|'a beer-swilling, flag-waving, unshaven group of hippies... who ran the professionals close for two league titles'|
The Battered Bastards Of Baseball survives on its characters. A Documentary charting the rise of the Portland Mavericks, a small team in the fourth tier of the US baseball system, it marks the debut for film-makers Maclain and Chapman Way (Kurt Russell's nephews), who bring with them an eye for a story that hints more could come when they hit upon something else worth telling. As it is, they hit upon characters, and characters worth telling us about.
Following Bing Russell, the directors' grandfather, the film tells the underdog story of how Russell, fed up with Major League Baseball's franchise system of lower league 'feeder' teams, took it to the man by establishing his own team of 'nearly' guys. From open tryouts, Russell plucked a ragtag band of pot-bellied players from obscurity and using his own baseball nous and that of people like initial bench coach Frank Peters, sculpted the gang into a beer-swilling, flag-waving, unshaven group of hippies... who ran the professionals close for two league titles and re-kindled the sports support of a small town.
The Way brothers give us not only Bing, but Kurt Russell, who seemed to play for the team for a while (though that never seems to be talked about explicitly), and a growing collection of players who range from the star who disappeared, never to be seen again and the then 33 year-old ex-English teacher who declares that playing for the Mavericks 'seemed a better idea than painting fucking houses'. The brothers develop the collegiate atmosphere of their subjects into a well-structured narrative exercise, leading us on to root for the Mavericks in the same way that any non-baseball fan who saw Moneyball is now definitely an Oakland Athletics supporter.
The underdog atmosphere is maintained right until the final scenes, when the Way brothers drop the curtain a little bit and bring the drive for Mavericks' success around to being a drive about socking it to the man through monetary gain. It's a completely fair point and certainly those involved seem to have done the right things at every step, but you can't help but feel the film, and the story, loses a little bit of its romance. A story about the small guy taking on the big guy in a battle for the soul of sport shouldn't, ideally, end on a triumphal note, when the small guy takes some money from the big.
The Battered Bastards Of Baseball is playing on Netflix.