Independent baseball, though down a bit from its heyday of a few years ago, is still alive if not totally thriving in many areas of the country. Players released from Major League organizations pop up on rosters from Long Island, N.Y., to Sonoma, Calif., playing for the love of the game and maybe one more shot at hooking on with an affiliated team.
But in the early 1970s, MLB's stranglehold on the minors was all-encompassing. Then, as now, teams in the AAA, AA and A classifications existed only for player development. Following a time decades prior when franchise had agreements or loose affiliations and hundreds of minor league teams thrived across the country, players were either on their way up or down, or already out.
Portland, Ore., had hosted teams since the early days of the fabled Pacific Coast League. But by 1972, affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, the Portland Beavers were at their nadir. Attendance had, by all accounts, dwindled to such a low point that the team disbanded.
Battered Bastards of Baseball, a Netflix production which debuted this month on the streaming video service, tells the story of the unlikely rebirth of baseball in Portland, not with an affiliated team, but an independent squad in the A-level Northwest League. The experiment was the brainchild of longtime character actor Bing Russell, best known for his role on "Bonanza."
An avid baseball fan, Russell, whose son Kurt who would go on to even greater renown in Hollywood, held a tryout and put together a rag-tag outfit of cast-offs and misfits unwanted by other organizations. Battered Bastards has plenty of great period footage and interviews, and is compelling from start to finish.
It's a story that was chronicled at the time by Joe Garagiola, who found so much material for his "Baseball World" program on his visit to Portland that he did two full shows on it, but has largely been lost to time outside of the Pacific Northwest. Battered Bastards resurrects the story of a city and its love affair with a bunch that was every bit the underdog as the Bad News Bears, the Major League Cleveland Indians and the kids in Sandlot. With one big difference.
It's all true. Don't miss this gem.