Program Notes: Major League (1989)
Folks, I’m not here to tell you that Major League (1989) is a great movie. I’m not even sure it’s a good movie.
What it is is a very funny movie.
There are moments of outrageous, explosive, kick-the-legs-out-from-under-you humor that leave viewers gasping for breath between laughs.
Heck, you don’t even have to know anything about baseball to enjoy it.
The premise of this comedy from writer/director David S. Ward is deliciously cynical.
Having inherited the Cleveland Indians from her late sugar-daddy husband, former Las Vegas show girl Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) institutes a “rebuilding” program guaranteed to keep the Tribe in the cellar.
Rachel doesn’t like Cleveland. Too cold. Too provincial. Too Midwestern.
She wants to move the team to Miami, and the only way to do that is to ensure that attendance falls to a bailout level specified in the team’s contract with the city.
Rachel’s plan is simple. Get rid of every good player and populate the field with has-beens and never-was’s. The Indians will go on an epic losing streak, the fans will abandon them, and the door will be opened for a sunny future in Florida.
Among the team’s new acquisitions are an aging catcher with bad knees (Tom Berenger), a preening one-time athletic heart throb who now prefers to coast (Corbin Bernsen), a cocky guy who can’t hit but has tremendous speed (Wesley Snipes), a Cuban who hopes to improve his batting average by worshipping a voodoo idol in his locker (Dennis Haysbert), and a pitcher just out of prison who can throw 100 m.p.h. fast balls but has absolutely no control (Charlie Sheen).
Managing is a sorry old guy (James Gammon) who until recently was selling tires.
All of the aforementioned characters get their moments of rude hilarity, but the movie’s comic heart is baseball-player-turned-radio-announcer Bob Uecker, who portrays the Indians’ long-suffering sportscaster.
Uecker gets the script’s best lines, and his efforts to put a positive spin on the team’s miserable performance is a brilliant parody of the eternal clichés of sports broadcasting.
Commenting on a Yankees’ batter: “Heywood leads the league in most offensive categories, including nose hair. When this guy sneezes, he looks like a party favor.”
Or try this exchange with his do-nothing color commentator:
“Monty, anything to add?”
“Ummm ... no.”
“He's not the best colorman in the league for nothing, folks!”
When it’s not cracking wise, there’s not all that much to recommend Major League.
There’s a so-so love story – Berenger’s character pursues an old flame (Rene Russo) whom he drove away years before with his womanizing.
The various characters go through modest transformations. For example, Sheen’s pitcher (he’s described as “a juvenile delinquent during the off season”) discovers that his control problems are the result of being near-sighted. A pair of spectacles fix him right up.
Meanwhile Rachel is doing all she can to court disaster. She insists that the team fly to away games on their official plane, a rattletrap prop-driven relic. There’s no hot water in the locker room shower.
Of course once they learn of their owner’s nefarious plans, the players are inspired to get out there and win a few.
More than a few, actually. They end up in the pennant race.
Only in the movies.
Other films in the series “Hollywood Homers”
Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.:
- June 2: Field of Dreams (1989) Rated PG
- June 9: Eight Men Out (1988) Rated PG
- June 16: Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) Rated PG
- June 23: A League of Their Own (1992) Rated PG
- June 30: The Rookie (2002) Rated PG
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- June 4: Major League (1989) Rated R
- June 11: Damn Yankees! (1958) Not Rated
- June 18: Bull Durham (1988) Rated R
- June 25: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) Rated PG
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.