Why Aren’t We Celebrating 25 Years of Major League?

Without question and despite their getting knocked out in the ALCS, the 1989 Cleveland Indians remain one of baseball’s greatest teams. In the early season, held together by a core of aging veterans like catcher Jake Taylor and pitcher Eddie Harris, the Indians struggled. When out-of-control pitcher Ricky Vaughn was diagnosed with poor vision and steps were taken to correct it, the Indians began to gel, and then began a run so improbable that if it hadn’t gone down in the record books, you’d swear it was fiction.

Okay, so it was fiction. But even despite the semi-outlandish premise (you can just cook the books to move a pro team, just ask Norm Green), it was a movie that nailed a combination of memorable characters and great humor in such a way as to be unforgettable. That it’s not getting the same level of recognition as Ghostbusters is getting for its 30th anniversary is, quite frankly, a travesty. Nay, a fucking travesty

Production and Box Office

BAseballCardSheen4FINALFor the sake of not getting overwhelmed by the data, I limited my analysis to the top 50 highest grossing movies of 1989. This was the year of Burton’s Batman, which pulled in $251M, leading the box office in gross revenue.

In 1989, Major League was the 26th highest grossing film, pulling down $49.7M, just behind Star Trek V. That’s not to say it’s in the same, ahem, league as that shitbox of a movie — it merely reinforces the fact that Trekkies will pay to see anything with pointy ears and a phaser. While this doesn’t put it in the same high-level of revenue as comedies like the eminently forgettable Look Who’s Talking, or the execrable Ghostbusters II, it performed extremely well, given a production budget of $11M.

[quote float=”right”]Major League holds up today not only as the rare sports-themed comedy to balance goofiness and dynamic game atmospherics seamlessly, but also as a fleeting reminder of baseball’s last remnants of participatory charm and gee-whiz curveball worship.
–Brian Orndorf, DVDTalk.com
[/quote]If you calculate ROI (revenue minus budget divided by budget), Major League falls to 35th place for the year. So maybe not the most cost-effective money maker, but you did have some movies this year, including Driving Miss Daisy that had production budgets in the five-figure range that still raked in millions.

Not a blockbuster, by any means.

Ratings

A solid 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Longevity

For me, Major League is rare for an 80’s comedy in that it holds up well to the passage of time. I think that that’s largely due to the timeless nature of baseball, deftly combined with a cast of misfits, cast-offs, and goofballs who probably have no business on a baseball diamond (grown-up Bad News Bears, anyone?), and a script that never takes itself too seriously. Yes, we get away from the goofy shit long enough to see Jake and Lynn dancing around their broken relationship, and brief glimpses into Rick Vaughn’s coping with new-found fame (before being cut off with “you made their Hall of Shame!”), and Willie Mays Hayes’s ego. It’s this balance of humanity, combined with the love of a game, and irreverent humor that makes the film something special.

Vs. Ghostbusters

Subject Winner
Plot Tie; both highly improbably and outlandish. The Indians in the playoffs in 1989 was less likely than ghosts invading Manhattan.
Characters Major League; wins on the strength of wide variety.
Rewatchability Major League; it was a really really close call here, though. Both movies are great, but if I have both on cable at the same time, I stop and watch the Indians.
Quotability Tie; both are hugely quotable movies. If it were based on real-life applicability of those quotes, then Major League wins it. However, this is based on how many people will get what you’re quoting.
Laughs Tie.
Holds Up Tie.

Addendum: My Personal Experience

I saw Major League at the dollar theater in the summer of 1989. I was fifteen years old. I went back and saw it again the next day and loved it just as much. I’ve owned the movie on VHS and DVD. Eventually, I’ll get it on Blu-Ray, too. In 1989, the Twins (my hometown team) were having a craptacular season, two years removed from World Series glory (and two years from doing it again), and while I was more into baseball than football at the time, there wasn’t a lot to cheer for either way. So the scrappy, if fictional, ’89 Indians were a team of likeable underdogs, losers, and has-beens that you could cheer for. And being a somewhat awkward, nerdy type, who was terrible at sports but loved them anyway, I couldn’t help but enjoy the hell out of the movie.

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