Major League (1989) review

Major League posterDirector: David Ward

Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, Dennis Haysbert, James Gammon

CERRANO – “Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straight ball, I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.”

HARRIS – “You know, you might wanna think about taking Jesus Christ as your saviour instead of fooling around with all this stuff.”

CERRANO – “Ah, Jesus. I like him very much. But he no help with curveball.”

HARRIS – “Are you trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?”

Let me cut to the chase: if you’re from the UK, chances are you don’t care about baseball and haven’t heard of Major League. And yet – spoilers – I’ve given it five stars. Lol wut etc.

The truth is, I’m slightly biased here. I have family who lived in Cleveland, Ohio and as a result I grew up following the Cleveland-based sports teams, most notably the Cleveland Browns of the NFL and the Cleveland Indians of the MLB.

Major League, a comedy movie about the Indians, has therefore featured in my life for more than two decades. Over the years I’ve watched my worn-out VHS copy, DVD copy and Blu-ray copy so many times I could probably act the whole thing out from start to finish.

Not necessarily wearing the same outfits though, you understand
Not necessarily wearing the same outfits though, you understand

It doesn’t need any serious baseball knowledge in order to be enjoyed, so even if you’re an anti-baseball snob I strongly recommend you read on. Look, just humour me.

When Major League opens, the Cleveland Indians are in a slump (as they indeed were during the 1980s). The team is terrible, fans aren’t turning up and the club’s owner has just died.

His ex-showgirl wife, Rachel Phelps, takes over the team, but the rest of the board doesn’t realise she’s got a diabolical plan, one that will end the Indians for good.

You see, Miami is offering to build a brand new stadium and give Phelps bumloads of bucks if the Indians shut up shop and relocate (because that can happen in American sports).

The fact she has a haircut slightly similar to that of a young Thatcher is purely coincidental, I'm sure
The fact she has a haircut slightly similar to that of a young Thatcher is purely coincidental

The problem is, the team has a contract with the city of Cleveland that states they can only move if the annual attendance drops below a certain figure.

Phelps’ plan, therefore, is to put together the shittest team of morons she can find in the hope that the Indians will finish dead last, turning the fans away in their droves and keeping attendance figures low enough to trigger the clause.

Naturally, the twist is that this team of talentless dicks actually starts to gel, winning a couple of games here and there. Concerned, Phelps comes up with all manner of new methods to hold them back and give their morale a kicking.

Their chartered jet is replaced with a rickety single-propeller effort that transports chickens at the same time. Eventually flight is scrapped completely and they’re forced to travel round America in a rundown bus instead. Their locker room amenities, like hot water and jacuzzis, are chucked out too.

Eventually the team discovers what’s going on and learns that even if they don’t finish last, Phelps will just get rid of them all next season and send them back to the minor leagues, replacing them with another set of no-hopers.

And these don't look like the sort of fans who are up for moving to Miami
And these don’t look like the sort of fans who are up for moving to Miami

“Well, I guess there’s only one thing to do,” declares team captain Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger). “Win the whole. Fuckin’. Thing.”

Major League, then, is your typical ‘team of underdogs overcome adversity to perform above expectations’ story, but one that’s enhanced with consistently hilarious dialogue. This is partly thanks to the brilliant cast of colourful characters that make up the Indians team.

Although most of them share the spotlight at times, the main plot focuses on the aforementioned Taylor, an aging player who just wants one more season in the spotlight as he struggles to deal with the reality that his ex is marrying a dickhead.

"There's the wanker who's marrying my missus"
“There’s the wanker who’s marrying my missus”

Meanwhile, he’s got a constant beef with Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), another veteran who’s only interested in two things: cheating on his wife, and putting in half the effort on the field so he doesn’t get injured.

Despite Taylor technically being the star however, the ‘heroes’ of Major League are three rookies who’ve been plucked from anonymity to join the Indians. Each of them shares that familiar sports movie trope: they’ve each got one particular talent, but they also have a bad habit that hinders it, one they have to deal with in order to succeed.

Take hot-headed rookie ‘Wild Thing’ Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), an ex-con brought in from the California Penal League (“How’d you end up playing there?” “Stole a car”).

Ah, Charlie. Young Charlie, you bloody heart-throb, before all your nonsense
Ah, Charlie. Young Charlie, you bloody heart-throb, before all your nonsense

It quickly emerges that Rick has one of the fastest throwing arms ever seen, but his accuracy is so poor he’s in danger of killing his opponents every time he pitches against them. Cue a pair of novelty thick-rimmed specs as he tries to battle not only with his vision, but his public image.

