Netflix film examines old Boise baseball rival, the Portland Mavericks

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 17, 2014 

Members of the Portland Mavericks, their mascot dog and fans take a victory lap around Civic Stadium in Portland after sweeping one of the team's opponents.

THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL

Partway through"The Battered Bastards of Baseball," former Portland Mavericks batboy Todd Field recounts the ritual that accompanied star outfielder Reggie Thomas' entry into Civic Stadium in the mid-1970s.

"Before every single game a car came down the back ramp and as that car came down the ramp our (public address) announcer would yell 'Here comes Reggie!' and people went nuts," Field said.

Field, who wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated film "In the Bedroom," asked team owner Bing Russell why Thomas got a ride to the stadium in downtown Portland when he lived three blocks away at the Mallory Hotel.

"Because Reggie needs it," Field recalled Russell telling him.

The film, which opened last week and is available exclusively through live streaming from Netflix, tells the story of the independent Class A team of the Northwest League, which filled the void when the AAA Portland Beavers moved to Spokane after the 1972 season. The Mavericks operated from 1973 until 1977, when Minor League Baseball, embarrassed by the antics and the success of the rag-tag team of misfits and players ignored or cut by Major League affiliates, put the ballclub out of business by returning a AAA team back to Portland.

Boise has deep ties to the Mavericks.

Thomas, who still holds the single-season stolen base record in the Northwest League with 72 steals in 73 games in 1974, played for the independent Boise Buckskins in 1978. In Boise, he wore number 747, the only three-digit uniform number in professional baseball.

While he only batted a paltry .176 with the Buckskins, Thomas batted .294 or better in his four years with the Mavericks and was the star of the team.

"He not only had the gift of speed but he had flair," said Nick Betram, who covered the Mavericks for the Portland Oregonian.

Mavericks general manager Lanny Moss — the first woman general manager in professional baseball — and assistant G.M. Carren Woods, owned the Buckskins, which is mistakenly called the Athletics in the film. The Buckskins existed only that one year, beset by poor attendance and bad performance.

Buckskins manager Gerry Craft played outfield for the Mavericks in 1975. He also appeared in 34 games for the Buckskins as a player.

Russell, an actor who played a deputy sheriff for more than a decade on "Bonanza," had a long love affair with baseball and was a student of the game. In the film, son and fellow actor Kurt Russell, who played for the Mavericks and also played in Bend and Walla Walla, said his dad made up a 70-page test on baseball skills and produced several instructional videos that included techniques that even some Major League players didn't know.

Russell placed an ad in The Sporting News announcing a tryout for players. While he expected less than 100 hopefuls, more than 500 showed up. Many had chips on their shoulders and wanted to prove to the teams that had ties to Major League teams that they made a mistake by overlooking them.

They also wanted to show that making $400 a month they could compete with the numerous "bonus babies," players given big contracts and signing bonuses that were expected to play in the Majors one day. Rickey Henderson was one of many. He played for the Boise A's his first season out of high school, in 1976.

Henderson, elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, set the career Major League stolen base mark with 1,406, 468 more than second-place finisher Lou Brock. However, he only stole 29 bases during his year in Boise, less than half what Thomas stole during his record-setting year.

The Mavericks won several division titles and set league attendance records. In 1977, the team set a Class A attendance record by attracting 125,300 fans during 33 home games. The following year, the AAA Beavers only drew 96,395 fans during 69 home games.

"It was kind of a miracle that Bing was able to put together any team at all," Field says in the film. "I mean, the fact that that team was able to perform playing against these huge bonus babies for Major League teams and really had no business beating them and beat them anyway is pretty (expletive) extraordinary."

Bing Russell, who died in 2003, told an interviewer he was proud of his teams.

"My hope was that independent baseball could survive. It did," he said. "I felt there were ballplayers released too early, ballplayers never signed who could play at this level. We proved that they could."

As a teenager, I watched the Mavericks play against the Boise A's. I also attended college in Oregon and spent more than 30 years in the Beaver state before returning home to Idaho. Therefore, I have a special interest in the Mavericks.

However, I think anyone who follows the Boise Hawks or who enjoys baseball will find this film informative and entertaining.

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