With the baseball world halted and the major league season suspended indefinitely due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the baseball community must desperately find other means of entertainment. As we practice social distancing in our white-walled apartments, with a pantry containing nothing but a couple of Cliff bars, a few tubs of ramen, and our very last sixer of key lime La Croix, we need to realize how lucky we are to have so much content at our disposal to keep us going during these incredibly mundane times.
If you’re MLB Network, you’re probably airing Bull Durham for the thousandth time. A fine baseball movie, sure, but we’ve all seen it. We know Crash gets the girl in the end. And yeah, Tim Robbins’ character does some stuff, too. But, there are so many other baseball films out there. So, so many great films. Some amazing docs. And if you haven’t checked out Ken Burns’ “Baseball”, now might be the time. So, that is why I have tasked myself with the responsibility to watch the absolute Worst Baseball Movies of All Time. And depending on reception, we’ll see how long we can keep this going.
Major League: Back to the Minors
In April 1989, one of the greatest baseball films of all time was released. Major League stars Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, and Tom Berenger and follows a professional baseball team composed of a ragtag group of players who against all odds—and in spite of their evil owner—beat the heavily favored Yankees to win the AL pennant. Major League became an instant classic and is often referred to as one of the greatest sports films of all time. Following the film’s success, a sequel was released in 1994, and while it is widely known as a critical failure, the movie did just enough at the box office to not be a total flop. Which brings us to 1998, where producer James G. Robinson from Major League 2, with money bags in his eyes, decided, “Hey, you know what the world needs? One last Major League movie. But, this time, let’s make it like a half sequel/half spinoff. Yeah, that should be swell!”
Let’s just start right off the…bat. This is an insane movie. The logic makes no sense, events happen that are unprecedented, and iconic movie lines are stolen with really no reference or even charisma. So, Major League: Back to the Minors starts off in the minor leagues watching Gus Cantrell. Cantrell is played by Scott Bakula, who could be 35 or 55, looks like Kirkland Tom Berenger, and throws like a present-day Jamie Moyer. Perfect! Because he’s a washed-up former major league pitcher, now playing for the Minnesota Twins Class A affiliate: The Miracle. It’s our main hero, Gus.
(Spoiler Alert: this entire movie takes place in the Twins organization, which is incredibly odd since the first two films entirely featured the Cleveland Indians organization, yet there’s no mention or references anywhere in the movie connecting the two clubs. This gets even crazier as the movie progresses and adds in a bunch of regulars from the original movies who are now back and playing for this random Twin’s affiliate—but, we’ll get there.)
Following getting thrown out of this Single-A game for the classic “frozen ball trick” (again, we’ll get there later), Gus gets a job offer from our old pal, Roger Dorn (who now owns the Twins??) to be the manager for their Triple-A affiliate: the Buzz. Awesome, so a random washed-up pitcher, who’s kind of a jerk at this point, is suddenly the top contender for the skipper of the same organization’s AAA ball club. Smh…nepotism at its finest. After some tough convincing—because our boy is suddenly fine quitting baseball “cold turkey” as he says—Gus takes the job and Dorn even persuades him to check out the Twins top prospect: Downtown Anderson, played by a young, balding Walton Goggins (a legitimate bright spot of this movie).
Leonard Huff (Ted McGinnley* from Married with Children) is the coach of the Twins and also happens to be longtime rivals with Gus. He’s got a thousand-dollar suit and Wall Street hair so lush that he doesn’t even wear a hat in this entire movie. He literally wears a Twins uniform in multiple scenes throughout and refuses to hide that mane.
So, Huff wants Downtown on the Twins, but Gus feels the kid’s not ready and could use some time in AAA to turn into a real “five-tool player.” Crazy thought: Do people actually describe other players in real life as “five-tool players” and other baseball jargon? Because they do it a TON in this movie.
Anyways, so we have the main plot. Let’s meet our ragtag team of minor league ballplayers from our AAA protagonists, the Buzz.
–Pops. 40 or maybe even 50? An outfielder who Gus, with his best Gordon Ramsay impression, calls “too old, too fat, too slow.” Gus moves him to first base, and on his first defensive play he catches a ball thrown so hard, that he falls back and faints directly into a stretcher being carried by the umpires. Now, why umpires are waiting at first base with a stretcher to carry off Pops? No clue, but it’s real fun.
