This is the thirty-fourth in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.
BASEBALL LEGEND: The film Major League originally had a dramatic twist at the end involving the team’s owner.
Very few movies about sports have been embraced by a sports team as much as the film Major League has been embraced by the Cleveland Indians. At the time of 1989 release of the film, the Indians were mired in one of the worst three decade patches of baseball that you could imagine. After finishing second in 1959, the Indians would not finish above third for twenty-nine of the next thirty seasons (a third place finish in 1968 would be the only break in the streak). Not only that, but when the American League went to two divisions in 1969, the Indians finished last or second-to-last in sixteen of the twenty-one seasons (up to and including 1989).
So when a film about an Indians team made up of scrappy underdogs who somehow make the playoffs after everyone counts them out, well, that’s just the sort of thing a fan base loves to embrace, and embrace them they did. And when the actual Indians team started actually winning in the 1990s (including five straight division titles and a trip to the World Series in 1995 AND 1997), it was almost as if the film blessed the Indians (sort of like Jo-Bu blessing Pedro Cerrano’s bat)! So even today, when the Indians are once again in pretty bad shape, you’ll see promotional giveaways of Major League-related memorabilia at Indians games.
However much of a sports film classic Major League is, there’s always been a pretty major plot hole in the film. First of, if Rachel Phelps (the owner of the team, who is trying to get out of her lease with the stadium so that she can move the team to Florida, so she plots to make the team so bad that it will fail to make the minimum attendance requirements within the lease) is so set against the team winning, why not just cut the good players or send them to the minors? Secondly, once it is evident that the team will meet the minimum requirements, why does Phelps (who is played by Margaret Whitton) continue to rally against the team when going to the playoffs will make her more money than not going to the playoffs?
Well, screenwriter David S. Ward had a very good explanation for that – you see, in the original script, Phelps was secretly trying to help the team!
In a scene right before the big game at the end of the film that will determine if the Indians make the playoffs, team manager Lou Brown (played beautifully by James Gammon) confronts Phelps. The team’s hapless General Manager, Charlie Donovan, had secretly gone to Brown earlier in the season to reveal Phelps’ plot to move the team, and Brown had used her plan to motivate the team to play even harder, and it had resulted in a sizable turnaround for the team (who was one game under .500 when Donovan told Brown of the plot).
And now, with the last game of the season ready to be played, Brown turns in his notice for his resignation after the season ends.
Phelps responds that she WANTED Donovan to tell Brown, because she knew Brown would use that information to motivate the team. Brown incredulously asks, ” You tryin’ to make me believe you wanted us to win all along?”
After she nods, she explains her plan:
We were broke. We couldn’t afford anything better. Donald [her late husband who she inherited the team from] left the team nearly bankrupt. If we’d had another losing season, I would have had to sell the team. I knew we couldn’t win with the team we had, so I decided to bring in new players and see how they’d do with the proper motivation. There was never any offer from Miami. I made it all up.
When he doubts her, she points out the plot problem I mentioned earlier, if she wanted them to lose, why not just send the best players down to the minors?
Phelps then basically reveals that she discovered “Moneyball” years before Billy Beane did, as she explains how she put the team together:
You think this was all an accident? I personally scouted every member of this team, except Hayes, of course [Willie Hayes, played by Wesley Snipes, was a walk on to the team]. He was a surprise. They all had flaws which concealed their real talent, or I wouldn’t have been able to get them. But I knew if anyone could straighten them out, you could. And if you tell them any of this, I will fire you.
and as he shakes his head in disbelief, she tells him, “I love this team, Lou. Go get ‘em tonight.”
The scene was filmed, but test audiences reacted poorly to it. Basically, they had gotten so used to disliking her the whole movie that they were not prepared for her suddenly to be a “good guy.” So the producers dropped the scene and filmed some additional scenes of Phelps reacting to the Indians’ success with dismay (as naturally, they do win the division and make the playoffs).
Isn’t it amazing how much that would have changed the way you watched that film?
The alternate ending is available on the Major League: Wild Thing Edition DVD. Sadly, while I was working on this legend, actor James Gammon passed away. He was an impressive actor – may he rest in peace.
BASEBALL LEGEND: Jack Doyle was the first pinch-hitter in Major League history.
Jack Doyle was born in Ireland in 1869. He came over to America and attended Fordham University. He first played professional baseball in 1889 and was still involved working as a scout for the Chicago Cubs at the time of his death in 1958.
Doyle has often been credited as being the very first pinch-hitter in Major League history (heck, his page on Wikipedia still cites him as the first pinch-hitter). Part of this has to do with the fact that Doyle was always sure he was the first pinch-hitter in Major League history, and would tell anyone who cared to listen.
His story is that while playing for Cleveland in June of 1892, he was called up to hit in the ninth inning while playing Brookyn. He responded with a game-winning single.
While part of that story is untrue (Cleveland did not win the game), it IS true that he DID pinch-hit in that game. And that WAS one of the earliest examples of a player being a pinch-hitter.
However, Mickey Welch pinch-hit for the New York baseball team (before they were called the Giants) in August of 1889 (almost exactly 121 years ago to the day).
Welch MIGHT not be THE first (as perhaps there was an earlier example that has been lost to history), but he certainly was before Doyle.
BASEBALL LEGEND: As an adolescent, Mark Teixeira had an interesting way of expressing his appreciation for the band, Nirvana.
This made the rounds of the internet back in June, and it is such a strange story that I figured I’d best address it here.
Mark Teixeira is the All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees.
He was the runner-up for the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Born in 1980, as a pre-teen, Teixeira was a major fan of the band Nirvana, and especially its lead singer, Kurt Cobain.
The young man was SO into the group that when he was 12 years old, which was right smack in the middle of that two-three year period when Nirvana was pretty much the biggest band in the world (their 1991 album, Nevermind AND their 1993 album, In Utero, both hit #1 on the charts), the young Teixeira decided to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain.
By changing his name to Kurt Teixeira.
Now, being 12 years old and all, he couldn’t ACTUALLY change his name (legally, at least), but he effectively changed his name, as he began signing everything as “Kurt Teixeira.”
In an interview with MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, Teixeira’s mother spilled the beans. When asked about it, the first baseman replied:
I would fill out…anytime I’d fill anything out whether it was for comic books or CD clubs or anything I would write Kurt Teixeira just because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was twelve years old and I was having fun with it.
The interview didn’t go into how Teixeira reacted when Cobain killed himself in 1994. I imagine he did not take it too well.
Thanks to Harold Reynolds for getting the info, Margy Canterna Teixeira for spilling the beans about her son and Mark Teixeria for confirming it.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org