At 25: “Major League”

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April 7, 2014 by billysparrow

220px-Major_league_movieMajor League

Released: April 7, 1989

Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen, James Gammon, Dennis Haysbert, Rene Russo, Bob Uecker, Chelcie Ross

I suppose if I really thought hard about it, I could see how a person could not like “Major League.” Of course, that person would be a jerkoff, but, hey, there are plenty of them around. I’m even familiar with one or two.

The “Major League” hater would point out that it’s predictable and cartoonish, and, even for a jerkoff, those are valid points. They are also true of almost every baseball movie (with a few exceptions, most notably–SPOILER ALERT! PLEASE PROCEED TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH! IMMEDIATELY! NO, DON’T STOP READING THE WHOLE THING! I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO SAY! PLEASE DON”T LEAVE ME!–“Little Big League”; I still can’t believe the Twins didn’t win), so, really, just deal with it.

But “Major League” succeeds despite its shortcomings because of what might be the best cast of baseball players this side of “Eight Men Out” (and maybe that side too). Everyone is just about perfect, and if you took away just one of the main characters, the movie might not work.

Now I could go on to extol the virtues of the five most recognizable guys in the movie, Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, and Dennis Haysbert. But though those guys are solid (especially Berenger and Haysbert, who I still see as Pedro Cerrano in everything he has done since), I prefer to instead focus on the three guys who make the movie for me. I am speaking of James Gammon, Chelcie Ross, and, of course, Bob Uecker.

Gammon, who plays Cleveland Indians (and former Toledo Mud Hens) manager Lou Brown, seems like the only guy who should ever be able to manage the Cleveland Indians. If the actual Indians had been smart, they would have hired him at the very least as a promotional stunt for a few weeks. I think he could’ve been the missing piece in that World Series against the Marlins. Let’s all take a moment to be sad that the Marlins have won two World Series titles (at least one of them was against the Yankees, so that takes some of the sting out).

Anyway, Gammon, who, sadly will never manage the Indians now, as he passed away in 2010, is easily the best baseball manager in movie history (sorry, Tom Hanks and Walter Matthau; you came close). And the day I see a third baseman let a ball get past him without saying, “Don’t give me this olé bullshit” will be a sad, shameful day. Here’s a blurry video with that line and some more of his finest moments.

I’m confused as to why it doesn’t also include this scene, but, hey, we all make mistakes.

That mustache. That voice. Unbeatable.

Though I am surely not the first person to heap praise upon Gammon’s portrayal of Lou Brown, I have heard less about Chelcie Ross’s turn as veteran pitcher and Jobu nemesis Eddie Harris. Ross–who is, as this article points out, a three-sport star in the movie world–nails the cantankerousness of the aging pitcher who gets buy on guile and Vagisil.

And, of course, he delivers one of the movie’s best lines.

And tells the bartender Jobu needs a refill.

He seems to be the least likely to be a professional baseball player, but it turns out he played baseball in college (as well as basketball and football), so it would appear those few scenes where he looks a little awkward on the mound are just acting. Then again, he recounts this set anecdote in the aforementioned ESPN article:

“I remember one time during an all-night shoot, Bob Uecker came up to me and said, ‘I’ve been watching you hurling out there on the mound, and I have to tell you, you’re a real inspiration.’

“I bit, and asked him, ‘Really?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you make me want to hurl.'”

Which brings us to the man who makes “Major League” such a great movie. I should point out that before I saw “Major League,” I was already a pretty humongous Bob Uecker fan. I had written a book report on his autobiography “Catcher in the Wry” in the seventh grade. I had watched every episode of “Mr. Belvedere.” And I might have been the world’s biggest “Bob Uecker’s Wacky World of Sports” fan. Anything Bob Uecker was involved with was the thing for me. It’s a miracle I didn’t start downing cases of Miller Lite when I was 12.

All that is to say that no matter what Bob Uecker did in “Major League,” I would have loved it. But I think we can all agree that he was amazing. And if we can’t agree, maybe it’s time for you to go. If James Gammon is the guy I pick to manage my All-Star Baseball Movie Team, then Bob Uecker has to be my play-by-play guy (I might even have Monty do color). Everyone quotes “Just a bit outside,” but that is only the tip of the Harry Doyle iceberg.

My most-quoted Uecker line–“The postgame show is brought to you by…Christ, I can’t find it…To hell with it”–does not appear to be on YouTube, and we are all poorer for that.

My biggest gripe with “Major League,” and the closest I come to siding with the hypothetical jerkoffs who hate the movie, is the ending. I don’t have an issue with the very end, when the Indians win on a bunt single by a catcher with bad knees that brings the runner on second all the way home (it seems unlikely, but not entirely implausible). My larger concern is that the movie ends with the Indians beating the Yankees for the league championship. OK, where to begin? First of all, in 1989, the Yankees and Indians were in the same division, so they couldn’t have played in the league championship. Second, even if they were in different divisions, the league championship isn’t decided in a one-game playoff. Now, they could have tied the Yankees for the AL East division and had a one-game playoff to decide that, but that’s not the scenario the writers went with.

Yes, I know. I am beginning to sound like a jerkoff. But wait, there’s more.

The movie builds up to this fake league championship game. But the point of baseball is not to win the league championship. When Jake Taylor (Berenger) tells Willie Mays Hayes (Snipes), that they’ve still got one game to go, he is talking like a crazy person. Fans in Cleveland do not want to see the Indians win the league championship and they will die happy. They want them to win the World Series. So how do the Indians fare in the World Series? Who knows? We’re just supposed to be happy that they’ve won a bogus league championship and that Jake is getting back together with Lynn (Rene Russo, making denim jackets seem hot). Well, I’m not happy. I want them to win the World Series. That’s the whole point of a baseball season! Why would you end a movie about Major League Baseball without showing the World Series? I am so in the flesh right now.

But even this lazy writing is not enough to ruin “Major League.” There is just too much good acting, too much Lou Brown mustache, too much Eddie Harris Vagisil, and too much Uecker. And, in my new favorite “Major League” moment, there is too much of a guy in short red shorts desperately looking to find someone to high-five after the Indians win the “league championship.” It was so great that I felt compelled to record it for you. Forgive the poor quality. Just keep your eyes on the guy on the field in the red shorts.

If not for this “At 25” series how would you know about such hidden gems like that?

But that glorious moment is but one of many in “Major League,” one of our finest baseball movies, despite its flaws. It’s still a winner 25 years later. And not just a league championship winner, but a World Series champion.



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