Hot Stove Rec: The Battered Bastards of Baseball

I’m a baseball guy. Grew up playing and going to games with my family. My first adult job was being the video guy for the local Minor League team and by my fourth year there I was the on-field emcee making a fool of myself on a nightly basis. The pay was shit, the hours were long, I had no social life during the summers, and I always kept a spare pair of khaki shorts in my desk in case I swassed through the pair I was wearing by the National Anthem. It was the best job I ever had.

So as a sucker for baseball, especially seeing the business of baseball, any film that scratches that itch is always a pleasant surprise for me. Scrolling through Netflix the other day I landed on a documentary I had recently heard someone mention and figured I’d give it a shot. What unfolded was one of the cooler documentaries I’ve seen about a sport I’ve consumed so much of. What made it even better? It involved the movie business too!

For those of you don’t know, Kurt Russell was a minor league second baseman for the California Angels back in the early 70’s. His father, Bing Russell, also played a little pro ball back in his day before beginning a successful acting career highlighted by a 59-episode run as the sheriff on the hit western Bonanza. In 1974, Bing purchased a team in Portland, OR that had recently lost their Major League affiliation and he elected to operate the team, the Portland Mavericks, as an independent club. Today, all the players in Minor League Baseball are under contract with a Major League team. The team I worked for was a Red Sox affiliate, meaning all the players were employees of the Boston Red Sox, not the team I worked for. The team often just provides the venue, uniforms, and a variety of other responsibilities but are not responsible for the player’s salary and medical expenses.

Bing Russell said “fuck that” and kept the team in the league but decided to build a team himself. He held open tryouts and attracted players from all over the country, including Kurt, looking for one more chance to play pro ball. What ensued was the assembly of a ragtag bunch of baseball rejects who professional teams either cut, overlooked, or never took a chance on. To make the story even better, turns out this team is pretty damn good. It’s a fascinating story that any baseball fan will love and the connection to show business just makes it even more interesting. In fact, recent Academy Award nominee for Best Director Todd Field even plays a prominent part of the story as the team’s bat boy. It’s bananas how perfect everything turned out to be.

So if you’re looking for some baseball content check out The Battered Bastards of Baseball on Netflix. It came out back in 2014 but it still feels like a timeless story and includes interviews with Kurt Russell, Todd Field, and several of the players and front office members.

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