Thursday, July 24, 2014


Last  weekend I was fortunate to be able to watch a movie that left an impression I will carry with me each time I watch our Yankees.

The film “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” is a documentary of a minor league (Class A) team that existed for 5 seasons (1973 through 1977) in Portland, Oregon.  Known as the “Mavericks”, the club was owned by Bing Russell, an actor who starred as Deputy Clem Foster in Bonanza and had played Robert in The Magnificent Seven.  He is perhaps better known as the father of actor Kurt Russell.

While a boy, Bing Russell became the unofficial mascot of the New York Yankees.  As such, he lived out many a child’s dream by counting Lefty Gomez, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig among his friends.  So endeared to the team was Bing that an already ailing Gehrig gave him the bat he used to hit his final home run.

Can you imagine?

In addition to baseball, Russell grew up with a love for showmanship.  Eventually he would move his family to the west coast in pursuit of an acting career, but as the film shows, baseball never left his heart.

(In Photo: Bing Russell with Kurt Russell)
Portland had struggled as a minor league town, and with attendance dwindling, lost its Class A team- the Beavers- in 1972. In stepped Russell who created an independent team that held open tryouts every year. 

The club he would put together was a band of misfits and castoffs, yet somehow in their very first season the Mavericks would win their division.  In fact, over the course of over five seasons the team made the playoffs three times and garnered two division crowns.  Along the way, they rekindled Portland’s love for baseball, drawing record attendance.  The key was what Bing Russell used as his team’s motto: FUN.

The Mavericks stepped outside the box when it came to entertainment.  When they were on the verge of sweeping an opponent, a player would grab a broom and dance on the dugout with it, eventually setting it on fire.  Soon fans were coming to games with brooms.  

(In Photo: Hank Robinson)
The team had a bad-boy image that they certainly lived up to.  Their first manager, Hank Robinson, was fired for punching an umpire and his successor – Frank Peters – upon being ejected from a game, grabbed first base and locked himself inside the locker room.  The umpires called the cops, but that proved unsuccessful and the game was called.  

Peters was unconventional as a manager.  Once he rotated the players around during the course of the game so that each played every position. On another occasion he drew the lineup from a hat (something Yankees manager Billy Martin would employ a few years later).  That experiment didn’t exactly go according to plan as one of the team’s top hitters chased Peters through the clubhouse with a .44 magnum when he found out he wasn’t in the lineup.  The manager promptly put him in.

Among the “bad boys” to play on the Mavericks was a former 20-game winner with the Yankees; Jim Bouton.

To organized baseball, Bouton was truly the definition of outcast.  With the publication of his book “Ball Four”, which chronicled some of the behind-the-scenes activities in baseball, the pitcher was basically blackballed from the major leagues.  He joined the Mavericks in 1975 and used his time with them to help launch what would eventually be a comeback to the majors in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves.

Without giving you the rundown on the entire movie, the bottom line is that the Mavericks were the very epitome of “independent” and as such drew the ire of organized baseball.  In spite of their success on the field and in the stands (possibly because of it?), they would lose the franchise in 1978 when the Pacific League brought the Beavers back to Portland (attendance immediately dropped).

Bing Russell understood that as a game, baseball needed to be entertaining.  The fact that the Mavericks became so endeared to the city of Portland is proof that he had it right.  Watch the film and you’ll see what I mean.

I came away from the film promising myself that no matter how bad things get with my Yankees (and lately they’ve been pretty bad), I’d remember the lesson this film taught; that even though “business” gets involved with the sport, at its roots baseball is still just a game – why play it or watch it if you can’t have fun?


--Steve Skinner, BYB Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1

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