By In Stuff

Walking Bears

The other night we watched The Bad News Bears. The original. I’m told they made a remake, but I refuse to believe it and will never see it, even though I’m told it was directed by Richard Linklater, who is completely awesome, and it starred Billy Bob Thornton, who I interviewed once and he told me he tried out for the Kansas City Royals. Those guys are fantastic. I will still never see it. Such is my loyalty to the original movie, made in 1976.

So, the other night I gathered the girls and we watched the original. Before I get to the punchline, I should point out that if you plan to do this with your 8 and 11 year old girls, you should know that the 1970s were a different time. You wouldn’t expect to hear the N-word in a fun Little League baseball comedy … but, yeah, that’s in there, along with several other disturbing images that made each girl at some point go: “Um, what was that?”

But the themes of winning and losing, trying your best, finding the best part of yourself … that stuff still shines through.

My daughters, as I have written before many times, do not care about baseball. At all. I’m often told by people that this could change as they get older, and I suppose it could, but there are few signs of it. The one way to get them to let me rest for five minutes is to pop on a baseball game on television. In our house, that clears the room faster than tear gas.

Basically, I had to MAKE them watch the Bad News Bears This is funny because both daughters are movie crazy. They would normally watch just about anything as long as it could loosely be called a “movie.” When you ask them, especially the younger one Katie, what they remember most about our vacation to London, they will bluff and say it was seeing the Crown Jewels or the Rosetta Stone or walking through the British Library because that’s what they think they are supposed to ay. In truth, it was the flight home when each seat had its own tiny television set with hundreds of movie and television choices.
Even so, the Bad News Bears didn’t really interest them. I kept telling them there was a girl in it who pitched, and it was funny, and they would like it, and they rolled their eyes and grudgingly came to understand that they were not getting out of it. As I expected, they liked it a lot. But the best moment came toward the end of the movie. I normally wouldn’t want to spoil any plot points here but, frankly, yove seen the movie. And if you haven’t seen it, you weren’t going to see it anyway, it’s 37 years old. So let’s spoil plot points.

The Bears are a terrible Little League team that (I never picked this before) was only entered into this exclusive California league because of a lawsuit by a city councilman. I guess the lawsuit stipulated that the league should not be allowed to exclude young players because they are not athletically gifted. I must say: This never registered with me before. Of course, I think I was nine when I saw the movie.

The city councilman hired a broken down old pitcher named Buttermaker (and played by Walter Matthau) to coach the team. Buttermaker apparently pitched some minor league ball and, he tells the kids, he once struck out Ted Williams in a spring training game. Then, he remembers, he actually struck out Ted Williams twice. I love this scene more than probably any other because Matthau was so amazing in it; you could almost look into his brain as he’s telling the Ted Williams story and see gears clicking and winding.

  1. Maybe he did strike out Ted Williams. Maybe he didn’t.
  2. There would be no way for these kids — even the sabermetrician of the team, Oglivie — to find out.
  3. Eh, why not make it two strikeouts.

Having interviewed many, many former ballplayers, I’ve seen this fascinating and oddly touching dance many times.

Anyway, back to the plot. The team is beyond terrible, and nobody wants them in the league, and they are ready to quit. But Buttermaker finds something surprising about himself. He likes coaching these kids. He’s such a rundown shell of a man — he cleans pools and scrapes by — and he only took the baseball job to get a little cash. But then,maybe coaching baseball reminded him of something he liked about himself. He won’t let the team quit. Then he goes out and recruits Tatum O’Neal — with the classic baseball named Amanda Whurlitzer — to pitch for the team. Buttermaker had dated Amanda’s mom for a while, and he was sort of a surrogate father to her — he taught her how to pitch. She’s very good. He also taught her how to be an operator, so she works out a deal where she will pitch and he will buy her ballet lessons.

Then, pushed by Buttermaker, Amanda goes out and tries to recruit Kelly Leak — played by Jackie Earle Haley — who is the 11-year-old town rebel complete with a motorcycle and cigarettes and whatever else represented “rebel” in 1976. Leak is an amazing ballplayer, but he has no interest in playing baseball. It’s not cool. That is until the manager of the league’s best team (named the Yankees, of course) calls him a bum and a good-for-nothing and chases him away from the field. Leak, in anger, joins the Bears.

