Derek Begins…#5
David S. Ward’s
Major League

Derek Begins…#5 David S. Ward’s “Major League” starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert, James Gammon, Corbin Bernsen & Margaret Whitton Featuring Bob Ueker

A former Las Vegas showgirl inherits the Cleveland Indians from her recently deceased husband and assembles a team of misfit players in hopes that they play bad enough so she could relocate the team to Miami. I put this movie in the dead smack middle because of the way I received it when I first saw it. I was laughing most of the way through. I loved the characters and their flaws that they assembled for this movie. The plot itself was a little inane. It is true that the Indians were in a 34 year slump by the end of 1988 as the Newspaper article read. They never placed higher than third in any of those years. Also the plot involves a team threatening to move to Florida if things didn’t turn around. This was a very common practice by many MLB organizations in the 1980’s as Florida was yet to have a MLB franchise. Many cities threatened relocation unless their stadiums were improved or they could get new ones. Florida was only happy to comply. It was a bargaining tactic that seemed to work for all in the end. Most cities have had new stadiums built since the 1980’s. Florida has enfranchised 2 MLB teams, and only 1 franchise has moved cities since. Montreal to Washington D.C in 2005. The inane part comes where she purposely assembles a team of players who were either unknown or well past their prime to try and drive attendance so low that she could exercise the teams escape clause with the city of Cleveland and move the team to a more glamorous Miami. When one of the players who was invited to camp is mentioned as being dead, Phelps simply replies

“Cross him off”.

When the team improves, she removes a lot of their luxuries. But this has very little effect on the field. Now more than half way through the movie it is pretty clear that team owner Rachel Phelps (Whitton) is not going to get her wish. The team is in a pennant race late in the season. The buzz on the street is all about the Indians. The stadium is selling out almost every game. So why is she still hoping the team fails? Why didn’t she trade, release or demote any of the improved players herself? The questions were actually answered in the alternate ending of the film. I have never seen it, but reading about it makes more sense to use this version so it could round out and make sense of the somewhat ridiculous scheme. Originally, manager Lou Brown (Gammon) was supposed to tender his resignation after the season telling Phelps that he knew of her plan all along and that he wanted no part of it. She calms him down by telling him the whole move to Miami plan was made up and she needed something to motivate the team to pull together and win it all to save the team from bankruptcy. She tells Lou not to mention any of this or she will fire him. Test audiences did not like this version as they preferred to see the evil Rachel throughout the film. I disagree with them. This ending would have been very similiar to what eventually became the movie moneyball. She said she personally scouted each player she picked and knew a manager like Lou Brown could bring the players together. I would have preferred this ending rather than the current. But just because the plot was not to my liking it doesn’t mean that the movie was bad. I felt that the characters were well written and the performances were this films saving grace. It helped launch several careers into super stardom.

The roster includes the following:

Lou Brown, Manager: Played by James Gammon. Lou is a used tire salesman in the off season and is one of a few people who takes the offer to be in the big leagues as a joke when he gets his first phone call. His response was to call back because he had a guy on the other line wanting to purchase white wall tires. He had managed in the minors for 30 seasons. He is an obvious players manager who prefers to let situations resolve themselves before getting directly involved. He doesn’t pick or choose any favorites although he relies on veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) to resolve players’ concerns. He is a manager who has been through it all and earns his players respect when he responds to the pre season predictions on the Indians finishing dead last and thinking they could save everyone a lot of time if they went out and shot themselves. He responds by saying he is all for wasting sports writers’ time and would like to stick around and give them a “Shitburger to eatl”. He knows what each and everyones capability is and punishes players who disobey by making them do push ups or situps right after their mistakes. Even if it’s in the middle of a game. Most of the players on the team were probably on a limited salary so fines would have been probably a little harsh. Pedro Cerrano, RF: Played by Dennis Haysbert.

