then write and direct movies. He directed and wrote the 2001 Oscar and other award nominated In the Bedroom and the critically acclaimed and Oscar and other award-nominated Little Children in 2006.
Kurt Russell played a season for his dad and -- as you know -- went on to become an A-list movie star.
Other teammates and the team's former manager Frank (The Flake) Peters and former Yankee pitching great Jim Bouton.
One last note. Bing Russell was a brilliant promoter. The success of the team is due to his genius and his willingness to be different, to be bold and to -- in many cases -- be first.
Most of all, I admire his skill at motivating players. His love of the game was infectious. He gave men that everyone else gave up on a chance to share that love and let them be the boys of their childhood for one or more seasons.
Bing Russell died in 2003. This movie and that team are his legacy. I cannot emphasize enough that The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a must-see for any fan of the game.
And -- really -- it's a must-see even for those that don't know much about the game.
Director: Chapman and Maclain Way
Stars: Kurt Russell, Bing Russell, Todd Field, Frank Peters, Joe Garagiola
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Not rated but probably PG-13 for mature themes and some language. You can find it on Netflix
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.