Major League (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David S. Ward|
|Produced by||Chris Chesser|
|Written by||David S. Ward|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Dennis M. Hill|
Morgan Creek Productions
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures
Major League is a 1989 American sports comedy film written and directed by David S. Ward, starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, James Gammon, Bob Uecker and Corbin Bernsen. Made for US$11 million, Major League grossed nearly US$50 million in domestic release. The film deals with the exploits of a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians baseball team and spawned two sequels (Major League II and Major League: Back to the Minors, which were released by Warner Bros.), neither of which replicated the success of the original film.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2014)|
Rachel Phelps, a former Las Vegas showgirl, has inherited the Cleveland Indians baseball team from her deceased husband. She wants to move the team to Miami, which has promised her a sweetheart deal including a new stadium. In order to do this, she must reduce the season's attendance at Cleveland Stadium to under the league's minimum attendance of 800,000, which will trigger an escape clause in the team's lease with the city of Cleveland. Believing that finishing dead last will knock attendance down low enough for her to move, she instructs her new General Manager Charlie Donovan to hire the worst team possible from a list she has already prepared. The list includes veteran catcher Jake Taylor, who was last playing in Mexico; incarcerated pitcher Ricky Vaughn; power-hitting outfielder Pedro Cerrano, who practices voodoo; veteran pitcher Eddie Harris, who no longer has a strong throwing arm and is forced to doctor his pitches; and third baseman Roger Dorn, a one-time star who is under contract but has become a high-priced prima donna. As manager, Phelps hires Lou Brown, a career minor league manager of the Toledo Mud Hens who works in the off-season as a tire salesman.
At spring training in Tucson, Arizona, the brash but speedy center fielder Willie "Mays" Hayes crashes camp uninvited, but is invited to join the team after displaying his running speed. Spring training reveals several problems with the new players. Vaughn has an incredible 96 mph fastball but lacks control. Hayes is able to run the bases quickly but hits only pop flies, and Cerrano, despite his tremendous power, cannot hit a curveball. The veterans have their own problems: Dorn refuses to aggressively field ground balls, afraid that potential injuries will damage his upcoming contract negotiations, and it becomes clear that Taylor's bad knees will be a season-long concern. On the final day, Brown cuts the team down to 25 players, including Vaughn, Mays-Hayes, Taylor, Dorn, Cerrano, and Harris.
After the team returns to Cleveland before the season begins, Taylor takes Vaughn and Hayes out to dinner but comes across his ex-girlfriend Lynn, who is dining with her current beau. Taylor believes he can try to win her back by proclaiming that he has a major league job again, but is disappointed to hear that she is already engaged.
The Indians' season starts off poorly. Vaughn's initial pitching appearances end in disaster, with his wild pitches earning him the derogatory title "Wild Thing." On a rare occasion when Vaughn does get a ball over the plate, it is hit well over 400 feet by the New York Yankees' best hitter, Clu Haywood. Brown discovers that Vaughn's eyesight is poor; once Vaughn gets glasses his control greatly improves, and he becomes the team's ace. Despite their flaws, the team begins to improve, so Phelps decides to demoralize them further by removing luxuries, such as replacing their team jet airplane first with a dilapidated prop plane, then with an old bus. However, these changes do not affect the Indians' performance and the team continues to win. Donovan reveals Phelps' plan to Brown, who then relays the same news to the players. Brown also tells them that if the team plays too well for Phelps to void the lease, she will release them all regardless. With nothing to lose, the team agrees to get back at Phelps by winning the pennant. Brown motivates the team further by providing a double-layered cardboard cutout of Phelps from her showgirl days; after every victory, a piece of the second layer is removed, eventually presenting a nude picture of Phelps.
The team plays very well down the stretch of the season, and clinch a tie for first in the American League East by beating the Chicago White Sox on the last day of the season. This forces a one-game playoff with the division's co-leaders, the Yankees. Prior to the playoff, Taylor continues to try to woo Lynn back and they share a night together. Vaughn learns that he will not be the starting pitcher for the game and goes to a bar to mope, where he encounters Suzanne Dorn. Feeling spited after witnessing her husband Roger with another woman; she retaliates by luring Vaughn to sleep with her. Vaughn is unaware of who she is until she tells him before leaving the apartment.
