Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Battered Bastards Of Baseball--Review

This documentary, available only on Netflix, tells the story of the Portland Mavericks.   It was compelling to me, for one thing, because I got to watch the team a number of times. The Northwest League was and still is a Class A minor league group consisting of cities in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.   Bing Russell was a largely unknown movie actor who had played character roles in the movies.  He also played Sherriff Clem on Bonanza.  His son was Kurt Russell, at the time, an up and coming movie actor who had a summer job playing pro baseball in the Northwest League.  Kurt had just played for the Walla Walla Islanders, in the one year that Walla Walla had a weird affiliation with the Hawaii Islanders.  Before Walla Walla, he played for the Bend Rainbows. 
Bing Russell (a former bat boy for the New York Yankees) decided he wanted to own a baseball team, so for the price of around $500, he was able to gain the rites to a Northwest League.  He ran the team as an independent, meaning that it would not be affiliated with any Major League club.  He would have to pay the player out of his own pocket. 
The documentary shows how Russell was able to do the impossible. put together a rag tag team of players from open try-outs who could not only compete with major league affiliated teams but beat them on a regular basis.  But more incredibly, he was able to set many minor league attendance records.  When you consider that Portland, a showcase city with NBA basketball was in a league with cities like Medford, Lewiston, and Walla Walla, was packing it's stadium it really amazing.  What's even more amazing is that the Pacific Coast League, the class AAA league had abandoned Portland.
It's clear that Russell was a master promoter  with all sorts of gimmicks.  More traditional clubs hated the Mavericks.  They burned the book on baseball etiquette. Many of the Maverick players were rejected by the major leagues and had a chip on their shoulder.
One thing the documentary pointed out was that it is hard for Minor League teams to connect with their cities because players seldom to for a longer than a season because they often move up the farm chain or get cut.   The Mavericks, as an independent team, often held on to players for well over a season, fostering familiarity with the fans.
The documentary is narrated by former players, including Kurt Russell, who himself was with the Mavericks for a short time.  Also contributing is the former president of the Northwest League and a couple of Portland sports writers.

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