–Lance, the third baseman. He’s a former ballerina or “balladeer” as they continuously say over and over throughout. (Now, I first watched this movie when I was 8-years-old because it had just come out back then and it was the only “family” baseball movie at my local Blockbuster. But after 20 years since, I still have never heard the word “balladeer” outside of this movie, ever.) So, Lance warms up with tai-chi and yoga. He can’t field…at all. And we never see him hit. But he’s about an average baserunner, if that means anything. Where Roger Dorn got over his terrible fielding efforts in the first movie by taking as many grounders as possible, bruising up his entire body, Gus uses his finest coaching skills by forcing Lance to use oven mitts to field third base. Gus wants him to “feel the ball,” literally. I guess when you’ve got a coaching savant at the helm, no matter how insane his ideas are, ya just gotta roll with it.
–Hog Ellis. SoCal surfer dude who apparently throws extremely hard with so-so control, and can only throw a fastball. He’s like a Dudebro Rick Vaughn or if that one pitcher from Everybody Wants Some (who smokes a TON of weed) ended up in the minors. “Cools about the only thing I understood from him,” as Gus recalls after having a conversation with Hog. This is maybe the only player who sucks that Gus doesn’t fix. Hog is fixed suddenly by the third act after Doc teaches him how to throw a curveball on a bus ride in between games. Speaking of—
–Doc. Yet another minor league journeyman in his 40’s or 50’s who somehow hasn’t been cut. Dude can’t throw over 55mph and apparently says he also has a changeup in his arsenal. He’s a pretentious know-it-all. And there’s a scene in a run-down diner where he incessantly asks the server for different expensive salad dressings, but unfortunately, they only have ranch and blue cheese. This exchange is not a lot of fun, but it’s there.
–The Juan Lopez’. That’s not a grammatical error. We have our 2B and SS, who are identical twins, both named Juan Lopez. They fight over any groundball up the middle, trying to outshine each other. Competitive Twins. HEY. Gus nicknames one brother Juan 1 and the other Juan 2. This isn’t the actual solution though, as later Gus ties a rope around each Juan Lopez during fielding practice and whenever they fight for the ball, they are catapulted backward.
–Rube Baker. We finally get our first Major League cameo with our nudie-mag obsessed catcher from Major League 2 who can’t even make the throw back to the mound. This dude is minor/major league journeyman who still can’t get the ball to first base, second base, third base, or even back to the pitcher…and somehow, no coach has thought, “Hey, maybe catching isn’t your position”? Gus fixes this issue by getting Rube to realize he literally has no other skills besides playing baseball, so if he can’t start making the throws, he’s gone. It’s pretty mean in the movie. This strategy kinda works though, as Rube eventually is able to make his throws again.
And there we have it. The Buzz.
So, we got our core players, along with Gus’ fix-em-ups, and yet the Buzz still somehow suck. They win a game here and there on the heels of a Downtown Anderson game-winning homerun. But not good enough. So, Gus uses that trademarked Bakula-Quantum-Leap-magic, and after literally asking God for help, lucks into a reunion/Major League film tie-in in the forms of an old Pedro Serrano and an even older Taka Tanaka (from the second one). Somehow there are more 40 year-olds on this team than 20 year-olds and it gets to the point where you think maybe even Gus Cantrell himself will suit up as a player-manager for a game or two.
With the help of the holy Buzz trinity (Downtown, Serrano, Taka Tanaka), the team is suddenly on a winning streak and has become more popular than the actual Twins. Things have gotten so bad for the Minnesota ball club that there’s even a moment where we’re shown they’re trailing 8-0 in the 8th inning against the Baltimore Orioles.
Upset with the flopping Twins, Dorn gets a sneaky idea to get some buzz going (ha) and a little competition for Leonard Huff and his team. Dorn baits Huff and Gus to challenge each other to a competitive ball game. The Twins vs The Buzz. AAA vs Major League. Be there or be square.
Following a full-on brawl (literally) in the restaurant where Gus fractures Huff’s hand, the next morning in the same restaurant Gus is welcomed with cheers and applause from the waitstaff who are apparently all Buzz fans and hate the Twins?? There’s a ton of press about it. It’s on TV. And Gus is suddenly second-guessing his liquid courage challenge from the night before. Side note: It’s insane that the villain in this movie is the Minnesota Twins. Is the audience not supposed to notice that the best-case scenario for any of these players is that they get called up to suddenly be a Minnesota Twin?
The Big Game:
Cut to game time. We meet Carlos Liston who I guess is maybe a superstar knockoff Carlos Lee? He even kind of looks like him. Either way, Carlos is a goddamn madman.
