We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
Cody roots for the underdogs.
MAJOR LEAGUE (1989)
I've never been a fan of sports, and thus have never had a great interest in sports related movies, but that isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed my fair share of them over the years. The ones that come immediately to mind are the Rocky movies, A League of Their Own, The Mighty Ducks, The Bad News Bears, Little Giants, Moneyball, and Hoosiers, and I'm sure there have been more. One which had a strong presence in my childhood was writer/director David S. Ward's baseball comedy Major League.
The greatest sports stories are underdog stories, and Major League certainly is that, centering on one of the biggest underdog teams in baseball: the Cleveland Indians, a team which Ward has been a lifelong fan of. As Ward's story begins, the team hasn't won a pennant in thirty-five years and hasn't ranked higher than fourth in the league in the last fifteen years. He enhances their underdog status by saying they've lost their two best players to free agency, and by giving them a duplicitous new owner. With the death of their previous owner, the team has been inherited by his ex-showgirl widow Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), who has no interest in owning a team that's based in Cleveland. She has plans to move the Indians to a location that will better suit her lifestyle and weather preferences - Miami, Florida. To accomplish this, she'll have to get out of the team's deal with Cleveland, which she'll be able to do if fan attendance drops below 800,000 for the year. The best way to get fans to skip games? A terrible, losing season. Phelps wants the team to come in dead last.
The "losers" Phelps assembles for the team are a bunch of unknowns and guys who are past their prime, including Tom Berenger as Jake Taylor, a veteran player whose knees are shot; Charlie Sheen as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, a car thief in the off-season who has an incredibly fast pitch but little control over it; and Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano, a voodoo practicioner who worships a cigar-smoking idol called Jobu. A man named Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes as a fast runner who can't hit) shows up at the team's spring training facility uninvited, but still manages to make the team. Also on the team are Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn, a high priced player who puts in no effort because he's saving himself for when he goes free agent at the end of the season, and Chelcie Ross as aging pitcher Eddie Harris.
Under the guidance of manager Lou Brown (the awesome-voiced James Gammon), who was plucked out of the minors and thirty years of managing the Toledo Mud Hens to head up this team of misfits, the Indians gradually find a way to do well, against all odds. And against their owner's wishes. When they find out Phelps is rooting against them, it just drives them to do even better... and toward achieving a winning season.
Along the way, Taylor also takes some time to romance an ex-love played by an actress who was a newcomer in 1989, Rene Russo.
Major League is a really fun movie, one which I watched a lot on cable back in the early '90s. It's not one that I continued to watch regularly, but I recently enjoyed revisiting it after a couple decades. In addition to the laughs it provides and some iconic imagery - the sight of Jobu, Vaughn walking out onto the field as the song "Wild Thing" plays over the P.A. system - it's also a movie that I will always remember as the one my father and I were watching when we got the call in 1990 telling us that my sister's house was on fire. You don't forget a moment like that.
Taking inspiration from various real baseball players, Ward created some great characters that were wonderfully brought to life on the screen by his excellent cast. Vaughn is one of the best characters Sheen has ever played, and one of his most likeable. The characters are likeable as a whole, a very entertaining bunch to watch and spend 106 minutes with. The humor of the film comes from their interactions, attitudes, and eccentricities. Baseball player turned actor and real life play-by-play announcer Bob Uecker (another guy with an awesome voice) is also absolutely hilarious as the team's play-by-play announcer.
Sequences showing the players bettering their performances and the games they play in are also an important part of the film, and Ward did a fine job presenting them. I haven't watched a full baseball game since my brother was in high school more than twenty years ago, and I didn't exactly pay attention to them even then, but I never lose interest while watching these Indians play.
I couldn't tell you when baseball season is or when you can catch a game on TV, but I do recommend getting a copy of Major League and letting it play out on your TV.