On the one hand, you obviously never want to hear of anyone passing. And it's always especially saddening when the deceased might not be someone you know, but feel like you do, like Gammon, the no-nonsense guy's guy I remembered from the Cleveland Indians dugout. Even if I never met him, Gammon always seemed like a cooler, older guy you'd love to have a beer with.
At the same though, thinking back on Major League and Major League II brought back a lot of good memories. Like watching the original so many times with my parents that our old VHS tape eventually wore out. Or watching the sequel with my buddies in college dozens of times, and re-hashing lines like they were our own (For example, whenever one of our friends would get into an argument with his girlfriend, we'd always console him by quoting Rube Baker: "Women, you can't live without them, and they can't pee standing up." Thanks Rube!).
As time has worn on though, a new debate amongst friends and family has come about: Why is actually better? Some think the high jinks of Major League II take away from the baseball that made Major League so great. Others are too busy laughing at the second to even think about the first. Some are torn.
Well, in honor of Gammon's passing, I've decided to go ahead and settle this debate once and for all.
Over the last week, I have re-watched each for the first time in years, and took copious notes along the way. All so that you, the reader, have the definitive answer to the Great Debate: Which is better, Major League or Major League II?
Before we get into the debate, let's do a quick plot rehash of each (And if you've seen the movies, you might want to skip this part all together. No hard feelings):
Major League: From the chronicles of "Stuff That Could Only Happen in Cleveland," comes the plot of the first movie.
Essentially what it boils down to is that the Indians are bad. Really bad. And having gone 30-something years without winning the title (True in real life) or even making the playoffs (True at the time), the fans are getting ancy.
Unfortunately, new owner Rachel Phelps (An ex-showgirl who takes over the team from her dead husband), has little sympathy. Quite the opposite actually. Phelps' goal is to put the worst team that she can out on the field, in hopes that if they were to lose enough games, she could move them from Cleveland to Miami (Remember, this was before the Marlins were in existence).
In the opening scene of the movie, Phelps hands her staff a list of players she plans on inviting to spring training. The group is comprised of a whole lot of has been's, never were's, and one player who is actually dead. Her response? "Cross him off the list then."
Spring training convenes, where we meet the stars of the movie and the team: Jake Taylor (Played by Tom Berenger), a broken down catcher who'd been playing in the Mexican League; Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) an overpriced, past his prime primadonna, who is more concerned with his off the field portfolio than his on the field production; pitcher Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) who accepts his invitation to Spring Training from prison; Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), a power hitting, voodoo practicing slugger; and Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), a centerfielder who claims to "Hit like Mays and run like Hayes," but who no one is quite sure how he ended up in camp. The team is managed by Brown, who'd been working at a Tire World and for Toledo in Triple A before getting the call up to the big leagues.
Of course, as expected, the team gets off to a disastrous start out of spring training, just like the owner had hoped. Vaughn can't find the strike zone, Cerrano can't hit a curveball, and Taylor is limping around on knees that are worse than a 40-year-old female pornstar's.
Things change though when Brown gets word of Phelps' original plan to put the worst team in baseball on the field. He let's his players know what's going on, and they all rally around the common evil that is their owner. This leads to the Indians making an improbable run to a tie for first place in the AL East, where they'll face the New York Yankees in a one game playoff.
Like any Hollywood ending, everything comes together in the one game playoff: Cerrano hits a big home run, Vaughn gets a key strikeout, and Hayes scores the winning run from second base on a Taylor suicide squeeze.
The movie ends with announcer Harry Doyle (Played by Bob Uecker) screaming, "The Indians win it! The Indians win it! Ohhhhhh my God, the Indians win it!!," while players hug on the field and random strangers hug in the bar.
The win sends the Indians to their first playoffs in over 30 years.
Major League II: The sequel opens up with Harry Doyle giving us a quick recap of last season on his radio show, where we learn that the Indians lost in the ALCS to the Chicago White Sox.
Last year's team returns in full (With the exception of southpaw Ed Harris, who disappears like the Lindbergh baby between the first and second movies. There is no explanation where he went or if anyone even cares that he's gone), but success and fame have changed the group: Willie Mays Hayes starred in action movie called Black Hammer/White Lightning with Jesse Ventura in the off-season; Cerrano has given up voodoo and has found inner peace; and Vaughn has gone corporate, trading his ex-con image for suits and ties, and a blonde agent/girlfriend.
Meanwhile a handful of new guys come aboard, including flighty, small-town catching prospect Rube Baker (Who- despite his age- is always full of advice), and superstar slugger Jack Parkman. Roger Dorn has since retired and become owner, purchasing the team from Rachel Phelps.
As for Jake Taylor, well things take a twist in spring training. Brown informs Taylor that he's being kept on, not as a catcher, but as a coach. Taylor hems and haws, before finally accepting the gig.