As the Twins are up 1-0 in the 7th inning, Huff, who mentions Carlos is crowding the plate, decides to throw some “chin music” to back the slugger off, who instead calmly hustles towards the mound (with ZERO teammates trying to stop him?) to lecture Huff on how dumb it would be to throw at him. Honestly, this moment gave me PTSD of watching Carlos Quentin rushing Zack Greinke with catcher AJ Ellis casually spectating in confusion. Huff apologizes profusely—as one would in a televised ball game. And Carlos Liston walks back to the plate and, with the easiest swing of his life, makes it 3-0 with a pretty homer. Miraculously, in the top of the 8th inning, two men on, Downtown Anderson ties it up with a 3-run homer of his own. The crowd goes wild and Huff starts sweating like that one Jordan Peele gif.
In the 9th inning, as the Twins have a man on, with Carlos as a backup, Gus brings in Doc who, if you remember, can only throw 50 mph and apparently the logic works out… since Carlos hasn’t seen that speed since high school, he can’t hit it. And just as Carlos is about to hilariously strike out, Coach Leonard Huff, who may also moonlight as the Twins’ head of electrical, makes a call and gets the lights turned off in the stadium. Coward.
That’s it. Game’s over. It’s a tie. And Huff calls up Downtown to the Twins. Gus tries to persuade him not to go, but that’s not how the world of professional sports works, and before we know it, the Buzz spiral into a losing streak, Downtown struggles, and zip-zap-zop, Downtown is back with the Buzz…only this time he’s humbled. And hey, just in time for our big Third Act!
The Buzz are winning games again. Downtown is taking Gus’ advice and becoming the five-tool player that everyone calls him. And the man, the myth, the Gus Cantrell calls out Huff on national television, demanding a rematch, but this time with a twist in the form of a big-time wager. The bet: If the Twins win, Gus will give Huff his paycheck, but if the Buzz win, Gus gets Huff’s job.
The Big Game…Again:
It’s all about this one last game. And prior to the start, Gus, with his team of loveable losers lounging in the locker room, rather than giving a classic inspirational speech, asks his club one thing: “Win this one for me. Win this one for Gus Cantrell.” I imagine Dave Roberts said this to the Dodgers prior to Game 7 in 2017, but spoiler alert, the Buzz actually follow through.
The AAA club goes out and two major events happen. 1) We get a callback where Hog Ellis throws some sweet sweet chin music to get Carlos to stop crowding the plate. Just like the first game, Carlos rushes the plate without anybody even trying to stop him. He confronts Hog who this time has a baseball as a potential weapon, and following a recital of his best Dirty Harry impression, he intimidates Carlos by insinuating that, if he wanted to, he could throw a 100 mph fastball that would hit Carlos so hard it would decapitate him. Which, as crazy as it sounds, actually works (because it’s written that way). Carlos walks back to the plate and strikes out on cue.
Cut to the bottom of the 9th, the score might be 0-0, we’re not too sure, but that’s no matter. Downtown wins the game with a walk-off home run and before we even get the victory parade, the Buzz have won, Gus is now the coach of the Twins, and this movie makes no damn sense.
But, wait, there’s one last twist.
Gus has a lot to offer young ballplayers. A lot of wisdom that he plans to pass down. He won the bet, but with great pride and a little bit of snark, he turns down the job, laughs in Huff’s face, and gets his happily ever after on a continental Delta flight to a random destination with his sweetheart. Probably could’ve gone more into this, but her name is Maggie and she’s basically a knock-off Rene Russo from the first one. Unsurprisingly, there never was a Major League 4. But I’d like to think if there was, Gus would still be coaching the Buzz and somehow we’d end up with a team of geriatrics filled with the likes of Serrano, Taka, Rube, Rick Vaughn, and maybe even Omar Epps. We never got that version. But one can dream. Hey, at least we get Dorn for the entire ride!
A little too insane:
-The frozen ball. Apparently an old trick that I could not find referenced anywhere outside of this movie. Where you freeze a baseball and no matter how hard it’s hit, it will drop, right around the middle of the infield? Again no reference anywhere but this film. But if there’s a frowned upon baseball trick, Gus knows about it, has used it, and has most likely been thrown out of a game because of it.
