Other than boxing, no sport seems better suited to the movies than baseball. In recent years, that’s given us gems like Moneyball, but also duds like Trouble with the Curve.
Does baseball lend itself to film because the game has so much space within the action that can be filled with amusing stories and cinematic moments? Perhaps baseball movies just tap into that feeling we all have about stepping on to a field to play catch or swing a bat. Or maybe it’s just that baseball generates so many damn good stories.
One of them is about an independent minor league team in the 1970s called the Portland Mavericks. Owner Bing Russell wanted to run a club outside of Major League Baseball and found a home in Portland after the Class AAA Beavers moved to Spokane, Wash. Though the Mavericks were independent, they did play in the Class A Northwest League beginning in 1973. Among those who played for the team were Jim Bouton, attempting a comeback after retirement, and Kurt Russell, the owner’s son who went on to become a big Hollywood star.
The Mavericks are the subject of a documentary that just played at the Sundance Film Festival, titled The Battered Bastards of Baseball. The film was directed by Bing Russell’s grandsons, Chapman and Maclain Way. With good reviews, perhaps it’ll get some play around the country, show on TV or stream online in the months to come.
But the bigger news out of Sundance, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter, is that director Justin Lin — best known for directing three of the “Fast and Furious” movies — purchased the rights to remake the film as a dramatic feature. Lin’s production company, Perfect Storm, beat out big studios like Columbia, Fox and Dreamworks for the remake rights and will finance the film independently.
Making the remake story even more intriguing is that the person who might write and direct the film was a batboy for the Mavericks. Todd Field, who’s received Academy Award nominations for directing 2001’s In the Bedroom and writing the script for that film and 2006’s Little Children, is reportedly in negotiations for both duties in a Battered Bastards adaptation.
“Guys were gambling in the back of the bus, there was drugs, there were women everywhere,” Field told Entertainment Weekly. “These guys were pirates.”
“There was nobody who wasn’t half-baked or out of their mind on that team — in really good ways and in ways that were kind of scary,” Field added. “They all played together and they all laughed together and they all fought together and they all got drunk together.”
Kurt Russell is also believed to be involved in the film somehow. As HitFix’s Drew McWeeny points out, it would be natural role for Russell to play his father in the movie. That just seems too perfect.
Bouton pitched in nine games for the Mavericks in 1975. He compiled a 4-1 record and 2.20 ERA in five starts. Another stint with Portland in 1977 didn’t go as well. Bouton went 5-1 with a 4.50 ERA, allowing 52 hits in 58 innings with 14 strikeouts. Russell hit .229 in 83 at-bats for the Mavericks during their debut season.
The Mavericks, who played from 1973 to 1977, were also the first team to have a female general manager and an Asian-American field manager. Bouton also formed a partnership with pitcher Rod Nelson and created Big League Chew bubble gum. The club went defunct when the Pacific Coast League expanded for the 1978 season and bought the rights from Russell to put a team back in Portland.