Anyway, much like the previous year, the team gets off to a slow start, mainly because they've got worse chemistry than the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers. Vaughn can't throw his fastball by people anymore, Hayes wants to be a power hitter, and Cerrano is too busy focusing on his happiness to worry about anything baseball related. Parkman is the only one hitting, but is eventually traded to the White Sox, because Dorn can't afford his salary. In return for Parkman, Dorn is able to acquire Japanese outfielder Isuro "Kamakazi," Tanaka.
Two other important notes from this point in the movie: One, Dorn runs out of money and has to sell the team back to Phelps (But not before un-retiring as a ballplayer), and Taylor takes over as manager of the club, after Brown is hospitalized with a heart attack.
Eventually just like in the first movie, the team comes together, although this time it's under much different circumstances. Mired in that season-long slump, and playing a double-header, everything comes to a head when the team gets into a bench clearing brawl...with themselves. As Doyle narrates it, "Good news fans, the Indians are showing signs of life for the first time in weeks." The result of the brawl is that everyone on the team gets ejected from the game.
Sitting in the clubhouse between games is where the moment of clarity happens.
Baker- who has several great quotes in the movie, and is one of the all-time underrated sports characters ever- gives the speech that turns the season around. He says:
"We're in the dog-gone Major League's boys. I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been waiting my whole life to get here...And I'll be damned if I act like my best pig died just because we aren't doing so good."
Of course you know what happens next, the Indians rally back to the playoffs, before beating their arch-rival Chicago White Sox, and their newly acquired superstar Jack Parkman.
We are led to assume that the Indians go on to win the World Series...
Obviously when it comes to purely the feel good, baseball standpoint, Major League is better. It wasn't the first sports movie in the genre of "scrappy, flighty, underdog team enters season with no chance to win then inexplicably comes together and makes a run at a championship." But at the same time it set the standard in the category, with a million knock off's to follow: The Waterboy, Little Giants, The Mighty Ducks, and of course Major League II.
And from that point of view, the first can never be topped. Just like in real life, you always love the first team to break through a little more than all the others that follow. The way that Red Sox fans care just a little bit more about the 2004 team than the 2007 version and Yankees fans feel the same way about the 1996 champs. There's just no topping the original.
It's also hard to compare the movies, because by design the players in Major League II just aren't as likeable. Which makes sense. You need the guys in Major League II to be cocky. You need them to be self-centered. If they all came back with the same excitement and level head that they ended the first movie with, the Indians would have won 105 games and taken the division by mid-September. There's no comedy in that.
At the same time though, my favorite part of Major League II is how- whether intentional or not- the movie self-parodied their own characters, and athletes as a whole.
Take Vaughn for example. In Major League, there was no substance to him. He was a skirt chasing, fastball throwing, meathead. That's really it. He had no personality or substance. Go ahead and name Vaughn's best scene in the first movie, besides when he struck out Clew Heyward of the Yankees in that playoff game? Is there one? Was he even funny?
Now sure, in II he's less likeable. I get that.
But why is he less likeable? Because he falls into the same trap that roughly 295,000 athletes before him have: Falls for the wrong girl who cleans him up and domesticates him; gets an inflated sense of self worth; becomes more concerned with his Roth IRA than his ERA; and starts seeing baseball as a means to an end, rather than a job that he loves doing. Hell, in Major League II Vaughn even decides to start naming his pitches, telling Taylor, " it's a marketing thing." I half expected him to refer to himself as a "global icon," in the next scene. It's the same with Willie Mays Hayes and his role as an action star: He forgot who he was, and what was important to him.
So what's my point in all this?
Well that essentially Vaughn and Hayes are just funnier, more self-deprecating versions of everything we've come to loathe about LeBron James these last few weeks, and question at various points in the careers of Dwight Howard, Shaq, Peyton Manning and a million other athletes. Is being famous more important to them than actually being great at their craft? I mean, couldn't you see Howard or Manning in the same Right Guard commercial that Vaughn was in ("When on the croquet lawn, one must be sure not to offend one's opponent.") or Shaq starring in the same lousy action movie that Hayes did? Call me stupid, but I think that stuff is funny.
(What's my other point in all this? Well, that Rick Vaughn is example No. 7988 in the chronicles of "Why women lead to the downfall of every successful man."
Other examples include: No. 3214: Woods, Tiger; No. 2406 Clinton, Bill; and No. 6454 Roethlisberger, Benjamin)
Another character I liked more in Major League II- but for the opposite reasons- was Jake Taylor.
Now did I enjoy him in the first movie? Sort of. I liked his role as the wily old veteran, who plays mentor to the young guys, while taking his one last shot at glory. That's perfect, every team needs a guy like him. Derek Jeter. Jason Varitek. Derek Fisher. There have been a million before him, and a million more to come. Again, perfect.
And if they stopped Taylor's character there, I'd have been fine with it.
