The Bad News Bears
Regular visitors to this site may have noticed that we’ve gone on an October World Series exploration of the world of baseball movies. So far we’ve dealt with the major leagues (Bang the Drum Slowly, The Pride of the Yankees), the minor leagues (Bull Durham), the Negro League (The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings), women’s professional baseball (A League of Their Own), the musical comedy league (Take Me Out to the Ball Game), and even the Woo-Woo League (Field of Dreams). We plan to tackle backyard baseball (The Sandlot) and even Japanese baseball (Mr. Baseball) before we’re done, but right now it’s time for the horrors of … gasp! The Little League! I never played, never even tried out. I couldn’t run, couldn’t hit, couldn’t throw, couldn’t catch. A quadruple threat. In PE class I was one of the schmucks who, when I came to the plate, all the infielders would shout “Easy out!” And they were right! I used to hang around the Little League ballpark at the end of our street in Nederland, Texas, on muggy summer nights and shag foul balls and home runs. If you brought the ball back to the concession stand you got a free sno-cone. And that is the sum total of my experience playing baseball. I love baseball, but I love it from the bleachers.
But for some people, baseball is their life. And I’m not talking about the 13- to 18-year-olds on the field. I’m talking about the parents. Probably the only thing worse than a mother determined that her daughter become the big movie star she never was is a father determined that his son become the big pro athlete that **he never was.
Then there’s the Bears. And I take it back, it might actually be worse to be on a ball team and have parents who just don’t care. The Bears are the dregs of this particular Los Angeles area Little League division, the fat, slow, disturbed, angry incompetents that none of the other teams would ever take. (The other teams have sponsors on the backs of their jerseys like Pizza Hut and Pepsi. The sponsor of the Bears is Chico’s Bail Bonds.) How bad are they? Well, I would have looked good compared to this team. That bad. And in the whole movie I don’t think we get a glimpse of a single Bears parent sitting in the stands watching the games. The parents and managers of the other teams are all examples of the corruption parents introduce into children’s sports when they preach the philosophies of win at any cost, and have contempt for losers. I hate them, I despise them, but at least they care. The parents of the Bears apparently use the team as a baby-sitting service. I don’t even want to know what their home life is like.
Walter Matthau, a pool cleaner who used to play in the minor leagues, is hired to manage the team. And much of the movie goes where you would expect. He still drinks beer all day, but he begins to teach them some of the fundamentals. They gradually get better. He brings in two ringers: his former stepdaughter, Tatum O’Neal, who has a mean fast ball, talks tough but yearns to connect with a father figure, and the neighborhood delinquent, who is an all-around athlete. They get even better. Then when it looks like they might have a shot at the league championship, Matthau gets infected with the win at all costs virus. There are a series of moments meant to teach us about sportsmanship, and they are pretty obvious but I still liked it. Will they win the Big Game at the end? I was really curious, and the answer was satisfactory.