Major League (film): Wikis

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Major League

Major League poster
Directed by David S. Ward
Produced by Mark Rosenberg
Chris Chesser
Irby Smith
Written by David S. Ward
Starring Tom Berenger
Charlie Sheen
Corbin Bernsen
Rene Russo
Wesley Snipes
Chelcie Ross
Dennis Haysbert
Bob Uecker
James Gammon
Music by James Newton Howard
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) April 7, 1989
Running time 107 min.
Language English
Budget $11,000,000
Followed by Major League II (1994)

Major League is a 1989 American satire comedy film written and directed by David S. Ward starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, James Gammon, and Corbin Bernsen. Made for US$11 million, Major League grossed nearly US$50 million in domestic release.[1] The film deals with the exploits of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians baseball team and spawned two sequels (Major League II and Major League: Back to the Minors), neither of which replicated the success of the original film.

This was the only film in the series to be distributed by Paramount Pictures. The others had Warner Bros. as distributor.

Contents

Plot

Rachel Phelps, a former Las Vegas showgirl, has inherited the Cleveland Indians baseball team from her deceased husband. She wants to move the team to the warmer climate of Miami, Florida. In order to do this, she must reduce attendance at Municipal Stadium below a total of 800,000 ticket sales, which will void the team's lease with the city of Cleveland. After she moves the team, she would also be able to fire all the current players and replace them with new ones. She instructs her new General Manager Charlie Donovan to hire the worst team possible from a list she has already prepared. The list includes veteran catcher Jake Taylor, who has problems with his knees, and was last playing in Mexico, incarcerated pitcher Rick Vaughn, the brash but speedy center fielder Willie "Mays" Hayes (who was not actually invited to camp), power hitting outfielder Pedro Cerrano who practices voodoo to try to help him hit curveballs, veteran pitcher Eddie Harris, who lacks a strong throwing arm and is forced to doctor his pitches, and third baseman Roger Dorn who is already under contract but is a high-priced prima donna. As manager, Phelps hires Lou Brown, a tire salesman who once managed the Toledo Mud Hens for several years.

Spring training in Tucson, Arizona reveals several problems with the newer players. Vaughn has an incredible fastball but lacks control. Hayes is able to run the bases quickly but hits only pop flies, while Cerrano cannot hit a curve ball. The veterans have their own problems, as Dorn refuses to aggressively field ground balls, afraid that potential injuries will damage his upcoming contract negotiations. On the final day when Brown is to cut the team down to 25 players, Dorn plays a practical joke on Vaughn making him believe he was cut. After the team returns to Cleveland for their opening game, Taylor takes Vaughn and Hayes out to dinner but happens across his ex-girlfriend Lynn who is dining with her current beau. Taylor believes he can try to win her love again but is disappointed to hear that she is already engaged.

The Indians' season starts off poorly with Vaughn's initial pitching appearances ending in disaster, his wild pitches earning him the derogatory title "Wild Thing." Brown discovers that Vaughn's eyesight is poor and once Vaughn is given glasses he becomes very accurate and "Wild Thing" becomes Vaughn's nickname, even using the song of the same name as his theme music on walks from the bullpen. The team begins winning and are able to bring their win-loss percentage to .400. Phelps realizes this is not bad enough to stall attendance and decides to remove luxuries the team has, such as replacing their airplane with a bus. However, these changes do not affect the Indians' performance and the team continues to improve. Donovan reveals Phelps's plan to Brown who then relays the same news to the players, telling them that if the team plays too well for Phelps to void the lease, she will bring in worse players who will. Taylor says that, since they have nothing to lose, the team should get back at Phelps by winning the pennant. Brown gives the team an incentive by removing one portion of a dress on a cardboard cut-out model of Phelps taken during her showgirl days for every win the team achieves. At the end of the season, the team ends up tied for the division lead with the New York Yankees, putting them in a one-game playoff at Cleveland. Prior to the playoff, Taylor continues to try to woo Lynn back and they share a night together. Vaughn learns that he will not be the starting pitcher for the game and goes to a bar to mope. Suzanne Dorn, after seeing her husband during a television broadcast leave the team's hotel lobby with another woman, lures Vaughn to sleep with her. Vaughn became aware of who she was only after Taylor spotted her leaving Vaughn's room the next morning.