Here's what I didn't like, and what the biggest downfall of Major League was (And I'll explain in further detail this point later): His romantic relationship with Rene Russo.
For those of you haven't seen the movie, here's a quick recap: Apparently, at some point the two had dated, and things got pretty hot and heavy, except Taylor couldn't keep it in his pants and give up his skirt chasing ways. Eventually Russo moved on, and is engaged to another guy. Now Taylor's in Cleveland and wants her back.
Three thoughts on why this brings down Major League to a degree:
1. This semi-plot drags on for now 90 minutes, taking away from what the movie should have been about: Funny, baseball related stuff. Show the guys busting each other's balls in the locker room. Show them making a team trip to the strip club. Show them playing cards on the plane or bus. This movie marketed itself to guys as a baseball comedy. Do we really need the romantic twist? Couldn't we have just had more baseball stuff?
2. At one point, Russo ends up sleeping with Taylor while she's still engaged to the other guy.
So let me get this straight: She won't take Jake back because he was sleeping around, but it's ok for her to cheat on her fiancée? How am I supposed to be ok with this? The lady is a damn hypocrite (And yes, I know I'm looking way, way, way too much into basically a meaningless scene. But I've seen Major League probably 25 times in my life and it's always bothered me. Figured this was as good a time as any to bring it up.).
3. At the end, we find out that Russo has dumped her fiancée and is ready to take Jake back. Wonderful. Cue the wedding bells.
I just wish that they'd also fast-forwarded to next season, when Russo is calling Taylor every five minutes while he's on the road, and asking him questions like "What are you doing?" and "Who are you with?" That my friends is real life.
As for Major League II they cut Russo's character out of all but one scene of the movie, thank God. And because of it, we get to see Taylor in the perfect role for his character, as the "too smart for his own good former catcher," who becomes manager when Brown goes down. Think Joe Girardi. Just without the braces. Which is exactly the role he should be playing.
So with that, which characters were better in the original Major League?
We've got to start with Cerrano.
Sure he was a little rough around the edges as a voodoo worshipping weirdo who terrified everyone on the team in the first movie. But that was certainly more likeable than the yoga practicing, pop-up hitting annoyance he turned into in the Major League II. At least he hit a home run every once before he found religion. What is redeeming about him in II?
Honestly, you know what the whole Cerrano transformation reminded me of? Tiger Woods coming out of sex rehab. Sure before rehab Woods was a scummy guy, but he was also a killer on the course, and ultimately the best golfer I've ever seen. Needless to say since going to rehab (And seemingly getting a frontal lobotomy), he's been friendlier than Donny Osmond, but hasn't won a tournament either. Sorry, but give me the old Tiger back. And give me the old Cerrano too.
The same with Dorn. I have to admit that I did enjoy him as an owner in II, especially when he had to put up billboards all over the stadium to make a few extra bucks (Which leads Doyle to chirp in: "Any of you looking for a good proctologist come down to the park and check out the area around the 375 foot sign").
When Dorn reactivates himself as a player though? No thanks. He's got no personality and nothing to add to the mix. At least in Major League we knew Dorn was a prick. By Major League II he's just a caricature of himself, only not funny.
Honestly, I'm a big believer that movies need to know what they are, and what they're supposed to be. What I mean by this is simple: If you're marketing yourself as a comedy, just make me laugh, that's all I care about. If you're an action movie, I want to see stuff blowing up. If you're a serious tear jerker, make me cry.
The best example I can think of in this case, is the movie Pineapple Express. And yes I know that's a very random example.
So why did I like Pineapple Express? Was it because it was a heartfelt, deeply moving piece of cinema? Was it because I saw it, and immediately thought, "That movie is going to win an Academy Award." Of course not.
The reason that I liked Pineapple Express is because it billed itself as a dumb stoner movie, promoted itself as a dumb stoner movie, and ended up being... A dumb stoner movie!!! No life lessons. No cheesy romantic twists. Just two dumb dudes smoking too much pot.
Which is why I personally prefer Major League II to the original.
Major League II knows what it is. A comedy about baseball, whose sole purpose is to try to make you laugh as much as possible (While still keeping some semblance of a script) and get you in and out of the theater in an hour and 45 minutes with a smile on your face. Corporate Rick Vaughn who can't find his fastball is funny. Action superstar Willie Mays Hayes is funny. Rube Baker is hysterical. There are no somber moments. No big picture lessons. Nobody takes themselves too seriously. Again, this movie knows what it's supposed to be.
And while there will always be a special place for the original Major League, after re-watching it, I feel like it tries to go in too many different directions. At times it's a sports movie. At times it's a romantic comedy. At times it tries to be serious. Two minutes later it's trying to make you laugh. Just pick one theme and go with it!
So after screening both, and thinking it through, my choice is clear.
Give me Major League II any day of the week.
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