'Battered Bastards': Kurt Russell and the misfits that rocked baseball
Kevin Costner’s Durham Bulls. Charlie Sheen’s Cleveland Indians. Walter Matthau’s Bad News Bears. Wildly rambunctious baseball teams that became beloved cinematic all-stars. But they were no Portland Mavericks, the real-deal franchise that grabbed minor-league baseball by the short hairs in the mid 1970s.
In the Netflix documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, directors Chapman and Maclain Way turn back the clock to 1973, when their grandfather, Hollywood actor Bing Russell (Bonanza), purchased the Class A Portland franchise and fielded a completely independent team against a league of teams stocked with Major League Baseball prospects. He held open tryouts and recruited cast-offs who were looking for second—or last—chances to make it the big leagues. “It was just a wild-ass ball club of wild-ass guys,” says Russell’s son, Kurt, the famous actor. “They were very serious about playing and they wanted to have the opportunity to show those clubs that had let them go that they had made a mistake.”
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Kurt, in between his initial career as a Hollywood child-star and his re-emergence as a leading man and action star, was a hot-shot prospect in the California Angels organization before an injury curtailed his career. He suited up sparingly for the Mavericks and helped run the team. “We all went up to Portland and just had no idea what we were doing except that we wanted to do something that would be fun for the people of Portland,” says Kurt. “Everybody thought it was pretty crazy. They weren’t sure that we could put together a team that could compete, and we won our division four years out of five.”
But it wasn’t just the on-field success that distinguished the Mavericks. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Todd Field (Little Children) was the team’s bat-boy, an experience he compares to being a stow-away on a pirate ship. In between being the team’s beer-runner, he and some of the players put their heads together and came up with Big League Chew, the popular shredded gum that became a multimillion-dollar product.
The documentary debuted at January’s Sundance Film Festival, and it was an emotional family affair for the Russells and the Ways. The screening was the first time Russell had heard his father’s booming voice since Bing had passed away 2003, and he choked back tears talking about the film afterwards. “He was just a great man,” he said.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball documentary debuts July 11 on Netflix. Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) is producing a feature adaptation of the Portland Mavericks story, with Field possibly writing and directing.