The Battered Bastards of Baseball

I am not a baseball fan. I enjoy listening to a Twins game on the radio but that is because I appreciate the art of the broadcaster. I am a fan of a good story and there exist many good sports stories. One of the best I have seen is a documentary about a single-A baseball team from the seventies titled “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.”

“Battered” is the tale of the Portland Mavericks baseball team which existed form 1973-1977. The most unique fact about this team and probably the reason it was different from the other single A teams was the fact it was an independent team. Most of the minor league teams of the time were owned by a major league franchise. The minor league team was simply a proving ground for players who hoped for promotion to a major league team. As such, most of these teams were very professional and regimented. The Portland Mavericks were not owned by a major franchise and so were neither regimented nor professional. They did have one major difference with the other minor league teams; they won, baby-consistently.

The Portland Mavericks were owned by Bing Russell.  Russel was an actor who played the part of Deputy Clem Foster on the hit television western “Bonanza.”  Russell had spent much of his non-acting life working at the skills and techniques of baseball. As a child, Russell was a bat-boy of sorts for the New York Yankees which probably developed his love of baseball. He even produced a film about developing baseball talent that was broadly accepted. The star of that instructional movie was Russell’s son, Kurt Russell.

Kurt Russell has been in many movies from his time at Walt Disney to starring as Herb Brooks in the feature about the 1980 Olympic hockey team “Miracle.” Kurt Russell also played for the Portland Maverick’s and was its vice-president.

This is a story of a team less interested in impressing people and more interested in playing the game. The Maverick’s sincere love of baseball lead to an independent team that was embraced by its fans and reviled by the powers of major-league baseball because of their winning record and swashbuckling attitude. Most of these ballplayers were acquired during an open tryout in 1973 that drew people from across the country. Most of these folks were not currently involved in baseball and so left jobs and families to drive to Portland, Oregon to pursue a dream. These were unique players who didn’t keep their hair cut neatly or lead squeaky-clean lives off the field. For this reason, their stories are really interesting.

I watched the “Battered Bastards of Baseball” on Netflix. I also watched it on one of the ESPN channels. If you are unable to catch it, I will tell you that the Portland team was eventually bought-out by major-league baseball but not before they blazed a trail of wins and wild stories across mid-seventies triple-A baseball. This is a documentary most will enjoy even if they are not fans of baseball.

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