The original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears was an unexpected hit, intended to show the dark side of parental over-involvement in Little League games. Instead, that rag-tag bunch of Bears won the hearts of their movie audience, leading to not one but two sequels (The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan). In the first movie, the team of misfits improves as their alcoholic coach, pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) enlists two unlikely players: juvenile delinquent/cleanup hitter Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) and a 12-year-old girl who could throw a curve ball (Tatum O’Neal, coming off of her Paper Moon Oscar win). Although the Bears rally valiantly throughout the season, they lose in the climactic league championship game when Leak, trying to pull off an in-the-park home run, is tagged out at home plate.
So it was a rough season, definitely not without its ups and downs. On the 40th anniversary of the original Bad News Bears movie, Consequence Of Sound’s Matt Melis has taken it upon himself to deliver a scouting report on the original Bears lineup. Melis displays an uncanny knowledge about that bunch of scamps, pointing to the Marx pedigree of outfielder Jimmy Feldman, the ability of Rudi Stein to get on base by getting hit with the ball, and the Hank Aaron hero-worship of bunter Ahmad Abdul-Rahim.
The movie holds up well, as sports parents may be worse now than they were in the ’70s, and who doesn’t like to drink beer while running their pool-cleaning service? The only thing that really stands out in a horrible way is shortstop Tanner Boyle’s tirade full of racial slurs. Melis predicts of Boyle’s future: “He’ll either mellow into a reliable, if colorful, shortstop who unknowingly says racist things on occasion (kinda like your grandma), or he’ll become chapter president of a local white supremacist organization and bring his co-members to ballgames.” Boyle notwithstanding, this is still a fun look at the prospective future of a fictional ball club. After all, who could have predicted that one of the Bears would wind up in Watchmen decades later?