There are numerous story lines and lessons learned from here on out, but I do want to get to the point of all this. As everyone here knows, I despise the intentional walk. I despise it as strategy almost every time. But, more, I despise it as a part of the game. It’s anti-competitive. It’s no fun to watch. It denies us as fans the opportunity to see great match-ups. No other sport offers quite that level of copout — I’ve heard people make various comparisons (Hack-a-Shaq, double-teams, tackling a player for pass interference, etc.) but there is no just-add-water way to avoid competition quite like the intentional walk. I’ve written many times that the problem is the sanction for an intentional walk — a single base — is simply not severe enough to discourage it.

My daughters do not know, nor do they care, about my feelings of the intentional walk. But at the end of the movie, the Bears play the Yankees in the championship game. And Kelly Leak comes to the plate. He’s the best hitter in the league and by far the best hitter on the Bears. So you know what happens. The Yankees manager, Vic Morrow, orders his pitcher to intentionally walk Leak with the bases empty. This led to the following discussion.

Katie (8 years old): “What are they doing?”

Me: They are intentionally walking him.

Elizabeth (11 years old): “What does that mean?”

Me: It means they will throw four balls far away from him so that he can’t hit them.

Katie: “Are they allowed to do that?”

Me: Yes.

The girls discuss this amongst themselves for a second. And finally Elizabeth says: “That’s unfair. They should not be allowed to do that.”

So true. So utterly true.

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31 Responses to Walking Bears

  1. Unknown says:

    Greatest. Kid. Ever.

  2. Mike Beyer says:

    Vic Morrow’s performance in that movie rivals Matthau’s. Classic villain.

  3. SCS says:

    Perhaps you should write an updated Casey at the Bat, where Casey gets walked because first base is open. Then Mudville loses when the #5 hitter pops out. Much more realistic.

  4. I’m pretty sure the bases weren’t empty when Kelly Leak was supposed to be walked. Can’t remember which ones, but I remember several Bears running around the bases.

    • B.E. Earl says:

      At the very end, the bases were loaded when Morrow orders the intentional walk of Leak. The Bears are down 7-3 at this point. He was willing to allow one run so that Leak wouldn’t get a chance to hit. “You’re putting the tying run on first base, you imbecile!” – Buttermaker

    • B.E. Earl says:

      Although I’m pretty sure Leak was intentionally walked a few times in the game. Maybe it was one of those times that the bases were empty.

  5. Tim says:

    The best thing about TBNB is the verisimilitude. I was about 9 when it came out, and the way the kids and parents talk, get angry, fool around, and act like assholes, and how damn IMPORTANT Little League is to everybody involved is so real. I pretty much was Vic Morrow’s kid, except my Dad never hit me. I played for the Yankees, my Dad was the coach, I had the same glasses, the same cocky attitude, and I pitched, although I wasn’t as good as the kid in the movie. When Vic Morrow slapped his son at the end for his act of rebellion, it was a huge punch in the gut, and it made me really appreciate how patient, understanding, and mature my own father was. Such a great film. I, too have avoided the remake out of respect to the original.

    • djangoz says:

      Absolutely agree. I was a kid playing little league at that same time and it felt so real.

    • adam says:

      And little league can still be like that today (or worse). Many things about the movie are dated – the un-PC language, the fashion, Kelly the rebel, etc. But as a commentary on the (perceived) self-importance of little-league, it’s spot on.

  6. Gary says:

    You didn’t miss anything with the Linklater remake. One of only 4 movies I’ve ever walked out on. Went to the manager, told him as much and immediately got my money back. Entirely unfunny, crass and offensive (Think 10-year old Amanda commenting on how Buttermaker must have “A big one” for her mother to have seen anything in him). I’m the opposite to sensitive about these things, but combined with the utter lack of funny…Completely missed the mark. A horrible, hollow shell of an impersonation.

