“Wild Thing” into a baseball anthem. Twenty-five years since Harry Doyle gave us “Juuuuuuust a bit outside.” Twenty-five years since Jobu.It may not seem like it, but it’s been 25 years since we first met Jake Taylor, Willie Mays Hayes and Pedro Cerrano. Twenty-five years since Rick Vaughn turned
“Major League,” which starred Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Wesley Snipes, among others, debuted in theaters 25 years ago Monday — April 7, 1989. It became a No. 1 hit at the box office and one of the most beloved baseball films of all time.
Writer/director David S. Ward, whose other credits include “The Sting” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” wanted to make a baseball movie involving the Cleveland Indians. He was a long-suffering Indians fan who grew up in South Euclid, Ohio.
“I started to feel like the only way I would see the Indians win anything is if I made a movie where they did,” Ward says today. “I realized, it would have to be a comedy, because nobody would take this seriously.”
Sure, we laughed, but we also fell in love with the team and its quirky roster that included a junkball pitcher, a walk-on leadoff man, a slugger trying to use voodoo to conquer curveballs and a washed-up catcher who just wants to win one more time.
“It’s a great feeling to know that it still has fans,” Ward says. “The fact that it’s still playing and people are still responding to it 25 years later, that’s gratifying for any filmmaker.”
Bernsen played Dorn, the team’s third baseman in the movie. He’s had a long and successful career as an actor, but making “Major League” was unlike any other gig. The actors took batting practice and infield everyday, dressing up in baseball uniforms and playing long toss.
“It felt like your moment in the majors. The thing you’d always dreamed of,” he says. “It blows you away that it was that long ago. It’s one of those movies that you can sit through right to the end. It still feels fresh. It’s always felt fresh.”
Dennis Haysbert played Cerrano, the Cuban import who worshipped Jobu and used golf club headcovers to keep his bats warm.
“What I remember most is the camaraderie that I had with the guys,” says Haysbert, who you might know better as President David Palmer from “24” or as the Allstate insurance spokesman. “It really felt like a baseball team.”
In honor of “Major League’s” 25th anniversary, Big League Stew talked to Ward, Bernsen and Haysbert to collect not only their reflections on the movie all these years later, but also 15 facts you probably didn’t know about “Major League.” You’re probably going to want to pop in the DVD by the time you’re done reading this.
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1. CHARLIE SHEEN SAYS HE TOOK STEROIDS TO PREPARE FOR HIS PART
Charlie Sheen didn’t have the Hollywood bad-boy rep back in 1989 that he does now, but he was still very much Charlie Sheen back then. Back in 2011, Sheen confessed to Sports Illustrated that he took steroids for six to eight weeks to prepare for his role as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Ward says today that he doesn’t know whether that’s true, but Sheen was throwing in the mid-80s while filming the movie.
“I have no freaking idea,” Ward says. “I didn’t even know what steroids were. You have to remember this was 1989. Even if he told me he was doing steroids, I would’ve said, ‘What’s that?’ He was pretty ripped at the time, but I figured he was a young man working out.”
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2. DENNIS HAYSBERT REALLY COULD HIT HOMERS
As Cerrano, the Cuban import who hit balls “very much,” Haysbert had the honor of being the film’s power hitter. Truth was, it wasn’t totally fiction. Haysbert was the only member of the fictitious Indians who could actually clear the yard.
“Every time I was supposed to hit a home run in the movie, I did,” Haysbert says.
It’s a fact that Ward backs up. “He was so jacked by that,” Ward says. “He said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever do anything more exciting as an actor.’ ”
Haysbert didn’t play baseball past Little League, instead playing football, basketball and running track in high school. His 6-foot-4 frame, though, gave him plenty of baseball power. Haysbert had so much fun shooting “Major League,” after the film wrapped, he says he joined an adult men’s hardball league.
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3. ‘MAJOR LEAGUE’ WASN’T FILMED IN CLEVELAND
Astute baseball fans know this. They recognize that the home stadium of Jake Taylor’s Cleveland Indians was actually Milwaukee County Stadium, where the Brewers played at the time. The opening scene of “Major League,” which shows Cleveland landmarks, was one of the few parts shot in Cleveland. Milwaukee citizens had no problem cheering for the Indians, though. For the film’s final game, more than 27,000 fans showed up to be in the crowd. Ward said they were hoping for half that. “We were all stunned that many people came out,” he says. Because the movie was filmed during baseball season, they used the stadium when the Brewers were on the road.
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4. THE ENDING WE KNOW ISN’T THE ORIGINAL ENDING
There’s an alternate ending to “Major League” that was actually the film’s original ending, but it tested so poorly, Ward re-wrote it. In the original ending, cheapskate owner Rachel Phelps reveals that she never wanted to move the team to Miami. She actually believed in the team and was playing the villain role to help them rally together. After spending the whole movie hating her, viewers weren’t ready for that swerve. This ending was included in a 2007 DVD re-release of the film, so some people may know the story.
But how about this detail? Margaret Whitton, the actress who played Phelps, was starring in a play in England by the time Ward needed to rework the ending. To re-shoot her final scene, they had to go to England and reconstruct a “Major League” set for her.
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5. YOU NEVER SEE WILLIE MAYS HAYES THROW A BASEBALL
The reason? Snipes can’t throw very well. He had never played baseball before filming the movie. He was athletic, so he could do most of the things needed to be Willie Mays Hayes.
“The hardest thing to do if you’ve never played baseball is throw a baseball convincingly,” Ward says.
The catch in the final game, where he reaches over the wall to swipe a home run? Snipes made that. “He was freakishly talented,” Ward says. Except the throwing thing.
