The Battered Bastards of Baseball is the documentary directed by Chapman and Maclain Way, and now available on Netflix, about Bing Russell and a little known minor league baseball team in Portland called the Mavericks. Bing, who briefly played ball professionally before enjoying a successful Hollywood acting career, bought the territory when the city lost its longtime minor league affiliate and formed a single-A team to operate outside the confines of major league baseball. The only thing uniting his players, recruited at open tryouts, was that no other team wanted them but his quirky, unkempt castoffs won games, and they won fans, shattering minor league attendance records.
Nerdist spoke with directors Chapman and Maclain Way about their grandfather, Bing Russell, his journey with the Portland Mavericks, the rebellious sprit that runs in their family, and putting everything they had into making their first feature film.
Where did Chapman and Maclain Way get the idea for the documentary about the Mavericks? Was it a story they heard their whole lives as kids? According to Chapman, that was very much not the case. “Growing up, all we knew was that our grandfather owned a professional baseball team in the ‘70s and that was it. I think that [Kurt Russell’s] acting career was a big topic in our family and we have a cousin (Matt Franco) who plays major league baseball… so Bing’s time up in Portland wasn’t really discussed and we didn’t really know anything about it so it was kind of a forgotten story.”
“I think the first big thing is obviously we didn’t want to make a family documentary, we wanted to make something that would resonate with sports fans and non-sports fans,” Chapman continued. “Mac and I are big into independent film and independent music and when we found out this was the only independent baseball team in America in 1973 and that all of these hundreds of independent teams had died off and this was the last one, it was a real interesting jumping off point for us as filmmakers and story tellers to dive into.”
It’s become kind of a tired sports joke that nobody likes baseball anymore. Maclain agreed and although he still loves the game, he found that this documentary appears to have more in common with independent filmmakers and musicians than one might think. “I was a big baseball fan growing up, and still am,” he said. “In high school I started, because of my older brothers influenced me, I started getting into independent film and music too, and one of the things I realized when we were first starting to make this documentary that I thought was really cool was the idea that there’s a very strong sports community but there’s also a very strong independent film, independent music community, there’s not too much overlap between these groups. [The] idea that we could make a documentary on a sports team and take it to film festivals and engage these communities… and these people who are like, ‘You know what? I liked baseball as a kid but now I feel the reconnection to the game,’ and that’s been really, it’s been a fantastic feeling being able to do that.”
Once you watch The Battered Bastards of Baseball it becomes clear that rebellion is something that runs in the family. It seems like this film being distributed through Netflix is a great fit. Chapman agreed, saying, “[Netflix] was kind of a perfect partner for us. Netflix has a history of going against the grain and striking out on their own and carving their own path and we can’t help but notice the similarities ourselves between the Mavericks independent spirit and us as independent filmmakers and doing what they do so it’s really been a match made in heaven… It’s going to give us the opportunity to get our film out to an incredibly wide audience.” Chapman continued, saying, “[W]e financed this entire documentary ourselves, it was a very, very low budget, none of us took salaries on this thing, Mac even had to sell his car at the end to pay for post production, so when you put everything you can into a film its incredibly exciting to know that you’re going to have a distributor like Netflix that’s going to get the film out to a wide, wide audience so for us its really been a perfect match.”
After the film makes its debut on Netflix, Maclain says they’ve got their sights on scripted with someone who is fairly close to the team. “We went into Sundance without distribution but another product we were kind of out on the marketplace [with] was the narrative rights to do a scripted version on the Mavericks… we were really excited and what happened was we were really passionate about having Todd Fields (In The Bedroom and former Mavericks bat boy) attached as the writer and director… we actually ended up teaming up with Justin Lin, his production company… optioned the rights to do it and Todd’s currently attached to write and direct and I think that for us Todd just has such a great perspective on the Mavericks. He totally gets the story and gave such a phenomenal interview and he was a bat boy at the time so it’s a great perspective on the Mavericks so that’s the other thing that we’re moving forward to, so we’re excited.”
The Battered Bastards of Baseball, with Kurt Russell, Todd Fields and Jim Bouton and directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, is now available to stream instantly on Netflix.