No sport creates stories quite like America’s pastime. The type of action on the diamond and the time between pitches give baseball a unique culture that has engaged fans over three different centuries. There are three baseball documentaries on Netflix that explore vastly different facets of the game: The Battered Bastards Of Baseball, No No: A Dockumentary, and Fastball. These films dig into a rebellious Minor League team, a pitcher who threw a no-hitter on LSD, and the history of baseball’s biggest pitch. There is also Long Shot, a documentary that reveals how baseball saved someone from death row. All four tell different stories that underscore the immense history of the game.
The Battered Bastards Of Baseball (2014)
If you were writing a movie about Minor League Baseball, The Battered Bastards Of Baseball would be perfect for the big screen. A real life Slapshot, the story of the Portland Mavericks is the tale of players who are described in the film as “hopeless dreamers looking for a second chance.” Owned by actor Kurt Russell’s father, Bing Russell, the Mavericks were an independent team who played in the Northwest League from 1973 through 1977.
Without any affiliation to a Major League franchise, Russell’s Mavericks were free to operate as they pleased. And they did. Their fun and irreverent style rankled the baseball world. In the team’s short run, Russell hired professional baseball’s first female general manager. He also signed the notorious Ball Four pitcher Jim Bouton. Mostly comprised of ex-big leaguers and guys just looking to play ball, the Mavericks blew away Minor League attendance records as fans embraced the team’s anti-establishment vibe.
The Mavericks’ renegade spirit carries through in the documentary. The antics in the film are a fun mutation of the fictional hi-jinks of Bull Durham, Brockmire, and Major League. Of all of the baseball documentaries on Netflix, The Battered Bastards Of Baseball is the one that will the most generate laughter. Watching video of the Portland Mavericks is a genuine reminder that the game is supposed to be fun.
No No: A Dockumentary (2014)
Of all the baseball documentaries on Netflix, No No: A Dockumentary was the only one that was radically different from my expectations. The film highlights the complex life of Dock Ellis. The pitcher started the 1971 All-Star Game and pitched in two World Series. Despite these feats, he went down in the annals of baseball for an unorthodox accomplishment. Ellis was best known for throwing a no-hitter while on LSD in 1970.
I went into No No anticipating that the movie would spend a great deal of time on the 1970 no-hitter. It is one of the most infamous baseball games ever played. No No took an entirely different route. The film does touch on the 1970 LSD game, but baseball is a side issue for No No. The documentary spends a great deal of time on Ellis’ off-field personality and substance abuse issues. In addition to alcohol, Ellis took amphetamines at a time when greenies were rampant in baseball.
One of the great stories in the documentary is a faux-sparring match between Ellis and Muhammad Ali in the clubhouse. Like Ali, Ellis also displayed a big persona for the sports media during a racially divisive time in professional sports. His style caused controversy. A 1971 incident caused Jackie Robinson to mail a supportive letter to Ellis.
At 100 minutes in length, No No is not a trim film, but it does shine a light on an interesting figure.
Long Shot (2017)
Long Shot is not quite a baseball documentary, but there is no doubt that America’s pastime is central to its story. The 40-minute Netflix film examines the incredible story of Juan Catalan. Catalan was arrested in 2003 for the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. Due to misconduct from police, Catalan was misidentified by an eyewitness. His defense attorney had to prove his client’s alibi: Catalan was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game that night.
It took recorded video board footage, cell phone records, and an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm to prove his innocence. Against all odds, the irreverent HBO comedy was filming an episode at the game and Larry David’s cameras caught a glimpse of Catalan.
Long Shot does a good job of cutting to the chase. The interviews primarily focus on Catalan’s attendance at the game and the people who played a role in proving his innocence. Catalan’s legal team, Larry David, and production staff from Curb Your Enthusiasm are all interviewed in the emotional documentary.
Fastball is not only the best of the baseball documentaries on Netflix, it is also one of the most interesting sports documentaries that I have ever seen. The film examines the primal, scientific, and historical aspects of baseball’s most explosive pitch. Narrated by Kevin Costner, Fastball interviews current players like Justin Verlander and David Price. Hall of Fame guests like Pat Gillick, Mike Schmidt, Goose Gossage, Hank Aaron, and Doug Harvey also offer their opinions on the pitch.
Their words and experience are also enhanced by a scientific study of the pitch. The documentary explores the physics of the fastball and previous methods of measuring velocity. This includes methods that would be unheard of now, such as a pitch racing a motorcycle. Fastball analyzes these methods to determine who has thrown the fastest recorded pitch ever.
The film also looks at the mythological side of the pitch. One tale Fastball unearths is the heartbreaking story of Steve Dalkowski. A Minor Leaguer who was plagued by an inability to locate his pitches, Dalkwowski’s velocity was rumored to be as fast as an unheard of 120 MPH. After finally discovering his ability to command his pitchers, Dalkowski was told that he would be promoted to the Orioles. On the final day of spring training, Dalkwoski fielded a ball, felt a pop in his elbow, and never saw the big leagues.
Fastball’s best attribute is its historical perspective. The film includes a comprehensive breakdown of great pitchers from Walter Johnson to Aroldis Chapman. This history is augment by archive footage, including the only known footage of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game. Like the scientific breakdowns and Hall of Fame round tables, the video will leave fans awestruck. Of all the baseball documentaries on Netflix, Fastball is the one that baseball fans should watch.
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