-Gus’s girlfriend, Maggie says to Gus as she tries to persuade him to manage the Buzz: “What if Christopher Columbus never discovered America?” Gus: “Well then, I’d be playing Cricket!” HAHAHAHAHAHA
-Downtown Anderson’s suspension. Right before the team’s first winning streak, Downtown is up in the bottom of the ninth with a man on first. Gus, perhaps quoting Dusty Bakers, asks Downtown to sacrifice bunt the runner to second. Instead, Downtown swings and hits a walk-off homer. As he celebrates with his teammates in the locker room, Gus pulls Downtown aside and suspends him, which leads to him whining that he’s on a hot streak and has “5 hits in his last 12 at-bats.” What baseball player out there keeps track and further recites their three-game sample of at-bats to their manager?!
-Downtown Anderson continuously describes himself to people as a “pure hitter.” I wish there was a compilation of all the times Downtown meets someone and says “They say I’m a pure hitter.” You better believe it’s on his Tinder profile.
-Pedro Serrano’s intro. Gus asks God for a ball player and he’s suddenly struck in the back of the head by a foul line drive, knocking Gus unconscious by some sort of…divine intervention, maybe? Gus awakens moments later in the presence of a hooded figure. Seething in pain due to an assured concussion, Gus asks if it’s God that has come down from the heavens? “No.” He proceeds to ask if perhaps it’s Moses? “No, but you’re getting closer.” Oh damn, well it must be Serrano.
-Taka Tanaka’s intro. Taka Tanaka, the original Munenori Kawasaki, has quit baseball and is now owner of a putt-putt golf course that might be pirate-themed.
-Taka and Serrano sing Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” backed up by a live band, wearing ridiculous outfits, in front of a crowded bar after the Buzz tie the Twins during the blackout game.
-The hair gag? Before the final big game. To get into Huff’s head, Gus lets him know the entire Buzz team thinks Huff’s “toupee” is really cool (insinuating that his hair is fake). You’d think this wouldn’t work. You’d think a big-league manager would have some wits. You’d be wrong.
Some dope things:
-Lance the balladeer. He’s pretty dope. He knows who he is and uses his upbeat spirit to help his teammates get limber and find their center. It’s pretty refreshing in a movie filled with downright cynicism.
-Bob Ueker is a national treasure. We haven’t even talked about it, but these connivers actually brought back Bob Ueker, hinting that the man would somehow be so desperate that he’d have to take a job announcing for a minor league ball club. This script does no justice for Bob Ueker, as line after line is just packed with awful jokes, but he still gives it 100% of his charisma throughout the entire movie. Every awful zinger, his weird rivalry with the Twins announcer, there’s even a mask gag where he announces blind. Awful. But, Bob Ueker is still the man.
– Scott Bakula’s mullet. If anything this movie made me realize Charlie Blackmon should be a far bigger trend than he currently is. The mullet just goes with baseball. And personally, I feel like this coronavirus hiatus is the perfect opportunity for more players to grow out their mullets. I don’t see any of us getting haircuts anytime soon.
-Downtown’s sick burn. When Downtown first meets Gus and acts a tad arrogant in front of him, Gus responds by saying he has a nice bat, while implying he’s not ready for the majors. Downtown then flatters Gus by listing his measurements and stats from his pro-ball days, going on to say that when he was a kid he had a bunch of Gus’s rookie cards. Gus takes the bait, flattered and full grin asks what Downtown did with the cards. “Traded ’em all for a player to be named later.” BOOM GOT EM!
How’d it do?
Major League: Back to the Minors is an awful baseball movie and an even worse… movie-movie. The studio took a $30 million dollar loss. The film flopped with critics and viewers and was somehow worse than the second installment. And it ended up so bad that it made David S. Ward (creator of the original two) denounce any involvement in the making of this film, deeming it a spin-off instead of a sequel. The film currently has a 4.6 IMDB rating and a 21% Rotten Tomatoes score. Yikes.
Is this the worst baseball movie ever?
Let’s not mince words. This movie is terrible. But, I’m not sure I’m ready to call it the worst ever, just yet.
Should MLB Network air this movie during quarantine?
Who would I recommend this?
-To anyone I am not a fan of.
-To anyone who is just a huge fan of the Pedro Serrano and Taka Tanaka characters, rather than the mainstays.
-To any fans of Scott Bakula or Walton Goggins.
-And if you’re intoxicated with some friends, the jokes are so bad that you might actually laugh at the absurdity that someone actually spent likely more than a year writing and re-writing this script.
Featured image by Zach Ennis