Pedro is a Cuban defect who came to America for religious freedom. He worships voodoo. He is a true power hitter, but can not hit a curve ball. His voodoo god is Jo-Bu. All season he relies on him. In the playoff game he finally disbands of him and hits a curve ball himself. Most of the players are either mystified or amused by his rituals. One player he constantly feuds with is veteran junkball pitcher Eddie Harris played by Chelcie Ross. Eddie finds Pedro’s rituals silly. After sneaking his rum and getting stricken on the head with a bat as a sign of bad luck for drinking Jo-Bu’s rum, Eddie relents to Jo-Bu’s practices and warms up for the playoff game with the Jo-Bu doll by his side. Other practices by Pedro include shining his bats and protecting them with golf club heads. His defense is a non factor in the movie which could be concluded as fair to decent. Haysbert was a relatively unknown as an actor at the time. He would go on to play several supporting roles over the next several years. It wasn’t until his role on 24 as president David Palmer and his allstate commercials that made him a star in his own right shaking the Cerrano label that hung over him for years. Willie Mays Hayes, CF: Played by Wesley Snipes. Willie idolizes Giants and Mets legend Willie Mays. he makes several catches that resembles’ Mays throughout the movie in center field. His base running abilities are superb as well. Originally Willie was a walk on and not invited to the Indians’ spring training camp. After being removed forcefully during the middle of the night during his sleep, Willie wakes up and out runs all of the Indians’ players in his pajamas prompting manager Lou Brown to say

“Get him a uniform!”

Willie’s problem is his hitting. For a potential leadoff hitter he hits way too many pop fly’s. Lou tells Willie that for someone with his speed he ought to be hitting the ball on the ground and legging them out. For every pop fly he hits, he owes Lou 20 push ups. By the end of his first day of the first day of camp he reportedly did over 200 push ups. His infield single and base running helps set up the winning run in the one game playoff with the Yankees. Snipes was also a relatively unknown actor before his performance in major league. From there he went on to star in a series of successful films throughout the 1990’s. Action would be his main genre. Ricky Vaughn Starting and Relief picher, Played by Charlie Sheen.

This would go on to be one of Charlie Sheen’s most recognizable roles up to this point. His signature look and pitching style would go on to serve as an inspiration for several Major League pitchers in the years to come. His signature entrance from the Bullpen to the mound with the song Wild Thing playing has also become a staple for closing pitchers when they enter games. The original version of this song by the Troggs was not used in this movie. Instead the version by the 1980’s band X was used. Ricky is recruited from the California penal league at the start of the movie. He explains he wound up in the league behind bars by stealing a car. His look is a little menacing and unprofessional for a MLB ball player. He sports a zig zag haircut. He doesn’t wear a cap and cuts off his sleeves in his first day of tryouts. His look prompts a hillarious quo. te from one of his coaches when Vaughn first appears.

“Look at this fuckin’ guy!”

Manager Lou responds by laughing and saying

“My kind of team Charlie, My kind of team!”

Vaughn’s main problem is control. His velocity is in the high 90’s eventually topping out at 101 mph by the end of the movie.

