Netflix does it again.
After producing extremely successful original programs “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” the Internet streaming site recently released its latest original documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.”
The 73-minute film tells the story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league baseball team in the Northwest that was active for five seasons, 1973-77, under the ownership of the late actor Bing Russell.
And it doesn’t disappoint.
The film, created by Russell’s grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, is the epitome of a feel- good movie. It features original video and sound bites of Bing and commentary from his wife, Lou, son Kurt — who was also vice president and a member of the team — along with several other members of the Mavericks, including manager Frank Peters and bat boy Todd Field, who went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for directing the 2001 film “In The Bedroom.” The documentary uses all of these elements to take viewers on a glorious walk down memory lane with a team full of guys no one thought were good enough.
Once the Class AAA Portland Beavers decided the grass was greener on Spokane’s side of the Northwest, a vacancy was created in both the Rose City and Civic Stadium. So Bing — perhaps best known as Deputy Sheriff Clem Foster on “Bonanza” — partnered with his son, also a lifelong baseball fanatic, to develop the radical idea to fill the open territory with an independent Class A team.
The team competed in the Northwest League (NWL), which frequently played against the Lewiston Broncs, a minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics during the 1973-74 seasons.
The film tracks the journey of the Mavericks, starting with the open tryouts that attracted prospects from all over the country, and continuing to the beatdowns they handed their opponents as well as the numerous attendance records they broke as part of a magical ride that ignited the city.
But these weren’t just any group of unusual suspects. Picture your boisterous, possibly alcoholic uncle at a family barbecue. Hand him a bat, glove, cleats and let him grow a beard long enough to make St. Nicholas jealous and you essentially have a typical Maverick.
The kicker was, the team was comprised of rejects. Most had either played college baseball along with maybe a brief stint in the minors before their careers came to a halt. They were all just looking for a chance to prove their worth, to flip a middle finger — in some cases, literally — at the clubs that had squelched their dreams.
The Mavericks ultimately find themselves in a battle with the monopoly that is Major League Baseball, a quarrel that Bing certainly wouldn’t let them lose without a fight — in court, not a literal brawl, though I’m sure the team would’ve been content with both.
The film illustrates well how the Mavericks were a result of what happens when rejection meets perseverance. And it was all made possible by Bing Russell and his “it’s-so-crazy-it-just-might-work” mindset.
Oddly enough, most of his ideas panned out, in some form or another.
As you watch “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” — a quote from Mavericks pitcher Jim Bouton, who fit the Maverick mold perfectly after being shunned by the pro baseball world — you will find yourself laughing at the zany antics of both the team and its fans, getting a kick out of the real life “Bad News Bears.” Then halfway through, you will find yourself connecting with the team and eventually rooting for them as the underdog story they are — a narrative American sports fans adore.
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