Put me in, coach…

I’m ready to play centerfield, just like Kelly Leak.

One of my go-to movies, when there’s nothing appealing on TV, is the original Bad News Bears from 1976. I plug in the DVD and I’m transported back to my days of playing the Canadian version of Little League but, unlike Kelly, I spent more innings at shortstop (and, when I was one of the younger players in the first year of tyke, peewee or bantam, right field).

imageAs a Canadian, I should prefer hockey movies but most of them have been lame. Even Slapshot drags for long stretches despite the Hanson Brothers, and memorable quotes.

“Who own da Chiefs?”

Many of my favourite films have been baseball related, from The Natural to Bull Durham to the one I love the most, Field of Dreams.

Bad News Bears was remade a few years back. Not wanted, totally unnecessary. The Billy Bob Thornton version was forgettable and way too PC. Odd in these times of adult comedies that feature jokes about sperm and other bodily fluids.

Jizz, okay. Foul-mouthed kids, not so much.


Four decades ago, shortstop Tanner Boyle said the reason the Bears (prior to getting uniforms sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds) were so cruddy…his favourite word…was because they were nothing but a collection of…um….kids who were Jewish, Mexican, African American or had runny noses. Of course, he used terms that aren’t acceptable today.


Burt Lancaster was one of the great movie stars, winning an Academy Award for Elmer Gantry and, in later years, giving memorable performances in Atlantic City and Field of Dreams. In the latter, Burt was Doc “Moonlight” Graham.

His son Bill wrote the screenplay for The Bad News Bears and it was a reflection of the times.

And it rang true if you played minor ball.


Thankfully none of my coaches were like the super competitive Roy Turner (Vic Morrow) or Walter Matthau’s drunken Morris Buttermaker but I did have house league managers that favoured the better players and limited the innings of lesser talents.

If you haven’t seen the original (again, don’t waste your time on the remake), a councillor sues his local little league and that allows his son and a bunch of sad sacks to form a new team and compete against Turner’s Yankees and five other squads that don’t think the Bears are good enough to share the same field.

The politician pays former minor league pitcher, and current alchoholic and pool cleaner Buttermaker, to coach the team.

They lose the opener to the Yankees, 26-0, and don’t even get their chance to bat because Buttermaker forfeits the rest of the game.


Coach Buttermaker convinces Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O’Neal) to become the Bears’s pitcher. He used to date Amanda’s mother and taught the 11-year-old how to throw a curve and a spitter. She makes the team better but they still lose.

Through a series of events, local juvenile delinquent and star athlete Kelly Leak takes over in centerfield and the Bears start winning.


If you’ve seen the movie, you know the rest of the story and if you haven’t, seek it out.

When I was 11, I played mostly at Birchmount Park in Scarborough. Unlike Kelly, I did not send any homeruns over a fence. My only round-tripper came after knocking the ball beyond the reach of my neighbourhood friend, Paul Denton. Oddly enough, I didn’t hit one over the fence until I was 40, years later playing slowpitch.


Tatum O’Neal went on to marry and divorce John McEnroe. Chris Barnes (Tanner) and many of the Bears quit acting before they hit adulthood.

Jackie Earle Haley…Kelly…struggled as an adult actor but earned an Oscar nomination for Little Children. Not easy portraying a pedophile  in a sympathetic way but Haley pulled it off. He also succeeded Robert Englund as Freddy Kreuger. Nice work, but the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, like Billy Bob’s Bad New Bears, paled in comparison to the original.

I found Haley on Twitter and tweeted my ongoing appreciation for The Bad News Bears and he, or whoever runs Jackie’s Twitter account, favourited my tweet.

So cheers to coach Buttermaker, Kelly, Amanda, Tanner, Ahmad, Ogilvie, Engelberg, Toby, Rudy, Jimmy, Reggie, Miguel, Jose and poor old Timmy Lupus (who has his moment of glory).

And to the Yankees, in Tanner’s words, “You can take your trophy and your apology and shove it straight up your ass.”



About johnnymaraca

sole proprietor of Maraca Media, former radio host (Johnny Maraca's Rock & Roll Riot), copywriter and producer and a print journalism grad.
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