Then there’s ‘Willie Mays’ Hayes (Wesley Snipes), a cocky young upstart who’s named himself after baseball legend Willie Mays. His running speed is incredible, but he’s got no actual baseball skills to speak of so he’s essentially useless for anything other than stealing bases.

Or, as coach Lou Brown (the brilliantly raspy-voiced James Gammon) puts it: “Well, you may run like Mays but you hit like shit.”

Hayes buys himself 100 pairs of gloves at the start of the season, and promises to pin one up on his living room wall every time he steals a base. That's how much of a cocky prick he is
Hayes buys himself 100 pairs of gloves at the start of the season, and promises to pin one up on his living room wall every time he steals a base. That’s how much of a cocky prick he is

Finally, there’s Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), an enormous mountain of a man who practices voodoo. A demon with a bat, Cerrano can smash the ball right out of the park and beyond… as long as it’s thrown straight at him.

If the ball curves, slides or drops in any way, Cerrano can’t hit it, which is why he regularly offers rum to his voodoo god Jobu (“ees very bad to steal Jobu’s rum… ees very bad”) in the hope that he can help him hit curveballs.

At its core, then, Major League is essentially the same story three times – a great pitcher to needs to work on his control, a great runner who needs to work on his skill, a great batter who needs to work on hitting cuveballs – with a love story on top. So why do I love it so much?

Because it’s funny. Simple as that. Each major character provides numerous laugh-out-loud moments, the supporting cast is just as hilarious and the camaraderie between the teammates is infectious.

Here's Cerrano and Jobu just chilling out. Please don't fuck with them
Here’s Cerrano and Jobu just chilling out. Please don’t mess with them

That, plus I firmly believe Major League uses the word “fuck” better than any other film.

It’s hard to explain because on paper (well, on screen) these lines don’t look particularly funny, but it’s the way in which they’re delivered that has me buckled over every time.

Whether it’s the coach’s reaction to seeing Rick’s jailbird attire for the first time (“look at this fuckin’ guy”), his response to Snipes risking a stylish catch to entertain the fans (“nice catch Hayes, don’t ever fuckin’ do it again”) or Cerrano’s frustrated outburst at his voodoo god (“I say FUCK you, Jobu”), it’s always delivered out perfectly.

There’s even a recurring joke based around the word, in which a group of Indians fans working on a building site give their thoughts on the team throughout (“Who are these fuckin’ guys?”, “Hey, these guys don’t look too fuckin’ good”). If you’re a child like me and appreciate a good, effective F-bomb, you’ll be in heaven here.

Case in point
Case in point

Sweary bits aside, Major League is just fun. You may be looking at the score and wondering why a film that’s “just fun” gets a five-star rating but I’ve already addressed this: it’s because it’s my site.

This is a film that I watched constantly when I was younger and it’s a film I continue to watch today. Whenever I call my brother it occasionally ends in Major League quote-offs in which we conduct conversations made out of lines from the movie.

There’s a good chance that if you watch Major League you won’t see what I do. I’m almost certain some of the magic I see in it today is fuelled partly by nostalgia and happy childhood memories. And if you don’t like baseball, you obviously won’t get as much out of it as I do (though, like I say, you don’t need to know the sport to understand the story).

All I ask is that you give it a go. You might watch it and think “well, that was underwhelming”. In fact, you probably will. But there’s also a chance you’ll fall in love with it and love it for what it is, a sports movie with a likeable cast, a brilliant sense of humour and the most versatile use of the word “fuck” in movie history.


Major League‘s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see which other films have made the grade.

Frustratingly, because we couldn’t give an eighth of a fuck about baseball Major League isn’t currently available in the UK, meaning the only way to get it is to import the US Blu-ray (which is at least region-free) or the US DVD (which will need a region-free player).  Luckily Amazon UK has sellers offering both reasonably cheaply. Here’s the region-free Blu-ray (check the new/used section) and here’s the DVD. If you’re American, here’s the Blu-ray and DVD.

One alternative is useful for those who have access to the American version of Netflix (and if you live in the UK it’s easy enough to get), because Major League is currently available there.


One thought on “Major League (1989) review

  1. Man, I love this fuckin’ movie! I’m just like you: I saw it way back when I was a kid and I just loved it instantly. The sweary gardeners, the sweary stevedores, the sweary team, the songs, Harry Doyle!… Just perfect. And juuuuuuuuuust a bit outside. The Wild Thing Edition blu-ray is amazing too, by the way. Tons of extras.

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