Based on Taylor's advice, Vaughn keeps his distance from Dorn for most of the game by staying in the bullpen. The game remains scoreless until the seventh inning when Harris gives up two runs. Cerrano comes to the plate in the bottom of the seventh and misses badly on two curveballs. He angrily gives up his loyalty to the voodoo gods, and hits a two-run home run off a curveball on the next pitch to tie the game. In an ironic twist, it is Harris (a seemingly devout Christian) who places Cerrano's voodoo doll Jo-bu at his side while warming up while Cerrano ends his allegiance with the doll to gain batting ability. At the top of the ninth, the Yankees are able to load the bases and Vaughn is called in, the crowd roaring their excitement over "Wild Thing." Vaughn and Taylor are concerned when Dorn comes over to the pitcher's mound but he only gives Vaughn sound advice for pitching to the next batter. Vaughn is able to strike out the Yankee's best batter in three straight pitches and end the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Hayes manages to single to first and subsequently steals second. Taylor is next to bat, and after signaling back and forth with Brown, points to the bleachers, calling his shot. However, Taylor bunts instead, catching the Yankees infield off-guard. Taylor is able to get to first base safely, though injuring himself, while Hayes clears third base and slides safe into home, giving the Indians the win. As the team celebrates, Dorn punches Vaughn in the face but then helps him up to continue the celebration, while Taylor finds Lynn in the stands, realizing she has given up her engagement to be with Taylor.

Alternate ending

The theatrical release's ending includes Rachel Phelps, apparently unable to move the team because of increased attendance, angry and disappointed about the team's success. An alternate ending on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD shows a very different characterization of Phelps. Lou tenders his resignation and tells Phelps that he can't in good conscience work for her after she sought to sabotage the team for her own personal gain. Phelps then tells him that she never intended to move the team; when she inherited the club from her late husband, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. Unable to afford top flight players, she decided to take a chance on unproven players from the lower leagues, whom she personally scouted, and talented older players who were generally considered washed up. She tells Lou that she likewise felt that he was the right manager to bring the ragtag group together.

Phelps made up the Miami scheme and adopted a catty, vindictive persona to unify and motivate the team. As the players believed she wanted the team to fail, she was able to hide the fact that the team could not afford basic amenities such as chartered jet travel behind a veil of taking them away to spite the team.

Lou does not resign, and Phelps reasserts her authority by saying that if he shares any part of their conversation with anyone, she will fire him.[2]

Producers said that while the twist ending worked as a resolution of the plot, they scrapped it because test screening audiences preferred the Phelps character as a villain.

Casting

Major League was notable for featuring several actors who would go on to stardom: Wesley Snipes and Rene Russo were relative unknowns before the movie was released, while Dennis Haysbert remained best known as Pedro Cerrano until he portrayed US President David Palmer on the television series 24.

The film also featured former Major League players, including 1982 American League Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich as Yankees first baseman Clu Haywood, former Brewers pitcher Willie Mueller as the Yankees pitcher known as "The Duke", and former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager as third-base coach Duke Temple. Former catcher and longtime Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker played the Indians' broadcaster Harry Doyle. The names of several crewmembers were also used for peripheral players.

Charlie Sheen himself was a pitcher on his high school's baseball team. At the time of filming Major League, his own fastball topped out at 85 miles per hour. His delivery in Major League is frequently noted as far more realistic than others depicted in films.

Background

The film's opening montage is a series of somber blue-collar images of the Cleveland landscape synchronized to the score of Randy Newman's melancholy "Burn On": an ode to the infamous night in Cleveland when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River literally caught fire. The filmmakers chose the Cleveland Indians as their example of a notorious losing franchise because the actual Indians had a very similar history of futility—the franchise was the butt of many jokes and fit in perfectly with the premise of the film.

While it is not known if there was any inspiration taken from this source, the attempt by an owner to manipulate a roster to create the worst team possible actually was done with a Cleveland baseball team, in 1899, when Frank Robison, then owner of the National League's Cleveland Spiders, sent almost all of the Spiders' major league caliber players to another team he had simultaneously purchased (owning more than one franchise was allowed in baseball at this time) and thus left the Spiders as effectively a minor league team for the season. It was apparently an act of revenge against the fans of Cleveland after several seasons of falling attendance figures. There was no storybook poetic justice ending to the real life version, however. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders finished 20-134, the worst single season record in baseball history.

