THE WAY AMERICANS took their baseball in the 1970s said a lot about the national mood in an era of disaffection and malaise.
Golden age attractions like the New York Yankees remained matinee idols—but barely, and no longer as heroes. The Yanks had become greedy, showy villains. And hearts wandered elsewhere, often to outsiders—making stars out of the mustachioed, everyman brawlers scrapping for down-market clubs like the Oakland A's.
In popular culture, hagiographies like The Pride of the Yankees had given way to slapstick affairs like The Bad News Bears, about misfit kids who make good under the tutelage of an alcoholic washout.
And it wasn't much different in Portland.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball pokes around at those few years in the 1970s when Portland—a town better known for basketball and soccer—fell hard for a low-level minor-league squad with a meaningful nickname: the Mavericks.
The club was founded by a Hollywood actor, Bing Russell (Kurt's dad!), a wannabe outfielder who missed the earnest game of his youth. Also-rans, never-rans, and troubled cast-offs came from all over the world for open tryouts—and at a time when minor league clubs lived only as mercenary arms of the big league teams, the Mavericks defied baseball's Pharisees by declaring, gleefully and unashamedly, their independence.
It's a dynamite story full of juicy footnotes: the Mavericks' batboy grew up to be an Oscar-nominated director, one player invented Big League Chew, its lone star vanished in the 1980s, and on and on.
But Battered Bastards tells it bloodlessly, with too little context, and feels sluggish and long, even at 80 minutes. We hear too much about Bing Russell, an impresario best known for getting shot a lot on Bonanza—maybe because his super-famous kid was nice enough to go on camera. We also hear more from retired local sportswriters than the players who actually played at Civic Stadium.
Boring baseball is sometimes better than no baseball; the same can't be said for documentaries.