I love baseball, but I’m terrible at it. As a kid we used to play baseball in the cul-de-sac at the end of the street every day. When it came to organized ball, though, I only spent one less-than-stellar year in little league. I could always relate to the underdogs when it came to sports. Many people love underdog stories, which is why a film like The Bad News Bears became such a hit in 1976. Well every hit film deserves a copycat, so leave it to American International Pictures to bring us another batch of little league losers. Sharpen up your spikes for 1978’s Here Come the Tigers.
A young police officer, Eddie Burke (Richard Lincoln) gets roped into coaching a local little league team, the Tigers, after the previous coach goes crazy and climbs on a roof dressed as the Cleveland Indians mascot. Another cop, Burt (James Zvanut) decides to help his buddy out as an assistant coach, even though he knows next to nothing about baseball. When the two head down to the field for their first practice with the team, they find a ragtag group of foul-mouthed, nose picking, semi-delinquents who spend more time fighting with each other than they do shaggin’ fly balls.
A few days later, Eddie and Burt are on assignment and end up nabbing a kid who has been vandalizing cars all over town named Buster (aka Ball-buster) Rivera. Rather than send Buster off the juvenile hall, the judge decides he just needs to be put into a better environment…so she orders Eddie to take the boy in. So, that adds one more player to the team.
The team’s playing abilities start to improve somewhat, but they are still struggling. That is, until they find a new cleanup hitter in the form of a young karate expert, Umeki Siddaharo. How exactly the principles of martial arts make him a pint-sized Babe Ruth is not really clear…but ok. They also add an ace pitcher in the form of a deaf boy named Danny. The team soon starts winning and makes it the championship against the Panthers. However, on the eve of the big game, some of the Panthers players rough up the Tigers and dislocate Danny’s pitching arm in the process. Now it’s a race against time to bring in a special doctor who has a new technique for resetting the arm and getting Danny 100% functional again instantly. I have a feeling this movie isn’t exactly medically accurate, but whatcha gonna do?
Believe it or not, Here Come the Tigers was directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Two years after this he would direct a little horror movie called Friday the 13th. There are many who accuse Cunningham and writer Victor Miller (who also wrote this film under the pseudonym Arch McCoy) of, shall we say capitalizing on the success of Halloween with their blood-soaked summer camp saga. Well there is absolutely no question here that Here Come the Tigers was inspired by The Bad News Bears. The various players that make up the Tigers are very similar to many of the Bears. There’s the nerdy kid (in this film he’s an Eagle Scout who plays in his scout uniform hat instead of a ballcap), there’s the lone african-american boy, there’s the obnoxious one who won’t shut up, and there’s the one whose fingers spent more time in his nose than they do in a baseball glove. Though I will say that the Tigers, and their opponents as well, are a bit ahead of the Bears when it comes to females. There are several girls on the field in this film. Though strangely, one of the Tigers’ female players morphs from a player into a cheerleader midway through the film without any explanation as to why. Not exactly a step forward for women, and besides, there’s no cheerleaders in baseball…unless you’re the Miami Marlins.
Though this film has many characters that are similar to the Bears, the level of character development is nowhere near what we get in the earlier film. Most of the team members never move beyond being simple caricatures. There are a few moments where some of the young cast members get a chance to shine. I enjoyed the girl named Patty who plays 3rd base and often asks opposing players if they’d like to take her out sometime. On a whole, though, many members of the Tigers roster started to blur together after a while since few have much in the way of distinctive character traits.
It’s almost shameless how this film copies moments from The Bad News Bears beat for beat. Both the Bears and the Tigers see their fortunes change with the additions of a power hitter and an unexpected ace of a pitcher. Heck, this film even copies the bit where the other team tries to intentionally walk the slugger, who then swings wide and gets the hit anyway. Jackie Earle Haley is screaming “they stole my bit!” Oh, and we can’t forget the music. Just like how Bears adapted the music from Carmen for its soundtrack, Here Come the Tigers also takes well-known classical works and adapts them for its score.
Needless to say, this film has a bit of a problem when it comes to originality. That’s not to say it isn’t somewhat entertaining. The film is relatively family friendly. Though the Tigers don’t shy away from the sailor talk, at least they don’t throw around racial slurs like the Bears do. I do admit, there’s always a certain degree of enjoyment for me when it comes to underdog stories about kids and baseball. What moments of enjoyment I did get, though, were certainly clouded by the unshakeable fact that we’ve seen this before in a better movie.
There is kind of a fun moment in the movie where some of the Tigers have just seen Star Wars for the first time. Remember this was released in 78. One of the kids even says something about “Darth What-his-name.” Anyhow, the finale of the movie gives us the little league baseball equivalent of Luke Skywalker switching off his targeting computer to blow up the Death Star. As a Star Wars fan I got a kick out of the scene, but think of this film like this: if The Bad News Bears is Star Wars…then Here Come the Tigers is its Battle Beyond the Stars.