The Batter’s Eye: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings

The comedy and the cast are excellent, but what really impressed me about The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976, directed by John Badham) is it’s also a fun look at baseball history.

In the late 1930s, Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) is a Negro League star pitcher who begins to chafe under the greedy ownership of Sallison Potter (Ted Ross). Joining forces with catcher Leon Carter (James Earl Jones), he puts together his own barnstorming team of Negro League all-stars with the promise everything will be shared equally.

This goes well at first, but the greedy baseball owners dislike how much Bingo took away their star players and decide to thwart him at every turn. Bingo and his team start playing white teams and to combat the very-present racism, turn each game into much more of a show with various tricks and gags.

While the movie, loosely based on William Brashler’s novel, is fiction, much of it is based on actual baseball history. Richard Pryor plays Charlie Snow, a player who hatches a plan to masquerade as Cuban and then Native American so he can make it in the major leagues. Some players did try that and a few got away with it, although generally earlier in baseball history. There were also a lot of barnstorming teams and other semi-professional teams that would travel from city to city, playing whatever teams were available. The All-Stars antics are vaguely based on the Indianapolis Clowns, who incorporated playful elements into their competitions.

Williams and Jones play off each other well, with Bingo being all charismatic charm and Leon being a gruff realist. The friendship between the two of them is fun and once again emphasizes the connection between the pitcher and the catcher.

The baseball action is great and there’s quite a bit of it. While there are some obvious tricks, it’s edited together really well. Too many baseball movies don’t feature enough baseball and I liked that this one did.

I had a good time with this one and coincidentally, it’s going to be shown at AFI Silver soon so I do plan on going to see it on a big screen. This may quickly become one of my favorite baseball movies.