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Why The Movie Major League Became Such A Big Hit

What does it take to make a hit movie that’s about hitting in baseball? In a word: chemistry.

The 1989 movie Major League featured some of the most popular actors of the time, including Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger, and Dennis Haysbert. This dream casting made the movie not only a joy to watch, but also a joy to make, and resulted in a baseball classic. According to writer-director David S. Ward, “I thought, the only way the Indians [baseball team] will ever win anything in my lifetime is if I make a movie where they do. And obviously it has to be a comedy because nobody would believe it as a drama.”

Photo: IMDB.com

Looking For Just The Right Actors

Making a sports movie poses a significant challenge: the casting of actors who might not be very athletic, but who have the ability to believably play accomplished professional athletes. Initially, Ward faced difficulty when it came to finding a studio that would back his movie, but eventually Morgan Creek agreed to fund the project and suggested a reunion between actors Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger. The two actors, who had successfully worked together on the acclaimed military saga Platoon, were all in.

Ward then went about organizing a training camp to be overseen by Steve Yeager from the Dodgers. It didn’t take long before they all realized that Sheen was as skilled at baseball as he was at acting. According to Berenger, “Charlie was great. The first day he started throwing to me, nine of his first 10 pitches were on the edge of the strike zone—that’s how much control he had.”

Sheen appeared to be in his element, and knew his way around a fastball. “I had a great arm. I was just born with it. I played at Santa Monica High, but because of academic [difficulties], they pulled me off the team.”

Photo: YouTube.com

Training Them To Be Players

The training camp served to weed out actors who were trying out for parts but whose baseball skills weren’t up to par. According to Ward, “I had actors coming in and saying that they had played Triple A with the Cardinals. Then I’d take them outside, and they couldn’t throw it 15 feet. They just lied.”

As the training days went on, the crop of potential Major League actors was thinned. Individuals selected for parts in the movie began to form close bonds and develop the type of camaraderie often found on real baseball teams. Haysbert fondly remembered, “I don’t think there was ever a closer cast. We hung out together. We went to bars together. We were a team. James Gammon had these great poker games.”

Charlie Sheen, not surprisingly, continued to hone is bad boy image. But he wasn’t exactly alone: partying, drinking, and womanizing abounded as the set took on the feel of freewheeling fraternity. Liberties were taken and pranks pulled, all as the fictitious baseball team became a family of sorts – albeit one that, at times, seemed more intent on fun and frolic than serious acting.

Photo: IMDB.com

Like Striking Gold

As could be expected not every actor arrived on set with the athletic skills needed to fully portray his character in the film. Ward didn’t hold back when it came to describing Wesley Snipes’ prowess on the field. “The funny thing is Wesley, who plays a speed demon, is not very fast in real life. That’s why we always shot him in slow motion. In regular motion he doesn’t look that fast.” Ah, the magic of moviemaking.

Sheen, on the other hand, didn’t shrink from doing whatever was necessary to make his performance in the film believable. After the film’s release, he admitted that “…I was enhancing my performance a little bit. It was the only time I ever did steroids. I did them for like six or eight weeks…My fastball went from 79 to like 85.”

But, as with most things in life, all good things must come to an end. The movie wrapped. Cleats were hung up. Bats and balls were discarded. And it became clear that, just like on a real baseball team, a combination of chemistry and talent had produced an undeniable hit.