Greetings again from the darkness. What an excellent documentary on yet another in the seemingly endless string of baseball stories that are both fascinating and true. Don’t make the error of assuming one must be a baseball fan to enjoy this … it works just as well as a story of the little guy sticking it to the man (the man in this case is the court-protected giant known as Professional Baseball).
An original production of Netflix, it’s directed by Chapman and Maclain Way, brothers and grandsons of Bing Russell. You may or may not be familiar with Bing. He is the father of actor Kurt Russell, a well known character actor (a recurring role as Deputy Clem in “Bonanza“), and the driving force behind the Portland Mavericks. The Mavericks were an Independent Professional Baseball team from 1973 to 1977, and this is their story.
As a kid, Bing hung around St Petersberg, where the New York Yankees held spring training. He ended up friends with Lefty Gomez, and hung around many Yankee greats. Bing had a true passion for baseball. He loved the game, the players, and the way of life. He even used to test young Kurt on the intricacies of the game, and later created some very in-depth teaching videos.
Bing’s real impact on the great game came from his stint as creative force and owner of the Mavericks. The film does a terrific job with interviews, archival footage and other recollections of Bing and the rag-tag group of players that disrupted the industry that does not like to be messed with.
Not only was the team successful on the field, but they also set attendance records and inspired true fan loyalty. They were the last independent league allowed to play in the minor leagues, and their legacy continued even after the team was shut down: two of the pitchers invented Big League Chew, one pitcher was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the team hired the first female GM in professional ball, and they even had a left-handed catcher. Their bat boy (Todd Field) went on to become an actor and Oscar nominated director and writer (In The Bedroom). “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton made his comeback with the Mavericks, which led to his making it back to the big leagues, and even Kurt Russell spent some time playing during the Mavericks’ first year.
It’s a shame this film didn’t make the festival rounds, as it would no doubt have been well received. I expect every baseball lover will get a kick out of this, and I certainly hope others give it chance. Bing Russell’s vision and passion are to be admired and respected, regardless of the industry. He was a “can do” guy who followed his bliss and made a difference. The film is also a reminder that sports were once played for love of the game, rather than love of the dollar.
watch the trailer: