Wow, wasn’t that great when the Indians won the pennant about twenty-five years ago? Remember how the Tribe got off to a shaky start that year, but had a torrid second half, beating the White Sox in the final game of the regular season, then going on to win the playoff game against the Yankees to become the American League champions?
What do you mean that never happened? Of course it did. It happened in the 1989 film Major League, directed by David S. Ward and starring such actors as Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert, and Charlie Sheen as relief pitcher Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Filmed on a budget of $11 million, the film took in at least $50 million in the domestic market alone, and has been embraced by at least two generations of Indians fans.
Local sportswriter Jonathan Knight has written a book called The Making of Major League: a Juuuust a Bit Inside Look at the Classic Baseball Comedy (Gray & Company, Publishers, softcover, $15.95). At 252 pages, the book is a brisk read, but an engrossing one. Knight interviewed many of the people who were responsible for making the film, including Ward, Berenger, Bernsen, Haysbert, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Sheen (who wrote the book’s foreword). The stories they tell, including ones about scenes which were filmed but eventually cut, give the reader a vivid sense of what it was like on the set of the film.
(Full disclosure: I’ve known Knight for almost ten years, as several of his other books have relied heavily on photographs from the Cleveland Press Collection of the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, my employer. Furthermore, my copy of The Making of Major League was provided to me for free by Gray & Co.; I intend to make sure it is added to the library’s Special Collections stacks.)
Knight’s interviews yielded quite a few tidbits of information which are sure to interest those who enjoyed the film. I’ll just give you a couple of them here:
- Despite his natural athleticism, Wesley Snipes, who portrayed Indians centerfielder Willie Mays Hayes, wasn’t a very fast runner. Ward used several tricks, including slow-motion photography, to make it look like Snipes was running faster than he really could.
- Many of the lines of broadcaster Harry Doyle, played to perfection by Bob Uecker, were ad-libbed, including the famous “Juuuuust a bit outside” and “We don’t know where Hayes played last year, but I’m sure he did a helluva job.”
Knight also explains why the baseball scenes were filmed not at the old Municipal Stadium, but rather at Milwaukee County Stadium, the home of the Brewers. Perhaps most impressive of all, he was able to track down the location of Jobu, the team mascot, whose whereabouts had been largely unknown until Knight started to dig a little.
The book goes into detail about the music in the film, including the use of Randy Newman’s “Burn On” in the film’s opening moments. Knight rightly points out that Newman had had relatively few of his songs placed in movies before Major League, but he stretches things a bit when he says that “[I]t was just another example of what would become a recurring trend over the coming years: an undoubtedly talented but relatively unknown artist using Major League as a springboard to bigger and better things.” Yes, Newman would go on to win Oscars for some of his songs for films, but by 1989, Newman had already released eight studio albums, nearly all of which were critically acclaimed, and had had a huge hit with his 1977 song “Short People,” which he performed that fall on Saturday Night Live. It’s not as though Newman was some sort of obscure figure in 1989.
But if that is the only quibble I have with Knight’s book, and it is, then I’d say Knight has done a helluva job himself. I’d recommend this book without reservation to anyone over the age of 14 who has seen and enjoyed the film. Buy a copy, won’t you? Jobu would want you to.