'The Battered Bastards of Baseball' Features One of the Best Baseball Stories Never Told

'The Battered Bastards of Baseball' Features One of the Best Baseball Stories Never Told

Jan 23, 2014

In an effort to learn more about their grandfather, two boys stumbled upon one of the greatest baseball stories never told, and the results came together to form a fascinating documentary about an independent baseball team formed by none other than Bing Russell, Kurt Russell's father. Yes, that Kurt Russell. But long before Kurt won you over as an actor in films like Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing and Escape from New York, he was a minor-league baseball player who practically grew up with a bat and mitt in his hand, thanks in part to his father, Bing.

Bing Russell had the kind of childhood that kids dream about. After a chance encounter with famed Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez, Bing became somewhat of a Yankees mascot, with many of the old Yankee greats taking him under their wing and letting the kid hang out inside the clubhouse and on the field, where he learned all about the game from some of the best who ever played it. After an injury halted Bing's own baseball career, he picked up and moved to Los Angeles, finding work as what his son Kurt called a "plumber actor" because he worked constantly, appearing in hundreds of roles, but never really gaining any kind of notoriety. 

All that changed in the mid-'70s when Bing decided to start his own independent minor-league baseball team in Portland called the Portland Mavericks, following the relocation of the Triple-A Portland Beavers to Spokane. At the time the Mavericks were the first independent ball club in years, and because they weren't subject to many of the rules followed by those minor-league clubs tied to the major-league teams, the Mavericks just kinda did their own thing. They were full of players no other team wanted; a rowdy bunch who never cut their hair, drank beer in the locker room and acted as a sort of real-life, grown-up Bad News Bears.

And they won... a lot. 

The Mavericks played like a bunch of guys out to prove something to the other ballclubs that didn't want them, and soon after arriving in Portland the team became something of a phenomenon. Not only did they win games and crush many of the other professional teams tied to major-league organizations, but they smashed minor-league attendance records, made history by hiring the first-ever female general manager and pissed off the higher-ups in MLB to no end. Major-League Baseball hated the Mavericks, so much so that whenever the Portland team made the playoffs, other teams would reorganize their rosters and send down their best players just to make it so the Mavericks couldn't win a pennant. Eventually MLB would get its wish, and due to some bunk rules the Mavericks were forced out of Portland and replaced by another nonindependent team, but not before Bing could exact some delicious revenge. 

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is practically Major League in real life; a hilariously touching portrait of a man determined to return the sport of baseball to its roots, and create an atmosphere where it was more about having fun than anything else. His is a story that I'm glad is now being told, and it's not far off to think this documentary could easily be adapted into a narrative, perhaps with Kurt Russell starring as his own father -- who, like his son, will always be known as something of a maverick.

For more on the documentary and how it came together, here's an interview with the directors and Kurt Russell.

Check out more of our coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival



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