A real diamond of a sports story
The Battered Bastards of Baseball has the lot – a phoenix from the flames, an underdog making good, dreams coming true, even a Hollywood star stepping up to bat! In fact, if this wasn’t a true story, then this documentary would stretch the limit of creative imagination.
The story of the now-defunct Portland Mavericks is a riveting one; founded and owned by famous television actor Bing Russell (whose most well-known role was perhaps as a deputy sheriff in 57 episodes of Bonanza), the club lived and played with a fierce independent spirit that shone in the face of Major League Baseball (MLB) itself.
Russell grew up with baseball coursing through his veins – as a child he lived near the New York Yankees training ground, eventually being an ‘unofficial mascot’ for the club – so when MLB franchise Portland Beavers left the area in 1972 he set about restoring four bases and a mound to the area.
The story unfolds in remarkable fashion; Russell didn’t allow for corporate sponsorship inside their stadium, he gave Asian-American and female employees managerial positions (reportedly firsts within the professional game) and he allowed absolutely anybody to come try out for the squad.
That last part stuck firmly in this author’s mind (as someone who still daydreams of being a professional footballer); aging pros, teenagers dreaming big and others looking for a route into the game were given equal chance to impress. The roster included such disparate people as former pro pitcher Jim Bouton (who had been shunned by the industry after writing an expose book in 1969), Russell’s grandson Kurt (you may know him better as Wyatt Earp or Snake Plissken!) and complete amateur Reggie Thomas whom became a star of the team and acted accordingly!
You could think of the Mavericks as Wimbledon FC circa late 1980s/90s – upsetting the odds, putting noses out of joint (no pun intended) and doing things on their own terms. One big difference between those two clubs however was the Mavs set crowd attendance records after seriously capturing the public’s imagination.
Even when MLB came back to ‘reclaim’ Portland as a territory in 1978, Russell didn’t allow his dream to just vanish in the blink of eye. This tale is for anyone that loves a good underdog story encompassing all the ensuing chaos, joy and personal stories that went with it – one could even say, although perhaps I shouldn’t… that this documentary is… a home run…
P.S. Be sure to listen out for what happened to 10-year old Mavericks bat boy Todd Field once he became an adult.
Written by Stoke & Dagger contributor James Barrett-Sterling (Twitter: @jimothyshondell). The Battered Bastards of Baseball is streaming now on Netflix.