The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Chapman Way, Maclain Way, 2014) – There are few professional sports teams to that burned as brightly and flamed out as quickly as the Portland Mavericks. One of the last independent minor league baseball teams in the United States, they only lasted from 1973 to 1977. They never won a championship despite dominating the regular season. They had no affiliation to a Major League Baseball club, meaning their talent was largely made up of walk-ons and outcasts. They were seen as boorish threats to the increasingly corporatized establishment and they brought baseball back to a city that had it unceremoniously taken away from them by the league.
The story of the Mavericks is a fascinating one worthy of its own fictionalize retelling. You almost can’t make up the trajectory of the team that’s showcased in Chapman and Maclain Way’s Netflix produced documentary about their rise and unjust fall. Started up by baseball fan and actor Bing Russell (and helped along by his son and fellow actor, Kurt) for a bargain basement price, the team was expected by many prognosticators and insiders to be a dismal failure before a single pitch or at bat. Low and behold, the team was actually really great despite sometimes shady characters of dubious repute and a rabid, sometimes uncouth fan base.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball bristles with the kind of humour and human insight that suggests a documentary take on America’s pastime that does for the sport what Slap Shot did for hockey. (I would compare this to a documentary version of Major League, but this is a lot better and far more nuanced than that.) It’s a loveable, ragtag group of professionals, amateurs, and fans trying to do something special for the game they love, and that sense of pride and accomplishment years on from those still around who were involved (shot in Errol Morris style against almost blinding white backdrops and delivered with a remarkable amount of open candour) is positively infectious and riveting. When the league tries to put the kibosh on the Maverick’s operations and other more affluent minor league clubs flush with professional money and talent start stacking the deck unfairly, you’ll wish you still lived in an era where a team as unorthodox as the Mavericks could actually exist.
It also doesn’t come with a sad ending, though, despite the team shuttering operations. I mean, you know Kurt Russell went on to be a huge thing, but I won’t spoil the joy of finding out what some of the other people on the team went on to do, especially who the bat boy became.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball is available exclusively on Netflix. (Andrew Parker)