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6. ONE OF THE GREAT LINES IN THE FILM CAME FROM A BALLPLAYER
Pete Vuckovich, who had an 11-year MLB career as a pitcher with the Brewers, White Sox, Cardinals and Blue Jays, plays slugger Clu Haywood in “Major League,” a Triple Crown winner who has the number of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn until the final game.
One of Vuckovich’s great lines comes when he’s approaching the plate and says to catcher Jake Taylor: “How’s your wife and my kids?” That wasn’t in the script. Rather, Ward told Vuckovich to say something that MLB ballplayers would say in that situation. That’s what he came up with.
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7. BOB UECKER WAS CALLING BREWERS GAMES WHEN HE WASN’T SHOOTING THE MOVIE
Bob Uecker as snarky play-by-play man Harry Doyle is one of “Major League’s” great characters. As most people know, Uecker is an actual baseball announcer. He’s been calling Brewers games on the radio since 1971 (without the Harry Doyle humor, mind you). Uecker’s shoots for “Major League” were different than most because he’d have to work around his Brewers broadcast schedule, so he’d end up showing up for a day or two and shooting many scenes back-to-back.
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8. A LOU BROWN JERSEY HUNG AT JAMES GAMMON’S FUNERAL
James Gammon played Lou Brown, the ornery but lovable manager of the Indians. He died in 2010, and a Cleveland Indians jersey with “Brown” across the back was displayed at his funeral.
“I wrote that part for James,” Ward says.
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9. CORBIN BERNSEN WAS ACTUALLY A PRETTY GOOD BASEBALL PLAYER
As Dorn, Bernsen’s most enduring trait in “Major League” is not wanting to get in front of ground balls. Even though Dorn had a big hit in the final game and made a diving defensive play, most remember him as a pretty boy who didn’t want to get hurt.
So after “Major League” people just assumed Bernsen wasn’t a good ballplayer. Truth was, he played in high school and thought about playing college ball. So he could field a grounder, regardless of what the early scenes in the movie portrayed.
“That was always a bit annoying,” Bernsen says, laughing. “I was supposed to miss those balls. There were times where it was hard to miss the ball.”
In the scenes where Dorn had to take grounders off his chest to toughen up, Bernsen was hit with rubberized baseballs, but the bruises he showed off later in the film were real. As proof that Bernsen took the baseball in “Major League” seriously, he’s still critical of himself 25 years later.
When asked about his character making a diving stop, rolling to his feet and throwing to first base — a moment of redemption for Dorn — Bernsen responds: “My throw looks weak.”
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10. FORMER MLB CATCHER STEVE YEAGER MADE SOME OF JAKE TAYLOR’S THROWS
Steve Yeager, who played 15 seasons in the big leagues, was the film’s technical adviser and, many times, it’s him behind the catcher’s mask as Taylor and not Berenger.
The rifle throw down to first base near the end of the film? Totally Yeager, now a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I love Tom Berenger,” says Corbin Bernsen. “He’s a good guy. But he can’t throw.”
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11. CHARLIE SHEEN WOULD THROW 100+ PITCHES A DAY
Sheen was the biggest baseball fan of all the actors on “Major League,” and as we mentioned above, he was really into his role as Wild Thing. He did the work to prove it. Sheen said in his 2011 Sports Illustrated interview that he understands why baseball teams have five-man rotations, because some days he’d throw 150 pitches and have to pitch again the next day.
The movie didn’t have any digital effects, Ward says, so they’d have to play baseball until they got the outcome they wanted. Ward recalls one time Sheen having to throw 100 pitches just to get one shot correct because the actor playing the batter (unbeknownst to Ward at the time) didn’t wear his contacts and was having trouble hitting.
“His arm was sore for 10 days,” Ward says.
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12. CORBIN BERNSEN REALLY PUNCHED CHARLIE SHEEN
As the Indians are celebrating their win in the movie’s final moments, Dorn socks Vaughn in the face for sleeping with his wife. In the movies, there are ways to make a punch look like a punch without the impact. That was supposed to happen when Bernsen “punched” Sheen, only he connected.
“They didn’t get the timing right,” Ward says, “and he actually hit Charlie. We had to turn Charlie around after that, because we didn’t want people to see a red bump on his face. We couldn’t shoot it another day.”
Says Bernsen: “If I did it, it was probably well deserved. I don’t deny it.”
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13. WESLEY SNIPES WAS PRETTY BEAT UP BY THE END OF THE MOVIE
By the time they were filming the final baseball scene, where Hayes scores from second base on a bunt, Snipes’ legs were so beat up from having to slide over and over that they had to bring in softer dirt and pad up his legs.
“He had huge raspberries just from the sliding,” Ward says. “He wasn’t used to sliding that much.”
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14. THE FAMOUS AMERICAN EXPRESS COMMERCIAL ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN
The scene was written to be an American Express commercial because Ward loved the “Don’t Steal Home Without It” spin on AmEx’s “Don’t Leave Home Without It” slogan. Problem was, American Express was slow at agreeing to a part of the movie.
It wasn’t until the second-to-last day of shooting, Ward says, that American Express finally agreed to be a part of “Major League.”
[MORE MAJOR LEAGUE: Topps to produce baseball 'Major League' cards]
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15. JOBU IS STILL AROUND AND LIVING ON A GUY’S PIANO
There is only one Jobu, the voodoo doll that Cerrano called upon to help him hit curveballs. Where is Jobu now? He lives at the home of Morgan Creek Productions’ managing director Brian Robinson, sitting atop a piano with his bottle of rum and cigar.
Robinson lucked into getting Jobu, and has turned down an offer to sell him for $35,000. We dig deeper into the life and times of Jobu in the next post in our series.
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