The Battered Bastards of Baseball: Sundance Review

A charming movie that transcends "America's Game."

Kurt Russell toplines the sports doc from co-directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way.

PARK CITY – The Battered Bastards of Baseball is not just about baseball. It transcends the game and is a charming anti-establishment yarn that should delight audiences who don’t even know an RBI from a balk. Co-directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way have hit a crowd-pleasing homer with this inspiring, underdog story. After its festival runs, Battered Bastards would be a hit on ESPN.

The so-called "Battered Bastards" were aptly named The Mavericks. They were an unlikely "Bad News Bears"-type assemblage put together by an upstart owner from Hollywood, Bing Russell. His baseball credentials? He had played the sheriff on Bonanza for 13 years. 

When organized baseball moved its AAA club out of Portland, there was a market opening. Bing’s quixotic notion was to put together a team that was not affiliated with a Major League club, one that would be totally independent. Such notions set him up as a screwball, but sportswriters and citizens loved his infectious energy and unconventional approach.

Like Oakland’s Charles Finley, Bing was a showman who liked to tweak the powers-that-be.  The Mavericks’ games were entertainment, distinguished by such motley characters as the "Broom Man," who exhorted the fans by waving a broom from atop the dugout.  Soon, the stands were filled with broom-wielding fans. Bing Russell also had his athletic kid, Kurt, playing for the Mavericks. Kurt later went on to play in the movies.   

His cast-off guys were playing bonus babies. Some still clung to the hope of getting into the Majors in their 30’s, and several had traveled long distances to try out for the team. Each was a distinctive personality, which endeared them to the Portland fans, who identified with individual players.

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2014

Adding to the free-spirited mélanges, former Yankee Jim Bouton joined the team. Bouton was pitcher-non-grata in the "Bigs" after his hilarious account of the game, Ball Four, failed to touch the funny bone of the baseball establishment. Opining that it took the intelligence of a gerbil to coach baseball, Bouton's opinions did not gel with the hype and mythology of "America’s Game." That made him fit in perfectly with his fellow Mavs: They all played for the love of the game and did not put up with the pretensions and strictures of "organized" baseball.

Ultimately, Bing’s have-fun approach (including a dog that would run out onto the field to stop the game when one of Bing’s pitchers needed a rest) produced winning results. The Mavericks began to regularly beat the Majors’ star-roster farm teams. That was not met with great pleasure from such owners’-minions as Commissioner Bowie Kuhn

To ensure that the Mavericks didn’t win the A-level championship, the Major-League teams sent down some of their best upper-level players to thwart them in the championship. It was an indication of the respect they had for Bing and the animosity they felt for his showing them up.

PHOTOS: Sundance at 30: Vintage Photos of Park City's Biggest Stars

Wondrously, Bing triumphed in the bottom of the ninth inning, when the league tried to muscle him out with a chintzy buyout. Bing’s field-of-play was also the courtroom, and he walked off with his dream demand.

Throughout, Kurt Russell’s onscreen recollections of his father and the wild-and-fun days of the Mavericks are a winning highlight. Told with a bright twinkle in his eyes and doled out with humorous candor, Russell reveals the respect and admiration he had for his father.

Cast:  Bing Russell, Kurt Russell, Todd Field, Frank “The Flake” Peters, Joe Garza, Jim Bouton, Joe Garagiola

Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way

Producer: Juliana Lembi

Director of photography/editor:  Chapman Way

Music: Brocker Way

No rating, 80 minutes.