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|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$49.8 million|
Major League is a 1989 American sports comedy film produced by Chris Chesser and Irby Smith, written and directed by David S. Ward, that stars Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, James Gammon, Bob Uecker, Rene Russo, Dennis Haysbert, and Corbin Bernsen.
Made for $11 million, Major League grossed nearly $50 million in domestic release. Major League 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), neither of which replicated the success of the original film.
Former Las Vegas showgirl Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) inherits the Cleveland Indians baseball team from her deceased husband. Phelps hates Cleveland and wants to relocate the team to Miami. The Indians' contract with Cleveland contains an escape clause stipulating that the team may relocate if attendance for the entire season is below 800,000. That means they have to finish dead last to relocate to Miami. Determined to put together the worst team in the Major Leagues, Phelps hires Lou Brown (James Gammon), the manager for the Toledo Mud Hens, to manage the team and promotes former manager Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers) to general manager.
During spring training in Tucson, Arizona, the team's shortcomings become evident. The team's lone star, third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), is an egotistical prima donna whose skills have faded. Staff ace Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) has to rely on illegally doctoring the baseball due to his weakening arm. Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), a voodoo-practicing Cuban import with significant power, cannot hit curve balls and clashes with the devoutly Christian Harris. Veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), a former star who had spent the last few years playing in the Mexican League after his knees gave out, has lost so much strength on his throws that he cannot reach second base.
The two players who draw the most attention are brash young outfielder Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), who showed up at spring training without an invitation, and pitcher Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), a convicted felon released from a California prison after serving time for stealing a car. Hayes claims he can "run like Hayes", and "hit like Mays". He proves to be the fastest player on the team, but is unable to hit. Vaughn has a fastball in the mid 90s, but has no control over it, which earns him the nickname "Wild Thing".
The team predictably starts the season on a losing streak. Lou then discovers Vaughn's control issues stem from an uncorrected visual impairment. After being fitted with glasses, Vaughn's performance improves with additional coaching and assistance from Taylor, and the team begins to win. Meanwhile, Taylor tries to reunite with his ex-girlfriend Lynn (Rene Russo) despite her being engaged to another man.
Phelps, angered by the team's improvement, tries to demoralize them by removing team amenities. She replaces their chartered team jet, first with a rickety propeller plane and then an old bus. She then refuses to fix their workout equipment, and even has the hot water to the locker room turned off. Despite her efforts the team continues to win and brings themselves into contention for the division championship.
Eventually Charlie decides to reveal Phelps's plan to Lou. Lou then calls a team meeting and announces that all of the players on the current roster would be released or sent back to the minors at the end of the season. With nothing to lose, Taylor states to the team that they should focus on winning the pennant. If they win the division, Phelps can't move the team or get rid of them. For added motivation, they use a cardboard cutout of Phelps from her showgirl days, peeling off sections of clothing for each game they win.
The team succeeds in tying with the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East division, leading to a one-game playoff to determine the division championship. Lou decides to start Harris in place of Vaughn due to Harris's experience. Vaughn then ends up in bed with a woman who he later finds out is Roger's wife Suzanne Dorn (Stacy Carroll), who had sex with Vaughn as revenge for her husband being unfaithful during a victory party.
In the playoff game in Cleveland, the game is scoreless until the top of the seventh when the Yankees take a 2-0 lead, but in the bottom of the seventh, Cerrano finally gets a good pitch and hits a home run to tie the game. The ninth inning begins with Harris loading the bases after recording two outs. The Yankees best hitter Clu Haywood is next to bat. Earlier in the season Haywood faced Vaughn and hit a home run. Lou decides to bring in Vaughn to relieve Harris. Vaughn strikes out Haywood on three straight fastballs with the third pitch clocked at 101 miles per-hour. In the bottom of the inning, the Yankees bring out "The Duke" (Willie Mueller), their headhunting closer. Hayes singles and steals second base. Taylor lays down an unexpected bunt. Hayes advances to third, then catches the Yankees off guard by dashing for home. He scores, and the Indians win the game.