  7. Rob Smith says:

    In a key Little League playoff game, I was pitching in the bottom of the sixth (last inning in Little League) in a 0-0 tie. Runner on second, the other teams best hitter up. Two outs. The kid chips one into rightfield to our worst player. He catches it on one bounce a bout 50 ft behind the secondbaseman, screws around with it, does a 360 and then makes a weak throw. Too late. We lose. I’m pissed. My Dad is the Coach. On the ride home (I’m still stewing) I offer, “Dad, why didn’t you tell me to walk him?”. He slows the car, looks at me and says “because we’re not baby girls”. I thought about it…. yes, the Intentional Walk was chicken crap. It was for babies. Oh hell, we just lost. Move on. When my kids played ball and I coached, I never once called for an intentional walk. You want to win, get their best players out. A good lesson. Too bad it’s not followed by MLB.

  8. jan says:

    One of my favorite movies!i bought it on DVD a few years ago, but the quality of the recording is terrible. I would love to see it on the big screen again.Thanks for reminding me!

  9. Rob Smith says:

    It’s kind of amazing that Tatum O’Neal is now largely known as the drug challenged ex-wife of John McEnroe.

    • MCD says:

      I don’t think I agree with that assessment at all.

      I think the people who think of her the way you describe would only be a subset of the population that is old enough to remember the marriage, but too young to remember the movie career when it was actually happening (maybe born between 1970 and 1985?). People older than that time window will remember the movie career more prominently (the youngest person to win an Oscar seems more note-worthy than “McEnroe’s wife”). Those born in the last 20 years might have seen one of her movies, but it is doubtful they have even heard about her failed marriage.

      I know the first thing I think of when you say “Tatum O’Neal” is “Bad News Bears” and “Paper Moon”. Even though I am certainly aware she was married to John McEnroe, I would probably even think “Ryan O’Neal’s daughter” before I thought “John McEnroe’s wife”.

    • invitro says:

      I know her largely as a child actress, and secondly as McEnroe’s wife. I was not aware of any drug problems.

    • adam says:

      I’ve always thought of her as Amanda Whurlitzer. And more recently as an excellent semi-regular on Rescue Me.

  10. adam says:

    I always loved the fact that the team was played by kids over an enormous range of ages, something I picked up even as a kid in the 80’s. I think the guy who played Rudy Stein wrote a blog post about how he was 16 playing a 12 year old and had to shave super-close every day.

    And in the sequel only a couple of years or so later, Kelly Leak looked like an adult to me.

  11. Unknown says:

    Excellent story to build up to that punchline. When I read that second to last line, I laughed out loud.

  12. clay says:

    Born in 1968, I only remember hearing about The Bad News Bears as a movie. However, I heard about it enough to know that I had to see The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training when it came out, when Kelly drove the team to Houston and recruited his father, Bill Devane, to coach them (Let then play, Let them play; wasn’t it Bob Watson that first said it in the dugout? Enos Cabell was in that dugout, too). Anyway, I loved that movie. Perhaps not as good as the original, it didn’t matter to me, who just devoured baseball at the time. Anyway, just wanted to plug the sequel a little.

  13. honkybucket says:

    Here’s what I can muster in defense of the remake.

    Reminds me a little bit of the Star Wars prequels. Entirely unnecessary, inferior in every way, and still… not without their worthwhile moments. I remember enjoying one of the better & heartfelt laughs I’d had in a while when Buttermaker pulled up to the team’s practice in his convertible, opened up a 16 ounce can of Miller, poured half out onto the street, then proceeded to open a bottle of whiskey and fill the half-empty can full as an old school boilermaker.

    • honkybucket says:

      I actually meant to disparage the Star Wars prequels a bit more before posting that, also calling them embarrassing and suggesting that they absolutely cheapened and compromised our appreciation of the franchise. Sorry about that. Not a great analogy, but I’m on my way out the door.

  14. How is the intentional walk any less competitive than punting it out of bounds intentionally or even taking a knee in the endzone/a fair catch?

  15. Yeager says:

    Dammit Joe, you tricked me into reading YET ANOTHER post about how the intentional walk sucks. WE GET IT.

  16. ricky martin says:

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    Mazda GPS DVD player & Headrest DVD player

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