The other baseball-related activity from my New York trip was a viewing of the movie The Bad News Bears (1976 version), which, believe it or not, I had never seen before. I had heard of it, of course, though I really only had a vague notion of what the movie was about.
Walter Matthau (“Hey, Mr. Wilson!”) plays Morris Buttermaker, a former minor league ballplayer turned alcoholic who has been drafted to coach a team of misfit little leaguers. The season does not start out well for the Bears. In their first game against the appropriately-named Yankees, the Bears do not even record an out, and Buttermaker finally opts to forfeit on the team’s behalf.
Buttermaker eventually comes around and realizes he needs to do something more than just drink beer in order to help the team, and so he recruits 11-year-old girl pitcher Amanda as well as town bad boy Kelly Leak to play outfield. As is the case in any kids sports movie like this, the addition of these two players is exactly the boost the Bears need to start winning. Next thing we know, they are playing in the championship game.
Naturally, there are other hiccups along the way. Being the daughter of Buttermaker’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda drops hints continuously that she would like to see her mother and her coach get back together. Kelly’s reputation does little to earn him any friends, especially not when Buttermaker encourages him to become a ball hog to try to ensure the Bears make it to the championship. We even see some conflict on the opposing team’s side of the ball, as the Yankees pitcher finally decides he’s had enough of the pressure his coach and father has been putting on him.
The Bad News Bears is definitely a comedy, though not quite your typical kids movie comedy. It’s got an additional edge of profanity and crudeness to it that would make hardcore Disney parents freak out. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who wouldn’t be quite so appreciative of this aspect of it, and understandably so, if you’ve got small children. As an adult with a slightly twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for realism, however, I certainly enjoyed it.