As the team celebrates, Dorn punches Vaughn in the face for what happened the night before but then quickly pulls him up so they can keep celebrating. Phelps is upset the team won the division championship. Taylor spots Lynn in the stands, no longer wearing her engagement ring. The two rush to hug each other as the city celebrates the victory.
The theatrical release includes added scenes of Rachel Phelps showing dismay with the team's success. An alternate scene included on the "Wild Thing Edition" DVD shows a very different characterization of Phelps. Lou Brown confronts Phelps over her plan to sabotage the team and announces his resignation. Phelps then reveals the threatened move to Miami was merely a ruse to motivate the team, as the Indians were on the verge of bankruptcy when she inherited them and she could not afford to hire star players or maintain standard amenities. She also tells Lou that she felt he was the right manager to bring the ragtag group together. Lou does not resign, but Phelps reasserts her authority by saying that if he shares any part of their conversation with anyone, she will fire him.
- Tom Berenger as Jake Taylor
- Charlie Sheen as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn
- Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn
- Margaret Whitton as Rachel Phelps
- James Gammon as Lou Brown
- Rene Russo as Lynn Weslin
- Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle
- 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
- Kip Powers as Cooper Vaughn
- Steve Yeager as Duke Temple
- Pete Vuckovich as Clu Haywood
- Willie Mueller as The Duke
- Stacy Carroll as Suzanne Dorn
- Todd Johnson as Jeremy Keltner
- Neil Flynn as an Indians fan
- Ed Grode, Jr. as an Indians fan
- Marc Daniloff as sports reporter
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 day in Cleveland when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire.
Much of the film's spring training scenes were shot at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona, which was the spring training home for the Cleveland Indians from 1947 to 1992. The production used members of the University of Arizona Wildcats baseball team as extras.
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 (and three Green Bay Packers games per season), 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. One of the ending scenes of the movie is in West Milwaukee's legendary restaurant, 4th Base which showcases their unique horseshoe bar that is shown in the celebration scenes. Another restaurant scene, at the then Gritz's Pzazz on Milwaukee's north side, is no longer open for business. County Stadium has since been demolished: the former playing field 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 (now FirstEnergy Stadium), a football-only facility owned by the City of Cleveland and used by the Browns, sits on the site of its predecessor.
The film was notable for featuring several actors who would go on to stardom: Snipes and Russo were relative unknowns before the movie was released, while Haysbert remained best known as Pedro Cerrano until he portrayed U.S. President David Palmer on the television series 24. The longshoreman who is occasionally seen commenting and is shown in the final celebration inside a bar is Neil Flynn, who later achieved fame playing the Janitor in Scrubs and then the father Mike in The Middle. This is Flynn's first credited movie role.
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.
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.
Major League has an 83% "fresh" rating on review website Rotten Tomatoes based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 6.56/10. The consensus states, "Major League may be predictable and formulaic, but buoyed by the script's light, silly humor—not to mention the well-built sports action sequences and funny performances." On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 62 out of 100 based on 15 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
In popular culture
Rachel Phelps' character is loosely based on that of Georgia Frontiere, a past owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams, in the way she took over the franchise and how she was initially perceived. She took over ownership and control of the Rams upon the death of her husband in 1979.
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 film'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." Harry Doyle's call of a Rick Vaughn pitch that was "JUST a bit outside" is so well-known, film critic Richard Roeper wrote in 2019 that the line "has been invoked by every sportscaster in the last 30 years." In 2011, Bleacher Report's Timothy Rapp named "JUST a bit outside" his fifth greatest sports-movie quote ever.
