Knight’s latest book started at an Indians game.
Columbus, Ohio-based sportswriter was at the game in
2010 the day after the death of James Gammon, who played
Indians manager Lou Brown in the Cleveland movie classic
"Major League." The team put Gammon’s
picture up on the scoreboard and held a moment of
silence for the actor, who fans immediately recognized.
was really kind of a nice moment, but at the same time,
it was kind of weird," Knight recalled. "As
much as we look at him that way, he’s not a former
manager. But in a way, he is. And it was like, something
is going on here. ... This movie has become something
all, when you go to Indians games, there’s a good
chance you’ll see people in jerseys for Vaughn and
Dorn and Hayes and Cerrano — Indians not from the
major leagues but from Major League. When the Indians
visit the Milwaukee Brewers on July 21, it will be
"Major League" night, marking Milwaukee’s
standing in for Cleveland in the movie — and featuring
a bobblehead of fictional Indians broadcaster Harry
Doyle, played by real-life Brewers radio man Bob Uecker.
a few years after the Gammon game, Knight began the
official journey that has led to the new book "The
Making of Major League: A Juuuust A Bit Inside Look at
the Classic Baseball Comedy" (Gray & Co.,
book follows the 1989 movie — about a struggling
Indians team banding together to keep the owner from
moving out of Cleveland — from its earliest ideas and
scripts through its still-strong status as a Cleveland
hallmark and one of the best sports movies of all time.
The main sources are interviews with writer-director
David S. Ward; producer Chris Chesser; cast members
including Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Charlie
Sheen; technical adviser and former player Steve Yeager;
famous fan Maryhelen Zabas (formerly Sister Mary
Assumpta); and others in and around the movie.
book details Ward’s own fascination with the Indians;
which actors played well for real and which did not; the
bits of baseball history reflected in the movie; where
you see actual Cleveland and where Milwaukee
substitutes; and yet another in Sheen’s long list of
classic off-camera lines: "It was just one of those
odd things that happen while you’re at work — your
gun gets stolen."
is a big fan of the film, watching it every day when he
was in junior high school. But he doesn’t hide from
the debatable parts of the story, including the change
in the original ending and the two misguided sequels
("Major League II" and "Major League:
Back to the Minors").
— who has also written books about the Browns, Cavs
and Indians — spent about 2 1/2 years on this one,
published by Gray & Co. (full disclosure: I’ve
been part of two other Gray books). And he knew that he
had to get to David Ward for it to happen.
had no idea how to do it," he said. "I tried
and tried and just couldn’t." He finally turned
to Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president
for public affairs (and the man who vetted the Major
League script for the team). DiBiasio connected Knight
to Chesser, who got him to Ward, who listened to Knight’s
think he was kind of excited by it. He knew, obviously,
this had taken on a cult following, especially up here.
They talked to Bob, and Bob vouched for me, and they
looked at some of the stuff I had written." And he
thinks it appealed to them that Knight was looking at
the legacy of the film as opposed to "what kind of
lens did you use?"
connections to Ward and Chesser opened other doors.
"I never thought I would talk to everybody,"
Knight said. Wesley Snipes, for example, was in prison
for income-tax evasion when Knight started the book —
but agreed to an interview after getting out "and
he was really enthusiastic about it.
terms of which one was the toughest to get, it was
Charlie. It took about eight or nine months to get
Charlie. It was probably scheduled 10 or 12 times ...
and kept getting postponed. But once I got him, he was
great." Sheen has been boosting the book since,
writing its foreword and posting a photo online with the
where does Knight stand on one of the biggest issues
about the movie: the ending? The original had the team’s
seemingly evil owner, played by Margaret Whitton, turn
out to have engineered the turnaround and only pretended
to torpedo the Indians to inspire them. A preview
audience did not like that, so the twist was junked in
favor of the team triumphing over the owner.
try to envision what it would be like if they didn’t
change it," Knight said. "Would people love it
less? ... I think [the original] works on paper. The big
reason why is, first of all, it’s smart. And it does
in a sense provide a great overall payoff because it
explains a lot. ... There’s any number of ways in the
story, when things start to turn around, that she could
have stopped it in its tracks. And in the twist ending,
that’s why she didn’t do it. ... But I think they
made the right choice."
is also intrigued by the possibility of a fourth Major
League movie, which Ward has written (he did not write
the second or third) and Sheen talked up during a
Cleveland appearance in 2011. "I’ve read the
script, and I think it’s great," Knight said. He
also thinks the awful third movie left such a bad taste
with audiences that the fourth could do away with that.
(Similarly, Sylvester Stallone made the sixth Rocky
movie to erase the bad memories of the fifth.) While the
financing still hasn’t happened, the movie may yet get
made — or someone could just reboot the original,
original, after all, endures. I was smiling again when I
watched a bit while writing this story. And what about
the real Indians? After Major League, they had a period
of success that seemed unimaginable when the first movie
came out — including two trips to the World Series.
Lately — well, I’d rather see a happy movie ending
than a sub-.500 record and a no-hitter broken up with
two outs in the ninth.
Knight looks at the current Indians and — in spite of
all the World Series talk before this season — sees
something reflected in the movie where "they’re
not as bad as people thought, they’re hovering around
.500, and then they catch fire at the end. The actual
Indians are sort of mirroring that."
can the real Indians make a Major League-like appearance
in the playoffs in 2015?
don’t know if I’ll go that far," he said.
"Maybe if Major League Baseball between now and
October adds two or three more wild cards, sure."