Major League: Back to the Minors
Despite reading over and over that the 1998 film Major League: Back to the Minors is nothing short of a cinematic abomination, I went ahead and watched it. I had heard that the Salt Lake Buzz were featured prominently in the movie, and curiosity got the best of me. I rented it online, pressed play, and witnessed 100 minutes of…something. I say that as both the Minor League Geek and as a watcher of movies.
My goal with this page (as with the entire Minors in the Movies series) is to dig into the specific MLG aspects of the film. Normally I don’t give a summary or review, but in order to do my thing, I think I need to give a quick synopsis. Here goes: Scott Bakula plays an over-the-hill pitcher who washes out of the minors in the Twins’ system. The big league club then offers him a job managing their Triple-A club, primarily to help a hitting prospect on his way through the farm. He takes the job, cobbles together a scrappy troupe of ballplayers, turns their fortunes around, and goes head-to-head with the Minnesota Twins in an exhibition game. And some more stuff happens, I guess.
There are only a few threads of connection between this film and the original Major League or even Major League 2. Corbin Bernsen has a tiny token role (what did they pay him?) as the Twins’ front office exec. Bob Uecker plays the announcer, though in a more minor role (no pun intended) than the other movies. Dennis Haysbert and Jobu return, so I guess that’s something, right?
Going into the film with low expectations was helpful, and it was immediately evident that this was a low-quality movie. It just seemed very cheap–the writing, a lot of the acting, the sets, etc. It smelled like a crappy movie. With that said, there were some redeemable elements to it. Bakula does a fine job in his role–certainly no worse than Kevin Costner in Bull Durham or Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Ted McGinley, the guy who played Al Bundy’s neighbor in Married…with Children, is immensely entertaining as the unlikable manager of the Twins. Most intriguing to me was that it is a snapshot of minor league baseball in the late-nineties, though that proved to be problematic throughout. I think the way I’ll approach this mess is to go through the movie chronologically and lay it out piece by gnarly piece.
The film begins with Bakula’s character pitching for the Fort Myers Miracle of the Class-A Advanced Florida State League. This makes at least a bit of sense, as the Miracle were then (as now) in the Twins’ system. But what is the burgundy-shirted team in the background?
Uh, it’s the Hudson Valley Renegades. The, ah, Short-Season A, New York-Penn League, Hudson Valley Renegades. As soon as I saw this, I realized that authenticity was going to be tossed out the window and I was in for a ride. Now, why are the Renegades playing the Miracle? The connection is that both teams were then partially owned by Marv Goldklang and his ragtag group of minor league owners, some of whom (e.g. Bill Murray) have ties to Hollywood. Still, it’s disconcerting to see Fort Myers and Hudson Valley–two teams that are active today–squaring off against each other.
As we move along in the film, Corbin Bernsen’s character coaxes Bakula into checking out a prospect in the Twins’ system. He says something like “let’s head down” to see him play. Where do they “head down,” you might ask?
The answer is apparently New Britain, Connecticut, home of the New Britain Rock Cats. Of course, the ballpark is surrounded by vegetation that suggests the Deep South, so I’d venture that the Rock Cats logos were just slapped up in South Carolina, where the film was shot. By now, a clear pattern is emerging. The filmmakers were apparently just slapping teams together and calling it good.
There’s another clear connection between the Buzz, Miracle, and Rock Cats–they were all Twins’ affiliates. Since the filmmakers didn’t care about authenticity, my guess is that they used teams that they found about through word of mouth. Since they already had an agreement with the Twins, they mined their farm system for teams to use. But wait, who are the Rock Cats playing against, you might ask?
Uh, it’s the Cape Fear Crocs of the Single-A South Atlantic League. Take a moment to meditate on this image to the left. We have two teams squaring off: one a Double-A team from Connecticut and one a Single-A team from South Carolina. That is some weird Croc-Cat action, indeed. Nothing like seeing a picture of things put together that don’t seem to go together.
The presence of the Cape Fear Crocs, a team based in Fayetteville, South Carolina, confirms that most of the teams that we see in this film are there for convenience. This becomes even more obvious as the film advances to the “Triple-A” level. In the late-nineties, the Salt Lake Buzz were Minnesota’s Triple-A team. In this film, the Buzz are also the Twins’ top team, but they are called….wait for it…..the South Carolina Buzz.
It never says which league that the SC Buzz play in, but the real-life teams they play against are all Sally League. That’s right. The Triple-A match-ups are between a fictional team using the real-life branding elements of a real-life Triple-A team, but vying against fictional teams that are using the real-life branding elements of Single-A teams.
First up, we have the Piedmont Boll Weevils. The Weevils show up several times throughout the film, and it takes a sharp eye to notice which team it is, let alone get a good screenshot. Still, it’s unmistakably the Kannapolis, North Carolina-based team that, along with the SLC Buzz and Cape Fear Crocs, would be defunct by the end of the 2000 season. The biggest surprise here is that the Weevils were using helmets with the Phillies’ P stylized into a B. This is the same cap logo that was used by the Batavia Clippers, another Phillies’ affiliate in the nineties. I was shocked to see this, because I had assumed that the Boll Weevils had batting helmets that were identical to Philly’s, with the P standing for Piedmont. (Heck, I even own an action figure of Ricky Williams wearing a P cap and Weevils gear.) Also, right around the time that the movie was shot, the Clippers had become the Batavia Muckdogs, and images from that time suggest that they used the Philly P too. Hmm. Did the Boll Weevils inherit the old Batavia helmets? That is an unsolved mystery.
The other two minor league teams that show up both exist today in more or less the same form as they did twenty years go. These teams, along with the Boll Weevils, are featured several times throughout the film to serve as Buzz opponents. The first is a team that checks both the Goldklang box and the South Carolina box: the Charleston RiverDogs. I could’ve used a still from the game action, but this one seems more appropriate.
Finally, we have the Hickory Crawdads. The only notable thing here is that the Crawdads were a White Sox affiliate at that time, and the jerseys have a cool sleeve patch showing the old white sock logo, which I was always a fan of.
Speaking of socks, I want to share my favorite line from the movie. At the end of the film, Ted McGinley’s character loses his big league job and becomes the manager of the Buzz. While whining about this, he says, “I’m not a Yankee or a Pirate or even a Red Sock. I’m A bumblebee. Yeah, that’s what I am. A Buzz.”
Major League: Back to the Minors never generated much of a buzz, though, and as of this writing, it holds an abysmal 21% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the MLG will forever cherish this bizarre work of pop culture ephemera.
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