Written by David S. Ward
DIrected by David S. Ward
A trend began somewhere in the 1980s where fictional movies about baseball began using real teams as their setting, rather than also creating a fictional team. This had good and bad points. It gave more credibility to many films about the Major Leagues, such as Bull Durham. On the other hand, it also created a situation that could make those teams look foolish.
I guess the Cleveland Indians had nothing to lose when they allowed the team to be the subject of Major League. They hadn’t been serious contenders for the pennant in many, many years; going back to a time long before divisional play. In 1989, their attendance figures were 13th out of 14 in the American League. I guess all that puts their successes over the past few years in quite a different light.
In Major League, Rachel Phelps (portrayed by Margaret Whitton) is a former showgirl, now the rich widow of the owner of the Cleveland Indians baseball club. The team hasn’t made it to the post-season in 34 years. Rachel isn’t interested in putting together a winning team for Cleveland. She’d rather have a team in a much warmer climate, say, Miami. The problem is that the only way she can get out of the lease the team has with the city is to fall below a certain threshold in attendance. To do just that, she assembles the worst players she can find.
Coming into Spring Training, the players assembled look more like misfits and rejects than potential Major Leaguers. Each of the players seems to have an issue they are dealing with. Pedro Cerrano (portrayed by Dennis Haysbert) practices voodoo and can hit a fastball a mile, but not much else. Jake Taylor (portrayed by Tom Berenger) is a washed-up All-Star catcher with bad knees. Willie Mays Hayes (portrayed by Wesley Snipes) runs faster than anyone else but has trouble actually reaching base. Rick Vaughn (portrayed by Charlie Sheen) is a rebellious pitcher with a terrific fastball but is wild. The highest-paid player on the team is Roger Dorn (portrayed by Corbin Bernsen) who seems to be more interested in racking up the dough and his prospects for life after baseball than actually doing what needs to be done for the team to win.
The main theme of the story is how this strange collection of individuals manages to come together and evolve into a real team. They overcome their perceptions of each other as well as their own faults and really start turning into a success story, despite Rachel’s attempts to sabotage them.
There aren’t many surprises in Major League as far as the story goes. What makes it charming is how well the players fit together and how well the actors manage to convey all of their quirks without going overboard. There’s a side story of Jake trying to regain a lost love that really seems out of place. Bob Uecker portrays an announcer who showcases the exasperation many of their fans feel.
As a Mets fan during the late 1970s, I can sure relate to that exasperation. I can remember sitting in the stadium which was just as empty as Cleveland Stadium is depicted here. It’s something I remember with some affection now, which is one of the great parts of this movie. Anyone who’s ever cheered for a team that has been perpetual losers can identify with it. I don’t know how I would have felt about my beloved Mets being the subject of a film like this during those losing years, though.
While not one of the greatest films about baseball, Major League is a lot of fun to watch. The acting is good, the story is decent, and the pace is nice. There are some points that don’t work as well that detract from the overall story, but it doesn’t ruin the film entirely. It is also somewhat predictable with the story of a group of people set up to lose who manage to do just the opposite of what they were supposed to. I have enjoyed it a few times over the years and it hasn’t lost its charm.
• Commentary with Writer/Director David Ward and Producer Chris Chesse
• My Kinda Team: Making Major League
• A Major League Look at Major League
• Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside
• Alternate Ending with Filmmaker Introduction
• A Tour of Cerrano’s Locker
• Photo Gallery