Synopsis: The true and incredible story of the Portland Mavericks, baseball’s ultimate underdogs and Bing Russell, the man that showed the establishment that Baseball still belonged to the people
The second in this documentary special is The Battered Bastards of Baseball, a Netflix original about the Portland Mavericks. A name that won’t mean much to anyone not familiar to the sport, and to be honest a name that may not mean a lot to a lot of young Baseball fans in 2014. But between 1973 and 1978 they created one of the greatest legends in the history of all sports and weaved a story that Hollywood would dismiss as pushing the bounds of what anyone would believe to be possible.
For those unfamiliar with the long and complicated history of America’s national pastime, back in the day you had the Major League teams, your Yankees, your Padres etc. Then all across America you had independent teams. Small town teams owned by local businessmen where those waiting to be discovered or finishing their careers could earn a small amount of money doing what they love. And the local community could enjoy long summers of average baseball. Then over time the Major Leagues bought up all the independent teams until there were none left. All of the once locally owned teams were Farm Teams, places where players were sent to develop and get playing time. Because the incredibly wealthy professional clubs could afford to pay college drafted rough diamonds to go to backwater America and play in front of 6 people (no exaggeration at times). It took any personality and idiosyncrasy from the local teams and created a homogenised, corporate feeder systems that no one cared about.
Then along came Bing Russell, legendary 50’s and 60’s TV actor and father of the fantastic Kurt Russell. He may have been a Hollywood darling but his first and real love was Baseball. In fact if it wasn’t for an early injury his career could have been very different indeed and we may have been denied his iconic offspring as a result. When he lost a long running TV gig he decided to take some of his Hollywood money and did something no one else thought of. He went to Portland, Oregon and gave them back their baseball team. To give it some perspective, this was a town that had come to forget Baseball when their previous team, the Portland Beavers, just withered and died through a lack of any local interest. In doing so he created the only genuine independent Baseball team in America. No professional affiliation meant no players, no fans and no money. It also meant no image to maintain, no boards to answer to and no drum to march to but their own.
The result was a unique experiment that is the perfect embodiment of modern Portland. Entirely extraordinary in it’s execution, Russell did everything his own way. The players wore their hair how they liked, grew their beards out as they liked. Their trousers didn’t always fit. And most brilliantly Russell handed the GM role to a 24 year old woman, something so far ahead of it’s time in a male dominated sport. They had no right to be there. But whatever they lacked in professionalism they made up for in heart. There very presence rocked the establishment to it’s core and forced the entire sport to take a look at itself and the way that it worked.
Directed by the Grandson of Bing Russell, nephew of Kurt, it is a loving and enthralling tribute to the lasting legacy of his Grandfather. It also meant he had the access to get Kurt Russell and Oscar winning director Todd Field who also happened to be a bat boy for The Mavericks.
Conclusion: Fabulous, inspiring and uplifting. It really would be unbelievable if it hadn’t happened.
Cast: Kurt Russell, Bing Russell, Todd Field