PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — A Hollywood Western star, a band of rejects, and about $500.
That’s what it took to start the country’s first independent baseball team – and it’s a story that could only have happened in Portland.
The 1973 Portland Mavericks, in true Rip City fashion, were one of the best-supported teams in independent sports, and their weird history is celebrated in the full length documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.”
Baseball fanatic-cum-Hollywood actor Bing Russell, of Bonanza fame, created the team with a fee to the city for $500. The team’s open tryouts attracted hundreds of baseball’s finest misfits from across the country, and became one of the city’s most beloved teams.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and Bing Russell’s grandchildren – Chapman and Maclain Way – start digging into the team, its characters and the city that made it happen.
Thus, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” was born.
The film debuts on the online streaming site Netflix July 11, with a sold-out viewing at the North West Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, inside the Portland Art Museum at 1219 SW Park Avenue, in conjunction with the Oregon Historical Society.
The Bastards, unlike most sports movies among independent film crowds, blew the lid off the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. And it’s Rip City all the way, baby.
“Portland’s known for its real love of the independent spirit and carving their own way and it directly mirrored the spirit of this baseball team,” said 27-year-old Chapman Way.
“I don’t think it was a coincidence at all,” said Maclain Way. “ There’s a reason the Mavericks happened in Portland.”
Who were the Bastards?
At the time, Mavericks players made $300 a month. They were bus drivers, grocery clerks and handy men when they weren’t on the field — one reason the city got behind the team so well, says Chapman.
“People came to watch them, the guy who packed their groceries, and it created a symbiosis between the community and sports team,” said Chapman.
One fan favorite, Joe Garza, aka “Jogarza”, developed the trademark of lighting brooms on fire when the Mavericks swept another team.
The brooms, specially painted and soaked in lighter fluid, were prepared for Garza when the opposing team was poised to be “Jogarza’d.”
Bing and baseball
Growing up, Kurt Russell’s living room had no furniture. Instead, it had enough space to practice baseball in, said his son Kurt Russell, who would later be signed to the Mavericks.
Russell starred in in-depth instructional baseball films made by Bing, which were later used by major league managers. Kurt Russell later went on to have a long and successful film career, appearing in “Silkwood,” “Backdraft,” “Elvis” and “Tombstone,” among many others.
“This was stuff a lot of major league ball players didn’t know,” he said. Furthermore, many of the anti-baseball establishment “scrappy group of rejects” went on to make names for themselves.
Rob Nelson, who returned to the United States from Africa to play for the team, went on to invent the popular bubble gum Big League Chew. Bat boy Todd Field would one day receive an Academy Award nomination for his film In the Bedroom. Mavericks’ player Larry Colton was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
But their baseball fame would be short lived. Ultimately, the Mavericks were driven out of town by the major league establishment.
“It resonates with people because small independent things get driven out by corporations,” said Chapman.
The Netflix question
The Way brothers said their heavyweight Hollywood family were “healthily skeptical” when the pair announced Netflix would be picking up their film coming out of a wildly successful Sundance Film Festival.
Chapman Way said there’s nowhere the brothers would rather launch the film about the team that kept Portland weird — before keeping Portland weird was a thing — than in Rip City where it belongs.
“This team couldn’t have happened anywhere else in the world,” he said.