Within five years of the film's release, however, the real life Indians had a new stadium (Jacobs Field, now Progressive Field) and had entered into a period of success. From 1995 to 1999, they won five division titles (with two more in 2001 and 2007) and two American League pennants. The Indians lost the 1995 World Series to the Atlanta Braves in six games, and they came within two outs of winning the 1997 World Series against the Florida Marlins, but ultimately fell in extra innings in Game Seven.

Despite being set in Cleveland, the film was principally shot in Milwaukee because it was cheaper and the producers were unable to work around the schedules of the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns. Milwaukee County Stadium, then the home of the Brewers, doubles as Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the film, although several exterior shots of Municipal Stadium were used, including some aerial shots taken during a rare sellout game. Both facilities have since been demolished: the playing field of County Stadium is now a Little League baseball field known as Helfaer Field, while the rest of the former site is now a parking lot for the Brewers' new home, Miller Park; the new Cleveland Browns Stadium, a football-only facility owned by the City of Cleveland and used by the Browns, sits on the site of its predecessor.

Life imitated art in the 2007 season, when continuous snowfall and cold led Major League Baseball to transfer an entire three-game series between the Indians and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, including the Indians' home opener, to Miller Park, forcing the real-life Indians to play three "home games" in Milwaukee. When Cleveland closing pitcher Joe Borowski entered in the ninth inning of the first game of the series, "Wild Thing" was played in the stadium, much to the delight of the 19,031 fans in attendance, as a tribute to the situation.[1] In a bizarre coincidence, this game was originally scheduled to be Rick Vaughn Glasses Night in Cleveland.[3]

Life imitates art

In the film's climactic one-game playoff with the Yankees, Ricky Vaughn, relegated to a relief role, dramatically enters the game to a cover of the The Troggs' hit song "Wild Thing" as the crowd cheers wildly and sings along. Today many real-life closers walk or run in from the bullpen accompanied by loud and imposing hard rock or heavy metal music.[4]

Relief pitcher Mitch Williams, whose speed and control problems were similar to Vaughn's, was nicknamed "Wild Thing" after the film came out. Instead of fighting the image, he switched his uniform number from 28 to Vaughn's 99, and wore it for the rest of his career. According to an interview on the Dan Patrick radio show on October 10, 2008, the number change had nothing to do with the movie Major League. Williams said he had wanted the number 99 for years because of an admiration for the football player Mark Gastineau, who also wore number 99. Williams said that he didn't change his number until 1993 because that was his first chance to get it.

Corbin Bernsen, who played Indians third baseman Roger Dorn, stated in interviews relating to the film (including those for ESPN Classic's Reel Classics series) that Major League had an indirect effect on the real-life Indians, as the Tribe became perennial playoff contenders within five years of the film's release. Since 1994, Cleveland won seven American League Central Division titles (1995-1999, 2001, and 2007), two American League championships (1995 and 1997), and made two World Series appearances (the 1995 loss to the Braves, and the 1997 loss to the Marlins).

During the beginning of the 2006 season, Boston Red Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon donned a haircut similar to that of Rick Vaughn's from the movie. Although Papelbon sported a mostly shaved head with a mohawk, he had a "zig zag" pattern in the back, beginning behind the ears and leading down to this neck. He reportedly won a friendly bet with teammate Kevin Youkilis, and in doing so, was forced to cut his hair.[5] Even though he no longer resembled Rick Vaughn, Papelbon continued to enter home games from the bullpen to "Wild Thing" blaring from the Fenway Park sound system, until "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" became his entrance song. In 2008, Papelbon regained the theme music, using "Wild Thing" as his entrance song while running to the mound and using "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys once he got there and started throwing his warm up pitches.

On June 15, 2009, the Cleveland Indians held "Rick Vaughn Bobblehead Night" at Progressive Field, giving away a doll based on the Charlie Sheen character. They played the Milwaukee Brewers, for whom Bob Uecker still calls games. Bob Uecker threw out the first pitch.