He has trouble throwing strikes at first. He hits many batters and often over the head of his catcher which prompts the Indians faithful to nickname him “Wild Thing”. The nickname sticks with him throughout the rest of the movie even after his control problem is seemingly cured with a pair of glasses after Lou notices his eyesight is poor. Ricky eventually settles down and becomes the ace of the staff. His best friends on the team are Willie (Snipes) and Jake (Berenger) who also serves as a mentor to him. His main nemesis on the team is Roger Dorn (Bernsen) who picks on him for his looks and mannerisms. His main opposing nemesis is NY Yankees slugging first baseman Clu Haywood played by former pitcher Pete Vuckovich. Charlie Sheen would continue his successful acting career after this role which would make comedies is main forte. Roger Dorn, 3B Played by Corbin Bernsen. Dorn is a veteran Prima Donna third baseman. He is more concerned with life after baseball than playing out his current contract. His hitting is OK but his defense is poor due to his concerns from a previous injury. He refuses to dive for balls. This draws the ire of Manager Lou and later on, Taylor and Vaughn. Lou threatens him in spring training by telling him that every ground ball that comes his way that he doesn’t field cleanly, he owes him 20 sit ups. Roger tries to use his escape clause in his contract to get out of the sit ups, but Lou literally pisses on his contract. Dorn also picks on Ricky throughout the film. Most likely because Rick’s look is the exact opposite of Dorn’s. Roger is well dressed and financed. He lives in a nice house. Roger incites a clubhouse brawl with Ricky after his practical joke was not taken very well by Rick. Roger is one of the pivotal characters of the movie. He is somewhat antagonistic at first, but falls in line with the rest of the team once they learn of Rachel Phelps’ plot midway through the movie. He starts fielding grounders and diving for balls. He sustains many bruises which seems to toughen him up. Vaughn unknowingly sleeps with Dorn’s wife after she picks him up in a bar for retaliation on Roger after she catches him fooling around with another woman on T.V. after the Indians win the season finale forcing a 1 game playoff. Dorn finds out, but decides to put winning the playoff game first before he retaliates against Vaughn. He eventually gets even during the post game celebration, but the two hug immediately afterwards. Corbin Bernsen’s big role was on the tv series L.A Law prior to the Major League movies. Since then he has acted in numerous supporting and cameo roles never really getting a true starring role. Either way, his role in this movie is critical and definitely well played. I do not like what they did with his character at all in the sequels as they seemed to dumb him down a lot and portrayed him as a pansy as opposed to arrogant. If the long rumored sequel does happen, I hope they do his character justice. Jake Taylor, Catcher: Played by Tom Berenger. Jake is an aging catcher with worn down knees who is given one last chance to prove himself in the major leagues. Besides his knees, his womanizing ways seemed to also contribute to his downfall in the majors. His story begins in the Mexican league when he gets a call from the Indians asking him to try out. He thinks it’s a joke, but shows up anyway. Besides from his playing skills, Lou Brown asks for him to be his team leader which he begins to excel at as the season goes on. He becomes a mentor to Ricky Vaughn. He threatens Dorn after he didn’t come up with a ground ball that could have cost them a game by “Cutting his nuts off and stuffing them down his fuckin’ throat!” His primary interest in this movie off the field is to try and win back his old fiance Lynn Wells played by Rene Russo. Lynn has moved on from Jake and is about to marry an attorney. Lynn was fed up with Jake’s hard partying, womanizing ways when he was with the Indians 3 years earlier. Jake spends much of the movie trying to win back Lynn’s trust by reading Moby Dick and laying low during team get togethers after the games. A funny, but intense meeting takes place between Jake, Lynn, her fiance, and a few of his higher class guests when Jake follows Lynn Home from her job. He unknowingly follows her to her fiances place. When the question of how much ballplayers make and how good is Jake, Jake responds by saying he makes the league minimum. It is Jake’s bunt hit that scores Willie Mays Hays and wins the one game playoff for the Indians. Lynn reveals her removed engagement ring and joins in on the on field celebration. Tom Berenger had the most screen time in this movie. This is what many considered to be Berengers “Jumping the shark” performance before his recent come back in TV. Last but not least there is Indians broadcaster Harry Doyle: Played by legendary Brewers

broadcaster, Bob Ueker. Doyle is seen drinking Miller Lites in the broadcast booth often during games. Ueker was the commercial spokesman for Miller Lite in the 1980’s. Doyle is hilarious with his one liners and analogies. His catchphrase of “Just a bit outside” when a pitcher (Vaughn) Throws a pitch way outside the strike zone has been used by several broadcasters to this day as a homage. Doyle is at his funniest trying to support the Indians after a loss. He fakes crowd noise to make the stadium seem full. He swears on the air and shrugs it off as “Nobody’s Listening!” All of his scenes are in the broadcast booth. He doesn’t share any scenes with any of the major stars. No real life Major League players are represented in this movie and the entire Indians Roster is fictional. Real life ex-major league players and coaches do have parts in the movie. Ex Dodger catcher Steve Yeager plays coach Duke Temple. Real life pitcher Pete Vuckovich plays Yankees first baseman Clu Haywood. Vuckovich never hit a home run during his major league career, but his long mustache made for an intimidating presence. He is made to resemble Yankee legend Thurman Munson. Willie Mays Hays might have been inspired by Willie Mays in the movie but he was reportedly based on Oakland A’s legend Ricky Henderson. The setting for the movie was Cleveland, but was actually shot in Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s county stadium stood in for Cleveland’s Municiple stadium (Then home of the Indians) even though exterior shots of the stadium and city are used throughout the movie. The Miller Lite ads in the Stadium made it obvious for me. Writer and Director David S Ward grew up an Indians fan and felt the only way he would ever see the Indians win anything is if he filmed a movie of it. 2 less successful sequels were made after this movie. “Major League 2” and “Major League 3: Back To The Minors” I really liked “Back to the Minors”, but hated “Major League 2” .A fourth one is reportedly in the works…which would see Rick Vaughn come out of retirement to help a young pitcher with control problems. The project would reunite most of the cast from the original Major League. Production has not started yet. As for this movie I will give it 4 and 1/2 stars for not rounding out the plot correctly. The acting was phenomenal. The jokes were funny. The clubhouse humor was real. Plenty of baseball in this film. I look forward to a fourth installment, if they go through with it.

Scroll to top