Just in time for the opening week of baseball season, Major League arrives to kick off another round of baseball movies from Hollywood. This movie better hope for a quick jump out of the batter’s box, because it doesn’t figure to have much speed on the base paths.
Major League is in the unfortunate position of being compared with last summer’s Bull Durham, a wonderful baseball movie that covers some of the same ground as the new film. Let us be brief and merciful. Where Bull Durham was sharp and quirky and sexy, Major League is dull and predictable and flat. While the former film steeped itself in character, the new movie is a situation comedy.
The situation is that a new owner (Margaret Whitton) has inherited the hapless Cleveland Indians. She’s had an offer to move the franchise to Miami, but she can’t legally uproot the team unless they draw fewer than 800,000 fans during the season. How can this goal be underreached? Just lose, baby.
So she gathers the sorriest bunch of cast-off players she can find, hires them, and sits back to watch the numbers in the “L” column pile up. Naturally—you could probably see this one coming—the team begins to win, and win big, when they hear of her insulting attitude.
The main players include a battle-weary catcher (Tom Berenger), a prima donna shortstop (Corbin Bernsen, from “L.A. Law”), a fleet outfielder (Wesley Snipes), a spitball pitcher, a voodoo practitioner, and other colorful types. Garnering the most laughs is actor-announcer Bob Uecker, as the Indians’ play-by-play man, a booster who isn’t above slandering the opposing players (“He’s a convicted felon, isn’t he? Well, he should be”).
Director-writer David Ward cooks up some conventional situations for these characters. The relationship between Berenger and an ex-girlfriend seems particularly superficial stacked next to the original, adult attraction between Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.
Elsewhere, Ward has written enough snappy one-liners to keep the film moving (he won an Oscar for writing The Sting), but, as he proved with his first directorial outing, Cannery Row, he does not seem to have the touch as a director.
Of course, Major League should provide some wish-fulfillment for Cleveland fans. Their team does great, in the movie. When I drove home after seeing the film, I flipped on the radio and the Mariners were losing, 11-1. Do you think anyone is interested in making a movie about a team that has never had a winning season?
First published in the Herald, April 6, 1989
Hmm, I didn’t even mention Charlie Sheen’s role as the dangerously wild pitcher, a genuinely funny turn. Of course I was wrong about this movie’s staying power; it caught on with audiences, although I stick with my original opinion. Uecker’s role is something of a precursor to Fred Willard in Best in Show, now that I think about it. By the way, does anybody remember the Margaret Whitton era? It lasted for this movie and a couple of other things. The less said about the curren state of Mariners baseball, the better.