I’ve been wanting to expand the “Baseball & Culture” posts, and I did a couple of posts about songs with baseball connections. I called those “Tuesday Tunes” – and the next thing to do would clearly be movies! I loved the Major League movie set that Topps inserted into Archives last year – so that seemed like a good reason to go back and watch a movie I hadn’t seen in probably a decade.
Here’s the obligatory statement (that hopefully isn’t necessary for a 1989 movie) – SPOILER ALERT!
Movie/Studio: “Major League”, Morgan Creek Productions (distributed by Paramount), 1989
Director: David S. Ward
- Charlie Sheen – Ricky Vaughn
- Tom Berenger – Jake Taylor
- Wesley Snipes – Willie Mays Hayes
- James Gammon – Lou Brown
- Margaret Whitton – Rachel Phelps
- Corbin Benson – Roger Dorn
- Dennis Haysbert – Pedro Cerrano
- Chelcie Ross – Eddie Harris
- Rene Russo – Lynn Wells
- Bob Uecker – Harry Doyle
- Charlie Cyphers – Charlie Donovan
- Randy Quaid – Johnny the Fan
Plot: The movie features a fictional version of the Cleveland Indians, who had been the most futile organization in baseball as of the late 1980’s. Rachel Phelps inherited the Tribe from her late husband, and plots to move the team to Miami by inviting only has-beens and rookies. The players include:
- Ricky Vaughn, a fireballer from the California Penal League,
- Jake Taylor, a former All-Star catcher now in the Mexican League,
- Eddie Harris, a washed-up spit-baller,
- Cuban defector / voodoo practitioner Pedro Cerrano,
- expensive narcissist Roger Dorn,
- speedy Willie Mays Hayes, who wasn’t actually invited, and
- manager Lou Brown who was selling tires in the off-season.
The team starts off poorly as expected. Taylor runs into his old girlfriend, Lynn Wells, who is engaged to a lawyer; he spends the rest of the movie trying to win her back. Vaughn starts to pitch better when he gets subscription glasses, and the team gets to .500. When Brown learns of Phelps’s plan, he lets the team know. They try to “win the whole damn thing”, and catch the Yankees by the end of the year to force a 1-game playoff for the division title.
Unfortunately, when Dorn’s wife realizes that he’s been cheating on her, she seduces Vaughn, who Brown has benched for the more experienced Harris. Vaughn is brought in to relieve Harris in the top of the 9th with the bases loaded. After awkward moment at the mound, Dorn tells him to strike the guy out. Ricky blows three fastballs by his nemesis, Yankee slugger Clu Haywood. With 2 outs Taylor beats out a bunt and Hayes scampers home to clinch the division. Taylor looks up into the stands and sees Lynn, who has called off her engagement.
Big League Players in the Movie:
Brewers announcer and former Major Leaguer Bob Uecker plays Indians announcer Harry Doyle, and provides as much comedy as any player on the field.
Former Brewers reliever Pete Vuckovich plays Yankee slugger Clu Haywood, who Vaughn strikes out in the top of the 9th of the one-game playoff. Doyle announces Haywood as the triple crown winner from the year before early on in the movie.
Steve Yeager, former Dodger catcher, plays the Indians’ third base coach and also acted as a technical advisor to the movie.
Willie Mueller, another former Brewer pitcher, plays the Yankees’ closer, known as “The Duke”.
Baseball card connection: There are 3 ties to baseball cards in this movie. First, there are cards in the actual movie itself. Cerrano has all kinds of voodoo paraphernalia in his locker to help his bats hit the curveball. But he also has a few recognizable baseball cards in his locker:
- 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson
- 1954 Topps Hank Aaron RC
- 1968 Topps Game Roberto Clemente
- 1971 Topps Willie McCovey
- 1984 Donruss Eddie Murray Diamond King
- Another card I can’t tell – but looks like either Monte Irvin or Willie Mays
In 1989, an 11-card set issued to promote the movie. The cards have blue borders and show some of the players on the team. They are hard to come by – as noted in this Beckett article.
