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What's Streaming: THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL: Unprofessional professionals

In 1972, the Portland Beavers left the town of Portland. Professional baseball was considered a waning sport and attendance dipped to the point of unsupportable. The stadium, once filled with rabid fans, was left standing, but empty. The sport of baseball was no longer the draw it once was.

Then along came a Hollywood star by the name of Bing Russell, best known as the Deputy Clem Foster on “Bonanza,” who turned the sport of baseball on its collective head. Bing was well-known for his acting, but what was not known was his love of baseball. Russell grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, the home of spring training for the New York Yankees. Russell watched from the other side of the fence as greats like Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio practiced ball. Before too long he was noticed and was asked to be the unofficial mascot for the team. He even inherited Lou Gehrig’s bat upon his retirement.

Netflix documents this unique time in the annals of sports history and gives it a proper documentary with “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” marrying archival footage with an antique design that breathes fresh life into a historic period.

So, it’s easy to see the blood of baseball roared through Russell’s veins. He was a true student of the game, going so far as to create his own series of training films staring his son, Kurt (yes, THE Kurt Russell). When the day came, and the Beavers moved from Portland, Russell saw an opportunity. Back then professional baseball had all but eliminated minor league baseball. Once a thriving sport of independent teams, there were none left by the time 1972 rolled around.

Netflix documents this unique time in the annals of sports history and gives it a proper documentary with “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” marrying archival footage with an antique design that breathes fresh life into a historic period. Interviews with those still around, including Kurt Russell himself, who was a member of the Mavericks, provide the details of a team built for fun.

Bing Russell forged ahead with the idea that the town of Portland could use something different and sought to reinvigorate the independent baseball category known as “Class A.” He met with all the capable players that professional teams had given up on, players considered too old or past their prime, and developed the legendary team the Mavericks.

The Mavericks dominated the sport of baseball as the only independent team, destroying every professional team out there starting with a no-hitter game on their first outing. They were considered the misfits of baseball. The team was not just there to play the game but to have fun at it as well. Antics on the field were best compared to professional wrestling or a circus.

The Mavericks were unprofessional professional misfits who had earned the moniker “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” If you are not a fan of sports, this documentary will make you wish you were one in the ’70s.

For the next five years few teams could compete at the level the Mavericks were playing. But they weren’t just a talented bunch of ballplayers. They were a talented bunch of jokers as well. Portland suddenly was alive with baseball. Nowhere else could you find a dog, an official member of the team, on the field. Nowhere else could you find props like brooms being brought by fans as they “swept” the competition. Nowhere else could you find on-field antics akin to Harold Lloyd or Abbot and Costello. Hell, even the bat boy was thrown out of a game for profanity.

The professional teams absolutely hated the Mavericks and did everything to stop them. Five years later they succeeded. But not before showcasing some of the most entertaining baseball to ever be played. By the end, Russell single-handedly brought the minor division back to baseball and taught the professionals not to give up on their players.

The Mavericks were unprofessional professional misfits who had earned the moniker “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” If you are not a fan of sports, this documentary will make you wish you were one in the ’70s. Netflix (and Sundance) hits a home run with this documentary and it’s entertaining as hell.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

Kurt Russell and his father Bing Russell. (Netflix)
"The Battered Bastards of Baseball."