Ask your friends to name the funniest baseball movie of all time, and if they don’t say “Bull Durham,” they’ll probably go with “Major League.”
Other acceptable answers: “The Bad News Bears” (Walter Matthau version, of course) and “The Sandlot,” which would be a worthy contender even if didn’t bring anything to the plate beyond, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
(Sidebar: if any of your friends pick “Bang the Drum Slowly” or “The Pride of the Yankees,” stop being friends with that person.)
In the Little League World Series, when a kid steps up to the plate, we often see a graphic telling us his nickname or his favorite athlete or food or movie. One of the kids this year listed “Major League” as his favorite movie of all time, which I thought was pretty great, but is it really appropriate viewing for a 12-year-old?
Upon further review — this review — I wouldn’t overturn the call.
Yes, “Major League” is R-rated, and yes, there’s a steady diet of racy humor, including a few bits that probably wouldn’t play well in the current climate.
But when I recently rewatched the film in its entirety, I was a bit surprised at the casual pacing, the relatively harmless nature of the vast majority of the jokes — and how much time was devoted to the hokey and slightly weird romance between Tom Berenger’s veteran catcher Jake Taylor and his ex, Lynn (Rene Russo), a former Olympic swimmer turned librarian.
Raise your hand if you remember the scene in which Jake, in full uniform, commandeers the Indians’ bullpen cart, drives through the streets of Cleveland and follows Lynn to her apartment, while we hear Bill Medley (of Righteous Brothers fame) on the soundtrack, singing:
‘‘Pennies and dreams carelessly spent / Pieces of time and who knows where they went / Is there a chance to pick up the pieces / And try for it all again?’’
What the heck! Is this “Major League” or a deleted scene from “The Goodbye Girl?”
It’s the 30th anniversary of “Major League,” which to this day remains a familiar part of the pop-culture landscape, due to such memorable characters as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn and Willie Mays Hayes — and, of course, the great Bob Uecker as the ever-upbeat play-by-play man Harry Doyle and his famous call of “JUST a bit outside . . . he tried the corner and missed,” which has been invoked by EVERY SPORTSCASTER IN THE LAST 30 YEARS.
Written and directed by David S. Ward and featuring a number of outstanding actors taking some very early at-bats in their careers, “Major League” centers around a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians, a basement-dwelling team with a dwindling fan base in a city that has become a national punchline.
The mood is established in the opening credits, which feature headlines and images from decades of disappointment for the Indians, set to the tune of Randy Newman’s “Burn On,” which is about the infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River.
Margaret Whitton goes full Cruella de Vil as former Las Vegas showgirl Rachel Phelps, who has inherited the stumbling franchise from her deceased husband, loathes Cleveland and wants to move the team to Miami. (A pro baseball team in Miami? Crazy!)
Slight problem: She can move the team only if attendance dips below a certain figure.
In a move straight out of “The Producers,” Phelps sets out to deliberately lose, assembling a team of misfits, has-beens, wannabes and prima donnas, virtually guaranteeing a last-place finish, with the Indians playing out the string in front of paltry crowds.
Ah, but by midseason, this ragtag band has become a decent ballclub, and when they get word of the owner’s plan, they kick it into another gear and become legit contenders. Go Indians!
Berenger is the de facto team leader, a former major-leaguer who has spent the last few years playing in the Mexican League after his knees AND his arm gave out. Corbin Bernsen is the vainglorious Roger Dorn, a handsome, womanizing cad who still can hit but refuses to risk injury by getting in front of grounders at third base.
Wesley Snipes is Willie Mays Hayes, who makes the team on the strength of his blazing speed. (Snipes’ base-stealing exploits were filmed mostly in slow motion, the better to convince us he truly was fast.) Before he portrayed a president and made Allstate commercials, Dennis Haysbert played the voodoo-loving Pedro Cerrano, who turns to the mighty “Jobu” to help him hit the breaking ball.
And, of course, Charlie Sheen is Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, who last played in the California Penal League and has (initially) no control over a fastball that tops out at 101 mph. Sheen told Sports Illustrated he actually took steroids to prepare for the role and get his fastball up to 85 mph.
That’s a really stupid thing to do, and yet it’s only about the 17th or 18th dumbest thing Sheen has done through the years.
Milwaukee County Stadium filled in for Cleveland Stadium, as the producers couldn’t find a big-enough window to film in Cleveland. The baseball scenes often are rendered in broad strokes and for comedic payoffs, but Sheen, Haysbert, Berenger and the rest of the cast are reasonably believable as ballplayers.
The climactic encounter in “Major League” is a one-game playoff pitting the Indians against the Yankees for the division crown.
We never find out if the “Major League” Indians eventually win the World Series.
Maybe they had a happier ending than the real guys experienced in 1995, 1997 and 2016, when they fell just short against a certain ballclub from the North Side of Chicago.