Taylor advises Vaughn to keep his distance from Dorn for most of the game by staying in the bullpen. The game remains scoreless until the seventh inning when Harris gives up two runs. Cerrano comes to the plate in the bottom of the seventh and misses badly on two curveballs. He angrily threatens his voodoo god Jo-bu, then hits the next pitch—another curve—for a two-run homer. In the top of the ninth, the Yankees are able to load the bases for the power-hitting Clu Haywood, and Lou decides to bring Vaughn in to pitch to him. While Taylor taunts Haywood from behind home plate, Vaughn strikes out his nemesis on three straight fastballs to end the inning.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Hayes manages an infield single. The Yankees respond by bringing in their headhunting closer, Duke Simpson, to pitch to Taylor. After Hayes steals second, Taylor and Lou trade signs in the dugout, and Taylor points to center field, calling his shot. The Duke responds by throwing a fastball straight at Taylor's head, but the catcher is undeterred and gets back up pointing again. With Hayes running, Taylor bunts instead, catching the Yankees infield off-guard. Despite his weak knees, Taylor manages to beat out the throw to first as Hayes rounds third and heads for home plate. Hayes slides safely into home, giving the Indians the win on a walk-off single. Jake finds Lynn in the stands, who raises her left hand to show that she is no longer wearing an engagement ring, and they reunite as the film closes.
The theatrical release's ending includes Rachel Phelps, apparently unable to move the team because of increased attendance, angry and disappointed about the team's success. An alternate ending on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD shows a very different characterization of Phelps. Lou tenders his resignation and tells Phelps that he can't in good conscience work for her after she sought to sabotage the team for her own personal gain. Phelps then tells him that, in fact, she loves the Indians and never intended to move them. However, when she inherited the club from her late husband, it was on the brink of bankruptcy. Unable to afford top flight players, she decided to take a chance on unproven players from the lower leagues, whom she personally scouted, and talented older players who were generally considered washed up. She tells Lou that she likewise felt that he was the right manager to bring the ragtag group together.
Phelps made up the Miami scheme and adopted a catty, vindictive persona to unify and motivate the team. As the players believed that she wanted the Indians to fail, she was able to conceal that the team could not afford basic amenities such as chartered jet travel behind a veil of taking them away to spite the players.
Lou does not resign, and Phelps reasserts her authority by saying that if he shares any part of their conversation with anyone, she will fire him.
Producers said that while the twist ending worked as a resolution of the plot, they scrapped it because test screening audiences preferred the Phelps character as a villain.
The film was notable for featuring several actors who would go on to stardom: Wesley Snipes and Rene Russo were relative unknowns before the movie was released, while Dennis Haysbert remained best known as Pedro Cerrano until he portrayed US President David Palmer on the television series 24.
The film also featured former Major League players, including 1982 American League Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich as Yankees first baseman Clu Haywood, former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Willie Mueller as the Yankees pitcher Duke Simpson, known as "The Duke", and former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager as third-base coach Duke Temple. Former catcher and longtime Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker played the Indians' broadcaster Harry Doyle. The names of several crewmembers were also used for peripheral players.
Charlie Sheen himself was a pitcher on his high school's baseball team. At the time of filming Major League, his own fastball topped out at 85 miles per hour. (In 2011, Sheen said that he had used steroids for nearly two months to improve his athletic abilities in the film.)
- Tom Berenger as Jake Taylor
- Charlie Sheen as Ricky Vaughn
- Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn
- Margaret Whitton as Rachel Phelps
- James Gammon as Lou Brown
- Rene Russo as Lynn Wells
- Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes
- Charles Cyphers as Charlie Donovan
- Chelcie Ross as Eddie Harris
- Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano
- Andy Romano as Pepper Leach
- Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle
- Steve Yeager as Duke Temple
- Peter Vuckovich as Clu Haywood
- Willie Mueller as The Duke
- Stacy Carroll as Suzanne Dorn
- Neil Flynn as longshoreman Indian fan
The film's opening montage is a series of somber blue-collar images of the Cleveland landscape synchronized to the score of Randy Newman's "Burn On": an ode to the infamous night in Cleveland when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire.
Despite being set in Cleveland, the film was principally shot in Milwaukee because it was cheaper and the producers were unable to work around the schedules of the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns. Milwaukee County Stadium, then the home of the Brewers, doubles as Cleveland Stadium for the film, although several exterior shots of Cleveland Stadium were used, including some aerial shots taken during an Indians game. In fact, the sign for the TV station atop the scoreboard is for WTMJ, the NBC affiliate for Milwaukee. Both facilities have since been demolished: the playing field of County Stadium is now a Little League baseball field known as Helfaer Field, while the rest of the former site is now a parking lot for the Brewers' new home, Miller Park; the new Cleveland Browns Stadium, a football-only facility owned by the City of Cleveland and used by the Browns, sits on the site of its predecessor.
Box office reception
The film debuted at No. 1 at the box office. The movie had a mostly positive reception. It has an 82% "fresh" rating on review website Rotten Tomatoes based on 38 reviews, with trade magazine Variety calling it "sheer crowd pleasing fun".
Due to the success of the film, two sequels have been produced - neither of which achieved the original's success. Major League II returned most of the original stars, with the notable exception of Wesley Snipes, and focused on the following season and the players' reaction to the previous season's success. This movie cost $25M and grossed $30.6M. Major League: Back to the Minors again starred Corbin Bernsen, but this time, as the owner of the Minnesota Twins, attempting to turn around the Twins' AAA team, the Buzz. This movie cost $46M and grossed only $3.6M. A possible third sequel, titled Major League 3, is reportedly in the works by David S. Ward, the writer and producer of Major League. The movie would return Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Snipes with the plot revolving around Ricky Vaughn coming out of retirement to work with a young player.
