The Batter’s Eye: Bad News Bears

One thing I love about baseball is how open and accepting it is. It’s a game anyone can play, even if they can’t play it well.

Bad News Bears poster

Bad News Bears (1976, directed by Michael Ritchie) is about a group of misfit children on a terrible Little League team. Not helping matters is that their coach, Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is an alcoholic ex-minor league player who is more interested in drinking than he is in coaching.

After a forfeit, Buttermaker recruits his ex-girlfriend’s daughter, Amanda (Tatum O’Neal), who he taught to pitch, and local delinquent, Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), who is actually a talented athlete.

The kids are rude and vulgar in a way that’s surprising even for a ’70s PG-rated movie but also feels realistic to the way preteens behave. They are genuinely there for each other in the end.

Matthau brings an underlining sweetness to Buttermaker, who for all of his faults, genuinely comes to care about these kids. He does have a bit of a redemption arc but the movie also just lets Buttermaker be Buttermaker.

It also really highlights the joy of baseball for me. Yes, the Bears enjoyed their winning streak, but they, along with Buttermaker, realize it’s more about just the fun of playing the game. As much as we all love underdog stories, it’s satisfying that ultimately, the outcome of the game feels irrelevant to the excitement of being out on the field.

I had never seen this before and I’m glad I finally did. It was less sentimental than I expected but also turned out to be kind. I loved how much it was on the kids’ side. This is a baseball classic for obvious reasons.