Those two words just belong together, don’t they?
Although PDX doesn’t have a pro team to call its own (yet), the history of baseball in Portland is richer than it seems.
With Major League Baseball set to return in July and fanfare picking back up, it’s not a bad time to revisit “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” on Netflix, the documentary that looks back at the 1970s Portland Mavericks. As it’s stated in the official trailer:
“Long before steroids and multi-million-dollar contracts, there was a truly independent ball club. A bunch of guys who were hopeless dreamers looking for a second chance.
“In short: The best kind of people.”
Although the doc has been around a number of years now, it’s still relatively unmentioned when thinking of good sports documentaries, and that applies to baseball fans in Portland as well.
Without giving away any spoilers from the film itself, here are five reasons you need to give it a shot based just on the trailer alone.
1. Bing Russell, Actual Baseball Club Owner
Bing Russell, legendary American Western actor and father to Ego’s Human Form (aka Kurt Russell), owned the minor league’s only independent club in the early ‘70s, the Portland Mavericks.
“Why would Bing Russell come to Portland?” a voice asks early in the trailer.
“Bing was out to prove that independent baseball could work,” another person responds before someone else says, “I think we charged Bing $500 for the franchise.”
This story really is as wild as it seems.
2. They Had Open Tryouts
Imagine this: You’re flipping through The Oregonian on a Sunday morning. It’s the early 1970s…so adjust your kitchen or living room decor accordingly.
You see an ad for that a local baseball club is forming and they want YOU to try out. YOU do go try out. And YOU…make the team.
This isn’t exactly how it worked. But how it actually worked is still incredible.
After having legitimate open tryouts, the interest in the team skyrocketed. “You’d expect maybe 40 or 50 guys to show up,” someone in the trailer says. “And I think 300 showed up.”
By all indications, people didn’t just show up—they showed up from all across the country. The Mavericks put Portland on the map, and they did so by giving the baseball world’s rejects and misfits a place to not just play but play the way they felt the game should be played.
3. They Kept Portland Weird
“There was no press-handlers, there was no groomed image—there was just these furry, hairy, funny, great bunch of guys.
“And the things that happened on the field were absolutely insane.”
This really sums it up. These guys weren’t your average ball club. They weren’t going to do things the traditional way. They were going to party with the fans, and the fans were going to party right back.
4. The Odds Were Against Them
A rags-to-riches story is great, but when the deck is reshuffled and continuously stacked against you along the way, it really makes success that much sweeter.
The trailer for the documentary doesn’t go into great detail, but there were clearly biases against Russell and his team.
“Organized baseball didn’t like Bing, and they did everything they could to make sure Bing didn’t win,” one interviewee states.
5. “Portland Is The Greatest Baseball City In The World”
The Mavericks broke attendance records for the minor leagues. They won baseball games at a high level. And they did it all in ways that were completely unheard of.
“I’ve never seen a ball team and fans behave the way they did with the Mavericks,” one person states.
“He created the most successful team in the history of minor league baseball,” says another of Bing.
Today, as you sit here reading this, Portland is not a baseball city. Not by major-league standards. But during the time of the Mavericks, Portland became “the greatest baseball city in the world.”
Can Stumptown ever get back to that point?
I’ll go out on a limb. I think it can.
And if the city proves me right, it will have the furry, hairy, great bunch of guys they called the Mavericks to thank for helping pave the path nearly 50 years earlier.