25 Little Known Facts About ‘Major League’

But in 1989 Paramount Pictures released Major League, a film that had just moderate success in theaters but eventually went on to become a pop culture phenomenon.  Backed by an impressive cast of up-and-coming talent and Hollywood veterans, Major League is 107 minutes of laughs and one-liners, a sort of a Bad News Bears meets A League of Their Own – though not intended for younger audiences.

The present-day film follows Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, a team in the midst of a World Series drought that dates back to 1948.  Fed up with the dreadful team and city, an ex-showgirl who married the owner of the team plans to create the worst team possible in the hopes of relocating the team to Miami.  Has-beens, never-will-bes, ex-cons and minor leaguers make up the band of misfits who, in the end, turn their losing ways around just to spite their new owner.

It might be difficult to believe that Major League made its theatrical debut 25 years ago this very week, turning Wesley Snipes into a household name, ‘Wild Thing’ into a hit song and leaving us all hankering for a bucket of “sacrificed” Kentucky Fried Chicken.  To celebrate the film’s milestone anniversary, we decided to look back at some of the little known facts that made it one of our favorites.

#25 – The American Express Scene Almost Never Was

The American Express Commercial almost never made it into the final film, as negotiations with the credit card company were slow moving.  It wasn’t until the second-to-last day of filming that the company agreed to be used as part of the “Don’t Steal Home Without It” slogan.

#24 – Charlie Sheen Wasn’t Acting On The Mound

The 24-year-old star of Wall Street was tackling a completely new kind of role but felt somewhat at home as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.  Sheen pitched in high school and was even offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Kansas; and while he couldn’t heave it 100 mph, he was able to reach a velocity in the high 80s.  For the film he threw over 100 pitches a day, according to an interview.

#23 – Corbin Bernsen Actually Punched Sheen

At the end of the movie, as the Indians are celebrating, Bernsen’s character, Roger Dorn, suckers Vaughn in the face for sleeping with his wife.  Well, Bernsen actually connected on the punch which was supposed to look like a punch without the impact.  Not to lose a day of shooting, the crew turned Sheen around as not to expose the red bump on his face.

#22 – The Milwaukee Indians of Cleveland

Home game scenes were filmed at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, while the exterior shots of the stadium were those of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium – both have since been torn down.  If you look close during a few scenes, you can see the Milwaukee Brewers’ logo not covered up, as well as a logo for WTMJ, an NBC Affiliate for Milwaukee.

#21 – The Wedding That Never Was

According to IMDB, the film was supposed to end with a scene featuring the wedding of Jake Taylor – played by Tom Berenger – and Lynn Wells – played by Rene Russo – but was cut from the film.  Producers believed the scene would put the focus on the two characters, rather than the team.

#20 – Dennis Haysbert Improvises

Haysbert, who plays Cuban-crusher Pedro Cerrano, actually hit a home run in the scene of the final game against the New York Yankees.  The actor was so surprised he did so that he carried the bat to first base with him, instead of dropping it – a move that was not in the script.

#19 – Former Major Leaguer Doubled as Taylor

Former big league catcher Steve Yeager, who played 15 seasons in the MLB, doubled for Berenger and made many of the throws to first base.  Yeager also served as a technical advisor for the film and a coach for several of the actors.  Oh, and he was also base coach Duke Temple on the screen.

#18 – Director David S. Ward Didn’t Know Bob Uecker was an Announcer

When Ward asked Uecker to be in the film, he didn’t know the actor best known for Miller Lite commercials and the sitcom Mr. Belvedere had actually been the play-by-play announcer for the Brewers the last 20 years.  The character of Harry Doyle was clearly an easy transition.

#17 – Dog Days of Summer

The film was shot in the summer of 1988, which turned out to be one of the hottest on record in the greater Milwaukee area.  This is apparent in the final game, which is supposed to take place in fall, when the players are wearing jackets and long sleeves, while the fans are in shorts and short sleeves.

#16 – Clu Haywood was Based on Actual Player

Every movie needs a villain and for Major League it was Haywood.  The Triple Crown winner was actually based on 11-year MLB pitcher Pete Vuckovich, who spent his career with the Brewers, White Sox, Cardinals and Blue Jays.  Vuckovich actually adlibbed the line: “How’s your wife and my kids?”  It was something he believed a MLB player would say in that situation.

