A film that often comes up when talking about baseball movies is the 1989 movie Major League. It featured the likes of Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Wesley Snipes as members of a rag-tag Cleveland Indians team. Most of the original cast returned for a sequel five years later…except Snipes who had apparently grown too big for his baseball britches. Then, nine years after the original, came one more attempt to keep the franchise alive…1998’s Major League: Back to the Minors.
This time around, former Indian Roger Dorn (Bernsen) is now the owner of the Minnesota Twins. He is in need of a new manager for the Twins’ minor league club, The Buzz. He ends up recruiting his old pal Gus Cantrell (Scott Bakula), an aging player who has been struggling as a minor league pitcher. Part of the reason Roger has his eye on Gus is that he needs someone who can help mold a hot young prospect, Billy “Downtown” Anderson (Walton Goggins). The rest of the team is an odd assortment, including the aging Pops Morgan (Thom Barry), a ballet dancer turned player (Kenny Johnson), and a slow-throwing braniac called Doc (Peter MacKenzie).
The team struggles at first, but Gus soon adds some veterans from the previous Major League films…Taka Tanaka (Takaaki Ishibashi) and voodoo practitioner Cerano (Dennis Haysbert). The team soon starts to become hot, even way outperforming their major league counterparts in the twin cities. In an effort to drum up some publicity, Dorn arranges for The Buzz to play an exhibition match against the Twins and their hot-tempered manager, Leonard Huff (Ted McGinley). When it looks like the minor league players are going to defeat the big leaguers, Huff arranges for freak power outage to stop the embarrassment.
The game does land Downtown the opportunity to head up to the majors, even though Gus thinks he’s not ready. Soon, The Buzz decide they want a rematch and the Twins head down to the minors for a final showdown.
I never have terribly high hopes for sequels that attempt to extend a series with what are pretty much unrelated storylines. There are a few thin threads that connect this third Major League film to the earlier entries, though several are a bit of a stretch. Having Roger Dorn as a team owner is understandable, but Tanaka and Cerano are definitely shoehorned in. Bob Uecker also continues in the role of play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle, but why he is now covering a minor league team instead of the Indians (as in the previous entries) is never explained.
Having said all this, I was surprised at how Back to the Minors actually manages to be pretty enjoyable. Scott Bakula is a great fit as a washed up player turned manager. I also enjoyed the very lovely Jensen Daggett as Gus’ fiance Maggie. The film could’ve benefited from more of her. Ted McGinley also manages to be somewhat funny as the uber jerk manager of the Twins. He’s a bit over-the-top and unhinged at times, but that kind of fits for a character that is supposed to be hated by the audience. It’s surprising that a major league team like the Twins would allow themselves to be portrayed in such a negative light in this film. Perhaps this why the team is not the Indians, which would’ve made more sense in the grand scheme of the series.
The film does suffer a bit in its general structure. It spends much of the film building toward the big game between The Buzz and the Twins. That seems like the logical climax. However, there’s still another half hour of the film following that, and a less than climactic final game between the two teams at the minor league stadium. The David vs Goliath showdown at the end would’ve worked better had it taken place in the massive, domed, major league stadium. As for the action that does take place in the world of the minors, we are missing the odd characters and less-than-glamourous conditions that really give the minors personality.
On a whole, though, Major League: Back to the Minors, is a much better film than I expected it to be. It has a fair share of laughs, some decent comedic performances, and an appreciation for the game. For a bunch of bushers, it’s not too shabby.