Yes, the movie opens with the melodious whir of a sprinkler misting water over a baseball field as the sun is rising on a perfect California day, and immediately I am captivated. Sunshine and baseball? Well, just plant me under the sun in front of any game, anywhere, anytime…and I am happy. The original Bad News Bears, released in 1976, stars Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow, and Tatum O’Neal. (Just a few among the perfectly cast characters.) 1976 was a great year all around… BiCentennial celebrations nationwide, my family’s first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, and the release of this classic movie. I first watched it many moons ago, but it never ceases to keep my attention, make me belly laugh, and reaffirm life lessons. The plot is simple; a horribly untalented little league baseball team from North Valley Los Angeles becomes better with the addition of two superstar players, and a coach (a former minor league pro-player) who is hopelessly devoted to alcohol and cigars. The movie does so much more than tell the hilarious story of a baseball team. It captures the essence of young boys (and one young girl) without the help of special effects or crazy cinematography. Through fast paced scenes, magical quotes, facial expressions, and perfectly picked music, the viewer learns (or re-learns) life’s simplest of lessons without even realizing it. A few movie quotes will help illustrate my point.
“This quitting thing; it’s a hard habit to break once you start.” (Coach Morris Buttermaker)
The team is down on itself after a huge opening day loss (massacre), and decides by team vote that they are going to quit the league. The boys are being ridiculed in school, and one scrappy young player (Tanner) got himself into a fight with “the whole 7th grade.” Buttermaker’s words of warning ring loudly and clearly through the their minds. How many times have we needed to hear these words when we are just about ready to give up on something? So true and so succinctly said that, to me, it is one of the greatest quotes of all time. I fall back on it often in my own life.
Ahmad: “I am pretty fast, aren’t I?” Buttermaker: “You’re very fast.”
Just 3 little words of praise, and you see the spark rise back into a young boy’s eyes. After he makes a bunch of errors in one game, Ahmad feels like a failure. He strips himself of his uniform and climbs a tree wearing only his briefs. Buttermaker follows behind him, and tries to lift his spirits. Buttermaker’s 3 word response has Ahmad beginning to believe in himself again because someone sees potential in him. Sometimes we forget how easy it is to help someone feel better about him/herself. All it takes it a moment and a few kind words. Both comical and emotionally charged, this scene is hard to forget.
“All I know is when we win a game, it’s a team win. When we lose a game, it’s a team loss.” (Buttermaker)
“You are not alone.” “We’re all in this together.” “There is no “I” in “TEAM.” How many times have you felt better just by hearing these words? It is not only what young kids, but also adults of all ages need to feel; the experience of it all, good or bad…just to live through it. Whether it be the wins and losses of the baseball season, or the ups and downs of life. The Bears do it as a team and celebrate at the end, no matter what the outcome. Celebrate the happiness and share the sadness together. It’s easier that way.
This movie touches on issues that are part of growing up and being a “grown-up.” Glimpse into the tender hearts of young kids, watch the “active” bonding of boys… sticking up for one another, learning to accept each other. You will laugh out loud at the scene about wearing athletic supporters. You are sure to identify with one of the team members, be it the team brain cell and statistician, the geeky “4-eyed ” kid who can’t pitch a ball , the overweight boy addicted to chocolate, or the only girl caught between wanting to own ” fancy ‘French’ jeans” and wanting to throw the best fast ball in the league. You will be reminded of the trials of growing up: being bullied, being different, just not fitting in.
Not only does this movie walk me down memory lane, but it also leaves me thinking about what I learned when I was young. That would be simple, invaluable truths. “You should not give up.” “You are special.” “You should always extend a hand to those in need.” Whether it was “down the park” behind my house, during the car ride in the station wagon to Montrose ice cream shop, or playing “kick the can” at dusk on Trickett Road… wherever it may have been, I learned life’s fundamental lessons somewhere, through someone, (and not always the same someone)- special.
It’s a movie about a baseball team. It’s a story about life. It’s a classic.