The Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league baseball team that played for five seasons in the 1970s, didn’t run with the pack.
Owner Bing Russell, a Hollywood B-actor and lifelong baseball devotee, stocked the team’s roster through a tryout ad in the Sporting News. Fans didn’t just wave brooms when the Mavericks were about to sweep a series — they set them on fire.
Blackballed “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton donned their uniform, a ball dog roamed the field and a bat boy, Todd Field, went on to become an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and producer. And the hirsute, fun-loving players themselves belched and brawled and made the Bad News Bears look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by comparison.
The rousing documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” (arriving Friday on Netflix and theatrically for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run) recalls the Mavericks’ glory days, celebrating the rewards that come from passion and individualism. In that spirit, the movie can be enjoyed by anyone, not just sports fans. Underdog stories simply don’t get better than this.
Russell’s grandsons, Chapman and Maclain Way, wrote and directed “Bastards,” and their admiration for Russell, who played Deputy Clem for 13 years on “Bonanza,” shows. That love is clearly shared by the filmmakers’ uncle, Kurt Russell, Bing’s son, who played baseball for the Mavericks and went on to enjoy a pretty nice career as an actor himself.
The Mavericks weren’t just a bunch of beer-swilling kooks. From 1973 to 1977, they were among the best minor league baseball teams in the nation. “Bastards” chronicles their improbable run of besting their corporate competition through contemporary interviews (Kurt’s observations are priceless) and a wealth of wonderful archival footage.
The film’s title comes from a Bouton quote, but it could just have easily been called “For the Love of the Game,” if that hadn’t already been taken. The joy on display here is contagious.
‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle Music Hall; streaming on Netflix