#15 – Willy Mays Never Throws a Ball

Snipes, who played Mays, must’ve had a candy arm.  Though he was highly athletic, Snipes had never played baseball before the movie and while he makes a few big grabs, we never see him hit the cutoff man.  And every time he steals a base it’s in slow-motion, to make him look faster.

#14 – The Alternate Ending

The film’s original ending shows owner Rachel Phelps revealing she actually believed in the team and was rooting it on the whole time.  The ending can be seen in the 2007 DVD re-release.  Fans didn’t like the change, so the crew had to re-film it, creating a set in England for Margaret Whitton, the actress playing Phelps, who was then working overseas.

#13 – Sheen Took Steroids for the Part

In a 2011 interview, Sheen admitted taking steroids for six to eight weeks in preparation of the role of Vaughn.  He said it added speed to his fastball.

#12 – Now Batting, Centerfielder, Rickey Henderson?

The character of Mays was based on MLB superstar Rickey Henderson.  Then a member of the Yankees, Henderson was a base stealing machine who had incredible speed and was able to climb the wall and make home run stealing grabs – much like Snipes’ character.

#11 – Jobu is Alive and Well

The voodoo doll made popular by Cerrano could hit a curveball, drink rum and smoke cigars, becoming an unofficial team mascot in the film.  The prop is still around, in fact Morgan Creek Productions’ managing director Brian Robinson owns the doll, which sits atop his piano with rum and a cigar.  He’s kept it all these years and admits to turning down upwards of $35,000 for Jobu.

#10 – Where Are All the Fans?

The Opening Day scene of the film depicted a small crowd at the Indians’ stadium.  That was not typically the case, however.  The real Indians would almost always sell out, or have a near sell out, for the first home game of the season.  It was subsequent games that wouldn’t bring in fans during their lean years.

#9 – A Lifelong Clevelander

Ward is actually a diehard Cleveland Indians fan.  The reason he chose the team was simple, as he created the movie because he thought it would be the only way to see his team actually win something.

#8 – Tricks With the Mound

Tricks were used to make the actors seem like they were as good as their characters. The pitching mound in a real baseball stadium is 60 feet, six inches away from home plate, but to give the impression that Vaughn’s fastball was traveling 100 m.p.h., the crew moved the mound up 10 feet and shot from behind the plate, that way the viewer wouldn’t notice the distance difference.

#7 – An Homage to the 1941 Indians

After Vaughn strikes out Haywood, he is congratulated in the dugout by a player named “Keltner”.  Ken Keltner was the third baseman on the 1941 Indians whose fielding heroics ended Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak – heroics that are still discussed to this day.

#6 – The Original Title Wasn’t Major League

The original working title was actually Dead Last.

#5 – Predictions of Things to Come

Phelps’ ultimate goal was to move the team to Miami.  In 1997, the Indians made it back to the World Series, losing in seven games to the Florida Marlins, a team based in Miami.  Ironic, huh? 

#4 – The Role of Mays Beat Up Snipes

For the final baseball scene, the crew had to bring in softer dirt and pad up Snipes’ legs.  The actor had slid so many times that he had torn up his legs.  Ward has said in interviews that Snipes’ legs were covered in raspberries because he wasn’t used to sliding that much.

#3 – Spring Training Extras

Many of the baseball players in the scenes filmed at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona were members of the University of Arizona baseball team, since experience was needed.

#2 – A Packed House

For the stadium scenes, about 20,000 extras were brought in to fill the stands.  When the team first ran onto the field with the crowd roaring, Dennis Haysbert admitted to being emotionally overwhelmed by the experience.  According to IMDB, Yeager noticed Haysbert’s reaction and said to him: “That’s what it’s like 162 times a year.”

#1 – The Real American League Champions

In the film, the Yankees are described as the defending American League Champions.  At the time of the movie’s release, the Yankees hadn’t won the AL Pennant since 1981. The Oakland Athletics were the American League Champions, and World Series Champions, at the time.

Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.