In 2017, the University of Arizona men's baseball team created a parody of Major League, which was filmed at UA's current home field, Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona. Hi Corbett was the spring training home for the Cleveland Indians from 1947 to 1992. The star of the short film is outfielder Matt "Mays" Frazier, who played the role of Snipes' Willie Mays Hayes character from the original film. Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn and Roger Dorn are also parodied, and Arizona head coach Jay Johnson plays the role of Indians manager Lou Brown.
Major League became an inspiration for the real Cleveland Indians and the city, given the previously long-standing Cleveland sports curse that had left Cleveland without any sporting championships in between 1964 and 2016 (when the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers won their first title in their 46-year history). The Indians reached the 2016 World Series, but lost to the similarly cursed Cubs. Between 1995 and 2016, the team went to the World Series three times, losing each time.
Soon after the film's 25th anniversary in 2015, a company called "The Jobu Lifestyle" began producing figurines of Jobu (Pedro Cerrano's voodoo figure). The packaging is a reference to Cerrano's locker that made up Jobu's shrine.
In news coverage of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Team Israel's outfielder Cody Decker made a comparison between Jobu and the team's mascot, "Mensch on a Bench", a five-foot-tall stuffed toy that looks a bit like a rabbi or Hasidic Jew: "He's a mascot, he's a friend, he's a teammate, he's a borderline deity to our team.... He brings a lot to the table.... Every team needs their Jobu. He was ours. He had his own locker, and we even gave him offerings: Manischewitz, gelt, and gefilte fish... He is everywhere and nowhere all at once. His actual location is irrelevant because he exists in higher metaphysical planes. But he's always near."
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. 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. A possible third sequel, Major League 3 (which was to ignore Back to the Minors), was reported in 2010 to be in development by original writer and producer David S. Ward. Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Snipes would return, with the plot revolving around Ricky Vaughn coming out of retirement to work with a young player. In 2015, Morgan Creek Productions announced that the sequel was still in the works.
In 2017, Morgan Creek announced plans to reboot their classic films from the 1980s and 1990s as television series or movies, following the success of The Exorcist television series. Several films in early stages of development include film series Young Guns, Major League, and Ace Ventura.
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- "Major League". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 27, 2006.
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- "Major League - Wild Thing Edition". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- Marianne Garvey (June 29, 2011). "Charlie Sheen used steroids during 'Major League'". msnbc.com. Archived from the original on July 1, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
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- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). AFI. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
- Although, according to an interview on 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 February 18, 2015.
- Roeper, Richard (August 17, 2019). "Major League is a comedy of errors—and hits". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
- Rapp, Timothy (July 13, 2011). "The 50 Greatest Sports-Movie Quotes Ever". Bleacher Report. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
- Agnello, Anthony John (August 7, 2014). "A Japanese studio turned Major League into an extraordinarily dull video game". The Onion. Retrieved May 18, 2019 – via The A.V. Club.
- "Arizona Childhood Friends Recreate Major League's Jobu," AZ Central. Accessed April 16, 2015.
- "There's a Company Exclusively Selling Licensed Jobu Figurines from Major League," Cleveland Scene. Accessed April 16, 2015.
- "Israel's World Baseball Classic mascot: Mensch on a Bench," Yahoo.
- "Israel's Mensch on the Bench mascot at World Baseball Classic," Newsday.
- "Dutch Players Take Leave From Spring Training For World Baseball Classic," NPR.
- "Mensch on a Bench, mascot of Israel baseball team, a hoot ahead of WBC,", The Times of Israel.
- "Sheen returning for third 'Major League'? - Movies News". Digital Spy. June 23, 2010. Retrieved July 8, 2012.
- Jagernauth, Kevin (September 24, 2015). "Remakes Of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Exorcist, and Major League In the Works". Indiewire. Archived from the original on December 25, 2015. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
- Nellie Andreeva (October 26, 2017). "Morgan Creek Prods. Rebrands Itself, Plans TV & Film Reboots Of 'Young Guns', 'Ace Ventura,' 'Major League' & More". Deadline. Retrieved November 3, 2017.
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