Last week, I highlighted the 12 highest rated sports movies streaming on Netflix. And while Major League isn’t currently available, it’s without a doubt one of the most enjoyable sports flicks of the last 25 years.
Paramount Pictures was initially skeptical about even doing the movie, according to writer and director David S. Ward, because baseball had just started being broadcast on cable and studio execs didn’t think people would pay to watch a movie about the sport in a theater. Ward and a cast of hotshot young actors like Wesley Snipes and Charlie Sheen, along with veterans like Tom Berenger, proved the studio wrong with a #1 box office opening weekend that would usher the film into the sports movie pantheon and spawn two sequels.
In celebration of one of the funniest baseball comedies to ever step up the plate, here are 20 facts you might not know about the cinematic version of the ’89 Cleveland Indians.
1. Charlie Sheen didn’t have to fake his fastball. Vaughn’s 101 MPH fastball was something that came naturally to Sheen, who pitched in high school and was offered an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. Sheen of course wasn’t pitching at 101 MPH, but he did have good enough mechanics and arm strength to throw a pitch in the mid-80s. Also working on his side…
2. Charlie Sheen was all ‘roided up. Yes, you read that right, Sheen admitted to Sports Illustrated that he got juiced up for the role because he thought it would make his pitch even faster. Considering the guy’s history of drug abuse, it’s probably not that surprising he was on the juice.
3. Sheen’s 85 MPH fastball became 101 MPH with a few camera tricks. In order to give Sheen’s fastball extra speed, the pitcher’s mound was moved up 10 feet — normally the pitcher’s mound is 60’6″ away from home plate — with the camera shots being behind home plate, giving the illusion of a faster pitch.
4. Writer and director David S. Ward made the movie to see the Indians win. Ward is a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan and made Major League as a tribute to his favorite baseball team because he thought it might be their only shot at ever winning in his lifetime. Ward recently told the News-Herald that it’s his favorite movie he ever worked on.
“Emotionally, I don’t think there’s any film that would rank higher with me. It just combines so many things that I love. You love every movie you make in some way. Even the ones that don’t do well. Sometimes, your orphans you like even more because nobody else does. But Major League was not an orphan. What can I say, there’s no movie that has a bigger place in my heart than Major League.”
5. Jobu the Voodoo doll is still around today. Cerrano’s doll had the power to hit a curveball and then kick back for a few drinks and a cigar. The team’s unofficial mascot now belongs to Morgan Creek Productions managing director Brian Robinson, who keeps the doll atop his piano and has turned down offers of $35,000 for the little guy.
6. Some of the extras on the team were named after actual Cleveland Indians players. After Rick Vaughn strikes out and returns to the dugout he his congratulated by the character Keltner. Ken Keltner played as a third baseman for the 1941 Indians and helped end Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.
7. Director David S. Ward was unaware of Bob Uecker’s broadcasting experience. Ward chose Bob Uecker for the part of announcer Harry Doyle because he liked the actor’s Miller Lite commercials and his role on Mr. Belvedere. It wasn’t until later that he learned Uecker had the nickname “Mr. Baseball” and had been the radio broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers for almost 20 years.
8. Jake Taylor and Lynn Wells’ wedding was cut, because BASEBALL. A scene with the wedding of Jake and Lynn was filmed and supposed to occur after the Indians victory over the Yankees, but was left on the cutting room floor. Producers felt the scene would put too much focus on Jake and Lynn instead of the baseball team.
9. Willie Mays Hayes’ catch off the wall during the final game was a tribute. Not only was the catch done because it obviously looked good on film, but to give a nod to Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett who had a reputation for his catches off the center-field wall. The catch is also said to pay tribute to Gorman Thomas and his catch that helped send the Brewers to the World Series in 1982.
10. The Indians’ sparse crowd on opening day wasn’t entirely accurate. In the film the Indians have trouble drawing a crowd for their opening game, but even during Cleveland’s bad years they would generally sell out the opening home game of the season.
11. Rachel Phelps wasn’t really that b*tchy. In the movie’s original ending Rachel admits before the final game that her b*tch persona was all an act to motivate the players because if the team had a poor season they’d be bankrupt. Test audiences didn’t like this and preferred that Rachel remain unlikable, thus the ending was re-shot to show her misery when the Indians won. The alternate ending with the likable Rachel appears on the Wild Thing Edition DVD.
12. Major League was the best script Charlie Sheen had read since Platoon. Charlie Sheen takes his baseball seriously, and was incredibly excited to get the script from David Ward, comparing it to the first time he read the script for Platoon.
“When I saw the script it wasn’t like catnip, it was like crack. I was going to a premiere, and I had a meeting with David Ward in the morning, so I had the script in the limo, and I was late because I couldn’t put it down. Then I sat in the driveway for an hour to finish it. It was probably as good a script as Platoon, seriously.”
13. Wesley Snipes’ character was based on MLB superstar Rickey Henderson. At the time Henderson was a player for the Yankees who was known for his base stealing speed and off the wall catches. Although Snipes didn’t exactly have these same skills…
14. Wesley Snipes wasn’t the best at baseball. Willie Mays Hayes may come off like a superstar onscreen, but in reality Snipes didn’t have much experience playing the sport. The scenes with him stealing bases were shot in slow motion to give the illusion of Snipes running faster than he actually was. We also never seen Snipes throw the ball. (All of this has me completely confused about his court skills in White Men Can’t Jump.)
15. Charlie Sheen wasn’t a fan of his Wild Thing lightning bolt haircut. After shooting each day Sheen and other members of the cast and crew would usually hit a bar to relax — or in Sheen’s case probably pick up a groupie for the night. As Sheen describes it, his haircut sometimes caused him trouble at the bar:
“I didn’t like the haircut because it generated so many comments in bars. I’ve got enough of that already. Add that to the mix, and it’s a recipe for a fistfight.”
16. Corbin Bernsen’s punch on Charlie Sheen wasn’t entirely fake. At the end of the movie when the Indians are celebrating their win and Roger Dorn slugs Rick Vaughn for sleeping with his wife, Bernsen accidentally connected with Sheen’s cheek. Producers didn’t want to lose any shooting time so the next day they avoided filming Sheen from the side with the red mark on his face.
17. “How’s your wife and my kids?” The zinger that is delivered by Yankee’s batter Clu Haywood was improvised by former MLB player Pete Vuckovich. Ward had told Vuckovich to throw out a line that ballplayers might say to one another and that’s what Vuckovich came up with.
18. Dennis Haysbert was really hitting homers. That part where Cerrano runs the bases with his bat in hand wasn’t in the script. Haysbert actually slugged out a homer and was so pumped that he forgot to drop the bat.
19. The Indians didn’t even get to play in Cleveland. Many baseball fans — or at least Brewers fans — will recognize that the stadium the Indians actually play in is the former home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The movie was filmed during a particulary hot summer, but was supposed to be set in the fall. While the ballplayers are all wearing long sleeves to go along with the illusion of a cool autumn night, the 27,000 extras in the stands are mostly wearing shorts and t-shirts.
20. Some of the extras began to nod off because of the late filming hours. Production for some of the field scenes ran incredibly late and according to Charlie Sheen there are cutouts of some of the sleeping people in the stands:
“It was four in the morning, and I had been in the bullpen nodding off. This is pre-opiates-just good old-fashioned fatigue. It was so late that a lot of the extras had gone home. If you really slow the movie down and look, you can see cutouts of people in the stands.”