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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL


by D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 selection

Bing Russell established himself as an actor (and father of Kurt Russell) and became famous playing Deputy Clem on Bonanza.

His grandchildren have now made an absorbing documentary detailing how Russell was a baseball obsessed boy in St. Petersburg, Florida in the 1930s, who had the opportunity to meet and befriend the notable Bronx Bombers, (the New York Yankees) when they came to St. Petersburg for winter training.

Although he was successful as an actor, his fascination with baseball remained and he began to make instructional baseball films using pre-teen Kurt as the films' actor demonstrating pitching, batting and fielding.

In 1973 when the Portland Beavers, the resident AAA ball club left Portland, Russell decided to start his own club and started the Portland Mavericks.  With no experience recruiting or running a club, Russell held open tryouts that attracted every ba andseball wannabee, hired a bar owner as team manager, and appointed Kurt designated hitter and Vice President.

The team was considered a joke or a folly until the first game of the inaugural season when starting pitcher Gene Lanthron threw a no-hitter.  After that, Portland and everyone else took the team seriously.

The film uses archival footage, excerpts from Russell's training films and interviews with those previously associated with the team to tell the story of the Mavericks rise as they triumph over major league affiliated teams, one after the other.  This is the team that hired Jim Bouton after he wrote Ball Four and became a pariah in the MLB.

In fact, the team became so successful that the city of Portland attempted to take the franchise back, resulting in a court confrontation with a Hollywood ending.

This film was made with love by grandchildren about their grandfather and his irrepressible love of the game of baseball.