Finally, Topps came out with a set in 2014 Topps Archives last year that honored the 25th anniversary of the movie. It’s done in the design of the 1989 Topps set, coinciding with the year the movie came out.
Best quote: “Juuuust a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.” – Harry Doyle, when Ricky Vaughn blazes a fastball to the backstop.
This is one of the 3 best quotes in baseball movie history. The others I’d consider are “There’s no crying in baseball” and “If you build it, they will come”. I’d probably go with Field of Dreams for my top spot, but it’s close. There are quite a few other great lines, but no other quote is anywhere close to being as memorable, or as copied, as Uecker’s quote during Vaughn’s first appearance in the big leagues.
Those honorable mentions include:
- “You may run like Mays, but you hit like shit,” – manager Brown to Hayes.
- “You saying Jesus Christ can’t hit the curveball?” – Harris to Cerrano.
- “Let me get back to you, will ya, Charlie? I got a guy on the other line asking about some white walls.” – Brown when the GM calls to offer him the manager’s job.
Best song: “Wild Thing” – Easily the most memorable song from the movie. The song was written by Chip Taylor and is most famous for the performance by the band The Troggs. For the movie, a cover by punk rock band “X” is played when Ricky Vaughn comes out of the bullpen in the last game against the Yankees.
Other Notable facts:
- This is one of the cases where life came to imitate art. When Mitch Williams garnered the nickname “Wild Thing”, playing the song when he came into the game just made sense. This really gave traction to the idea of the entrance song for relief pitchers, particularly rock and metal songs.
- “Major League” was #1 at the box office for 2 weeks upon release (April 7th and April 14th, 1989). Pet Sematary knocked it off the #1 perch.
- The movie grossed $49 million at the box office, which was 26th out of 1989 movies. It’s the 10th highest grossing baseball movie of all-time – though at the time of its release it was actually #1, having eclipsed “The Natural” as the highest grossing baseball movie ever.
- The movie is credited for launching the success of Russo and Snipes.
- Uecker’s portrayal of announcer Harry Doyle is legendary. Apparently David S. Ward just let him go with little direction and he came up with some of the funniest lines in sports movie history.
Aside from baseball cards, there were quite a few other historic baseball players featured in the movie.
- A picture of Jackie Robinson is also seen in Cerrano’s locker.
- A picture of Sandy Koufax is seen in Lou Brown’s office – though the manager actually refers to him as “Ryan”.
- A picture of the 1948 World Champion Indians team is depicted in a bar at the starts of the movie.
- There are a number of newspaper articles in that introductory sequence, including one for the 1954 World Series sweep at the hands of the Giants,
- Sam McDowell and the 93rd loss for 1969 team (which didn’t really happen),
- In 1975, Buddy Bell is shown on he last day of the season when they clinched their 7th straight losing season,
- Joe Carter is shown in 1984, when the Tribe’s postseason futility reached 35 seasons.
- The outside of Municipal Stadium in Cleveland is shown a few times throughout the movie. However, Milwaukee’s County Stadium is the site for most of the filming.
- Yankee Stadium is shown in the middle of the movie as well.
- Hi Corbett field, which was a legitimate Spring Training site for the Indians, was used for filming some of the Spring Training scenes.
My opinion: This is one of the best baseball movies out there. As a comedy, it’s easily the best and is probably the best comedic sports movie ever made. Even today, it’s a classic. I’m from Cincinnati, and generally despise the city of Cleveland – but this movie has a way of endearing me to the Indians’ franchise.
Bob Uecker is iconic in the film, and he’s hardly even a “supporting actor”, and the movie is one that has stood the test of time for the most part. It’s also a movie you could watch with just about anyone – my wife finds it pretty funny as well. All in all – I can’t recommend it strongly enough!