Production notes

  • Charlie Sheen has been credited by some Major League Baseball players as having one of the most realistic pitching deliveries of any actor. This is largely due to Sheen's having been a pitcher in high school and ability to throw in the high-80-mph range during filming. Sheen's off-the-mound "pump up" with his back turned to the batter was famously used by Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky of the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • In the scene where Vaughn is about to be sent to the minors and Manager Brown asks him to take Nolan Ryan as an example of a pitcher who went down and came back to have a great career, Brown is actually pointing to a photograph of Sandy Koufax. Both of these real-life pitchers, in fact, struggled with their control early on in their careers before ultimately pitching well enough to reach the Hall of Fame.
  • In the climactic final game, Jake Taylor calls his shot just like Babe Ruth's Called Shot in 1932. There is some speculation as to whether Ruth was actually calling his shot. Charlie Root, who gave up the famous homer to the Babe, claimed that if Ruth had in fact called his shot, he would have thrown the next pitch at Babe's head. In the movie that is exactly what the Duke does to Taylor.
  • In the DVD commentary, Dennis Haysbert says that he actually hit the ball over the left-field fence while filming Pedro Cerrano's game-tying homer against the Yankees in the playoff game. The ball didn't go as far as it does on film, but it did clear the fence.
  • After hitting the game-tying home run against the Yankees, Cerrano carries his beloved bat around the bases. There are no MLB rules which prohibit a baserunner from carrying a bat while running the bases, so long as it does not hinder, confuse, or impede the defense (Rule 9.01 c.)[6]
  • There are several connections to the city of Milwaukee in this film. The appearance of the County Stadium scoreboard (located in right field) was not changed during filming of the movie. It contains the logo of television station WTMJ-TV, which is used as a "local" Cleveland station for interviews and other press appearances. As noted previously, longtime Brewers broadcaster and Milwaukee native Bob Uecker played Indians broadcaster Harry Doyle. Pete Vuckovich was a pitcher for the Brewers when he won the 1982 Cy Young Award. In the stands of County Stadium during Ricky Vaughn's "Wild Thing" entrance in the final game, there is a female fan dancing; she is wearing a Quad/Graphics shirt, which is a major printer for national magazines based in the Milwaukee area. Several local Milwaukee businesses are also used in the filming including Safe House Restaurant, Major Goolsby's (bar scenes), Gritz's Pzazz (now closed) where Rick, Jake, and Willie have dinner, and Harry Tann Tires (Lou Brown's office). Chris Elliot's silver sided diner, formerly on Bluemound Road in Town of Brookfield, is in several scenes where locals discuss the improving Indians season. Roger Dorn's house is a prominent home featured along Lake Drive in Whitefish Bay, a suburb of Milwaukee.
  • Interestingly, the last time the Indians won a World Series, they had to win a one-game playoff to reach the Series. The Indians finished the 1948 in a first-place tie atop the American League with the Red Sox and defeated them in a playoff game at Fenway Park to advance to the 1948 World Series. They would then defeat the Boston Braves in six games.
  • The "library scene" with Tom Berenger and Rene Russo was shot in Northwestern University's picturesque Charles Deering Library, built between 1931 and 1933. The Deering Library now houses Northwestern's Music, Art, and Special Collections.
  • During several of the day-game scenes, the clock on the scoreboard is visible and shows that it is actually mid-morning.
  • In the final playoff game against the Yankees, Hayes makes a tremendous catch in center field, leaping above the railing to rob the batter of a home run. The scene is an exact copy of the catch made by St. Louis Cardinals' center fielder Willie McGee in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series; coincidentally, since the scene was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium, it's the same wall and railing for both the real-life and fictional catches.
  • The locker room scenes were filmed at Nicolet High School in Glendale, a northern suburb of Milwaukee. Another locker room scene was shot in the locker room at Comiskey Park.
  • In Germany the movie is known as Die Indianer von Cleveland ("The Indians from Cleveland.").
  • Some of the bar scenes were filmed at a still open local bar/restaurant that is near the old County Stadium in Milwaukee called "The Fourth Base".
  • A scene in which Charlie Sheen throws a pitch and then yells "That's a perfect strike, and you know it!" was used in a DirecTV commercial. In the first part of the scene, Sheen is wearing a 1988-style jersey, with a collar on the end of the sleeve, but when the scene switches to a close-up, Sheen is very clearly wearing a circa 1989-1993 jersey, with vertical stripes up the side of the sleeve.
  • In the film, Jake Taylor wears a batting helmet with no earflap. While this can technically be considered a mistake (since any ballplayer who began playing after 1983 is required to use the flaps), it's possible that he is exempt under the rules of Major League Baseball's grandfather clause, which allows any player who played before 1983 to continue using the flapless helmet.

References

External links

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