102 minutes of Discomfort:
Bad News Bears
Seems my summer reflections have been revolving around the game of baseball. This does seem to make sense to me. Baseball and fastpitch played a critical role throughout my childhood. Some of my fondest memories and friendships revolve around the round ball. The number of hours I spent at practices, games or just goofing around the neighborhood is immeasurable.
Last week I rewatched The Bad News Bears. The movie came up randomly in a conversation with a loved one, as most things do. She mentioned she had never seen the movie. This caught me by surprise. I suggested we watch it that night if I could find it available in a streaming app.
I’m not referring to the new, sterilized 2005 version, mind you. Rather, the raw, gritty 1976 original.
As luck would have it, it was available on a movie channel app. I came to discover this meant we would be watching the unedited version. Truthfully, I don’t think I ever saw this version growing up.
I was born in 1974. Back in the day, I would have watched The Bad News Bears for free on public broadcast television. Reflecting upon the unedited version we watched last week, I now realize they must have hacked away at how, let’s just say, “politically incorrect” the edited 70s version was. I warned her it would be a little rough to watch.
Boy, how I understated that!
A Little League of Their Own
The plot of The Bad News Bears is simple. In fact, it has been used and reused in other popular movies over the years. Essentially, it’s the same story as A League of Their Own. Only, The Bad News Bears features kids being ill-treated by adults rather than oppressed WWII housewives. Each group has been assigned a has-been manager who once almost was. Now, he wallows in his missed opportunity. He is flagrantly drowning it deep in alcohol and self-pity.
That’s right, some might confuse The Bad News Bears to be a children’s feel good movie. But, it does little to nothing to make you feel good. Unless, you like laughing at other people’s shortcomings and misfortunes. In fact – at least as an adult – it actually made me feel lousy!
It was essentially 102 minutes of what I would call child abuse.
Seriously. The Bears are managed by a shameless, unpredictable drunk. He has no business being around children.
A drunk who publically brings alcohol with him to the little league baseball diamond. Throughout the first half of the movie, you don’t NOT see him caressing a drink of some variety (he doesn’t discriminate).
In one scene, a few of the kids are preparing him a dry martini (shaken not stirred) while he tells them of an anecdote from his good ole’ days in the minor leagues. In another scene, after a good game, he gives all the kids on the team a bottle of icy cold beer to reward their performance. I mean, how else do you celebrate after a little league win?
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Then there is the verbal and the physical abuse. This is where ALL the adults in charge of the kids join in. Yelling, swearing, name calling, intimidating, racial slurring, belittling, pushing and grabbing.
It’s a touch more than a little rough to watch!
Clearly, the kids have learned by watching the adult behavior, too. One of the smallest players on The Bad News Bears struggles to complete a sentence without including a racial slur or using biased language. I laughed out loud at his character only because it hit so close to home.
The part I was hung up on was the fact that when I was a kid, I actually thought this movie existed within the realm of possibility. Sure, maybe some of the behavior was a bit on the extreme side, But, it was still within a range of what my little league friends and I could have expected to see, hear and feel. In fact, rewatching The Bad News Bears actually felt a bit triggering.
I thought maybe I was exaggerating this to myself. So, I checked in with my little brother to authenticate my memories. He is only a year younger than me so we share many of these difficult childhood memories together.
Bro quickly agreed with my assessment and did me one better. He reminded me of all the little league games where such and such’s dad would get hammered, while yelling and screaming at the volunteer umpires throughout.
And then there was such and such’s dad who coached his ‘major league’ team. This guy took Little League so seriously, one might think he was aiming his sights on a World Series ring. Miss a practice for a family summer road trip? Think again. You’d be riding the pine. Little League was serious business.
Despite all of this awfulness, their too lies hope. I’m happy to report the movie wasn’t all bad. Within all the crudeness of 70s “Make America Great Again”, I was surprised to actually find something else: Tenderness. Yes, I wrote that. Tenderness.
She Has True Grit
There were a number of scenes where the offender called themselves out for being as awful as they were. About half way through the movie, Coach Buttermaker recognizes he is a complete jerk. Believe it or not, he then takes responsibility for it. He doesn’t so much apologize with words but more so with actions. Buttermaker decides to clean his act up and to treat the kids better. And not just a little better, a LOT better. He has an epiphany: Baseball is just a game and winning isn’t everything.
You see this epiphany occur with a few other characters, too. And the only thing that made this possible was to get into the gritty ugliness of the truth.
Difficult subjects were dealt with, instead of tucked away behind closed doors and within coded language. I hate to admit it, but I actually found this part to be refreshing.
The movie also featured a girl, Amanda, as the strongest player on the team. One could argue the bad boy on the Harley Davidson dirt bike named Kelly Leak turns out to be the best player in the history of Little League baseball. But, I disagree. Amanda’s smart, innovative, talented beyond belief and up against the greatest of all odds. She has true grit. Inversely, Kelly has entitlement and a bad attitude.
I recall this being true of most girls who would rise through the ranks of boys’ baseball. Remember, these were the days before girls’ fastpitch existed in earnest. I played with boys until I was 12 years old. If you wanted to play ball as a kid in the 70s and 80s, it would be with the boys. You HAD to be better. In fact, it made you be better. I recall it not being uncommon to see a girl on the mound throwing a stingy fastball.
It Was a Different Time Back Then..
Saying it was a different time back then, is putting it lightly. I challenge you to watch The Bad News Bears movie again. I guarantee you will be offended. But if you watch it with an open mind, you will be a little surprised by the hidden kindness, too.
Do you have thoughts on The Bad News Bears or other Movies from our Childhood? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas or experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you find this article helpful, please share it. Please join us, if you have yet to do so. Subscribe below and receive articles like this one in your email box weekly. Thank you!
Read More: SUMMER LEARNING:
Suggestions for ‘Bored’ Children
All Rights Reserved • © 2021 Grumble Services LLC • grumbleservices.com