"Just a reminder, fans, comin' up is our "Die-hard Night" here at the stadium. Free admission to anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won a pennant." - Harry Doyle
Director: David S. Ward
Writer: David S. Ward
Principal cast members:
It's hard to imagine a sports flick more riddled with clichés and predictable action. It is the story of a team of misfits and outcasts who band together to rise above their tormentors. It is a story about a heroic baseball comeback. It is a love story where true love triumphs over adversity. It is - well, in most aspects we would have to say it is utterly predictable. So why on earth is it so much fun to watch?
Major League is an improbable comic plot centered around what was then a hapless baseball franchise, the Cleveland Indians. In the story, the team is inherited by a showgirl who was married to the owner. Rachel Phelps hates Cleveland and there is a clause in the contract with the city that will allow her to move the franchise wherever she wants, provided the attendance drops below a certain level. Seeking to assure the requisite drop in attendance, she promptly fills the team with has-beens, castoffs, and nobodies.
Her manager is Lou Brown, played by crusty character actor James Gammon. Taking a break from his booming tire repair business to run a major league franchise seems like a decent opportunity, does it not? Of course, when you look at his personnel, you have to wonder. The catcher has knees that barely bend at all. His third baseman is too worried about injury to actually risk putting his body in front of a ground ball. One outfielder has speed to burn but can't hit the ball out of the infield while the other, a practitioner of voodoo, is utterly incapable of hitting anything but a fast ball. Their aging veteran pitcher uses a veritable cornucopia of foreign substances to get a pitch past a hitter while the young reliever can throw 100 miles an hour although he's lucky to get the ball near the plate.
To quote the Asian groundskeepers at the stadium, these guys suck.
Of course, there is a romantic sub-plot. Tom Berenger's character was once madly in love with a beautiful librarian played by Rene Russo. A former athlete herself, the physical chemistry between them was always good, but the intellectual mismatch destroyed it. Now, she is engaged to a yuppie and Berenger, the jock, naturally wants her back.
As the team piles up a horrible record, the evil witch of an owner enjoys their demise while the players slowly begin to bond in their misery. When they start to show signs of improvement, she begins inflicting hardships like cutting off the hot water and forcing them to travel on old propeller planes. Eventually, she has them riding busses but even that can't stop the gradual improvement of the hapless Indians. Manager Brown actually begins to think they might make a run for the pennant but he is finally informed by one of the front office people that the owner isn't going to let that happen.
In a predictable clubhouse meeting, Brown informs his team of the owner's intentions which naturally results in one of those "let's go down fighting" resolutions by the players. As you might expect, they end the regular season facing the hated rival Yankees in an all-or-nothing one-game playoff for the pennant. To no one's surprise, the Indians win the pennant, the owner's scheme is thwarted, and the hero (Berenger) gets the girl.
And please don't say I spoiled the ending for you. You saw it coming from the opening scenes. You had to.
Berenger, Bernsen, Sheen, Snipes, and Haysbert are all excellent in their quirky player roles. Not only are they believable performers, but there is plenty of fun comic timing in their dialogue. Gammon is an enjoyable father-figure to this team, complete with his no-nonsense gruffness and good-hearted leadership. Whitton is equally delightful in her Machiavellian scheming and arch-diva persona.
Adding a great deal of fun to the mix is Bob Uecker as the play-by-play man for the Indians' broadcasts. His witty hyperbole is some of the best entertainment in the film. Describing an extremely wild pitch as "juuust a bit outside" is one of his better shots. Later on, he observes dryly, "In case you hadn't noticed, and judging by attendance you haven't, the Indians are threatening to climb out of the cellar."
Ex-big leaguers Steve Yeager and Pete Vukovich add to the fun as part of the evil Yankee team who are the Indians' arch-nemesis. Ironically, Yeager was a slugging catcher who plays a pitcher in the film while former pitcher Vukovich plays the tobacco-spitting slugger.
All in all, while there are fun quirks and clever sight gags throughout the film, the plot itself is utterly unsurprising. The script could have been written by anyone who ever saw a Bad-News Bear film or one of Harold Ramis' comedies. We are not at all surprised by where this story goes. But the physical comedy of the team is fun to watch and Uecker's play-by-play commentary is hilarious. So even though we see it coming from miles away, there is still a gleeful thrill to hearing the opening strains of The Trogs' "Wild Thing" and watching Charlie Sheen stride out of the bullpen wearing his skull-and-crossbones adorned nerd glasses.
Go ahead - roll back the DVD and watch the scene again.
You know you want to.
Coolness factor: 7
Overall entertainment: 7