The Team (by uniform number):
- 00 - Willie Mays Hayes, CF
- 7 - Jake Taylor, C
- 8 - Duke Temple, 3rd Base Coach
- 10 - Eddie Harris, SP
- 12 - Crespi, Position Unknown
- 13 - Pedro Cerrano, RF
- 14 - Van Dyke, Position Unknown
- 15 - Reyna, SS
- 16 - Pepper Leach, 1st Base Coach/Pitching Coach
- 20 - Larson, 2B
- 21 - Kuntz, Position Unknown
- 23 - Graham, Backup 1B
- 24 - Roger Dorn, 3B
- 26 - Lindberg, Position Unknown
- 27 - Campi, Position Unknown
- 28 - Pearson, Position Unknown
- 30 - Metcalf/Ward, 1B
- 33 - Bushnell, SP
- 34 - Lou Brown, Manager
- 37 - Stocker, Relief Pitcher
- 38 - Tomlinson, LF
- 39 - Reaves, Assistant Coach
- 40 - Keltner, SP
- 41 - Rhoads, Position Unknown
- 44 - Mosser, Position Unknown
- 45 - Schindler, Position Unknown
- 47 - Gentry, SP (Cut in Spring Training; the player who finds a red tag in his locker)
- 48 - Huffman SS
- 49 - Winter, Position Unknown
- 99 - Rick Vaughn, SP/RP
- ?? - Mitchell Friedman, Position Unknown
In popular culture
When he joined the Cubs in 1989 (the same year the film was released), pitcher Mitch Williams' extravagant wind-up and release, and his frequent wild pitches, earned him the nickname "Wild Thing." As with Rick Vaughn's character, the Wrigley Field organist played "Wild Thing" as Williams came out of the bullpen. A few years later, in 1993 with the Phillies, Williams started wearing the number 99 on his jersey, the same number that Vaughn wears in the film.
In the years since its release Major League has become a beloved film of many professional baseball players and announcers, and is often referenced during game broadcasts. For example, in 2014, for the film's 25th anniversary, Major League catcher David Ross filmed a one-man tribute to the film, with Ross playing the part (among others) of Lou Brown, Pedro Cerrano, Willie Mays Hayes, Rick Vaughn, and Roger Dorn. Additionally, as part of their 2014 "Archives" set, the trading card company Topps celebrated the movie's 25th anniversary by creating baseball cards (using the same design as the company's 1989 base set) of Roger Dorn, Jake Taylor, Eddie Harris, Rachel Phelps, Rick Vaughn, and "Jobu."
Soon after the films 25th anniversary in 2015, the character Jobu (Pedro Cerrano's voodoo figure) was immortalized and produced by a company called "The Jobu Lifestyle." The packaging is a reference to Cerrano's locker that made up Jobu's shrine.  
- "boxofficemojo.com". Box Office Mojo: Major League. Retrieved 27 May 2006.
- Marianne Garvey (June 29, 2011). "Charlie Sheen used steroids during 'Major League'". msnbc.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- "Major League - Wild Thing Edition". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Easton, Nina J. (1989-04-11). "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Major League' Wins Season Opener". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
- Thomas, Kevin (1989-04-07). "Movie Reviews : 'Major League' in a League by Itself". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- James, Caryn (1989-04-07). "Reviews/Film; Idiocies and Idiosyncrasies Of Bungling Ballplayers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Corliss, Richard (1989-04-24). "Cinema: Don't Run: One Hit, One Error". Time. Retrieved 2012-05-14.
- Published Wednesday, Jun 23 2010, 14:41 BST (2010-06-23). "Sheen returning for third 'Major League'? - Movies News". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
- Although, according to an interview on the The Dan Patrick Show (October 22, 2008), Williams' number change had nothing to do with the Major League film. Williams said he had wanted the number 99 for years because of his admiration for the football player Mark Gastineau, who also wore number 99. Williams said that he did not change his number until 1993 because that was his first chance to do it.
- "Ross recreates 'Major League'," MLB.com (April 2, 2014).
- "Major League 25th Anniversary Wax Pack," Topps official website. Accessed Feb. 18, 2015.
- "Arizona Childhood Friends Recreate Major League's Jobu," AZ Central. Accessed Apr. 16, 2015.
- "There's a Company Exclusively Selling Licensed Jobu Figurines from Major League," Cleveland Scene. Accessed Apr. 16, 2015.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Major League|
- Major League at the Internet Movie Database
- Major League at Rotten Tomatoes
- Major League at Box Office Mojo
- DVDTalk.com Review of "Major League - Wild Thing Edition"