In Which We Cheer on the Original “The Bad News Bears”


I look now at one of the seminal movies of my childhood, Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears (1976). I’ll watch this movie any time it’s on, for reasons of nostalgia as well as its copious entertainment value. I’ve probably seen it fifteen times.

I am just a couple of years younger than most of the kids in the movie. It’s always struck me as an incredibly accurate snapshot of growing up in that era. The drinking and smoking and swearing of grown-ups in wildly inappropriate settings (such as Little League games) completely reflects my small town experience of the ’70s. It was undoubtedly my first experience of the genius of Walter Matthau. DEFINITELY where I learned to love the music of Bizet’s Carmen. 


And Tatum O’Neal was a SUPERSTAR with all the kids. I bet if you took a survey, you’d find that her character as the star athlete of an all male baseball team was inspirational and even influential on a surprisingly large portion of the population. There was something in the air right then. I mentally associated her with Peppermint Patty, the tomboy in Peanuts, who also played baseball. Our Little League had its “first girl” shortly after this. I can’t believe I can’t remember her name, but I seem to remember that she LOOKED like Tatum O’Neill. All the kids, boys and girls, all wore hair about the same length in the mid 70s. This is me:

fifth grade0001

The Bad News Bears confused me for years, because three of the boys have the same long, sun-bleached hair, which was very big at the time. (I also associate it with Disney kid star Kim Richards). So I couldn’t tell these kids apart. Over time, I began to sort them all out. One blonde kid acts out and is mean to everyone else. Another one is shy and has a runny nose. Etc. Of the boys, my favorite was the brainy Ogilvy, played by Alfred Lutter, who’s also in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More and Love and Death, followed by Rudi Stein (David Pollock), who’s uh, you know, and then the overweight Engelberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro). I absolutely HATED Jackie Earle Haley’s punk kid character. Back in the day, I looked at him and saw a menace. Now, I look at him and see a kid.

And of course I related to this movie because I couldn’t have been WORSE at sports. In baseball I was on the farm team. Could not throw, catch or hit the ball. Still can’t. I once ran the wrong way around the bases. I once began to run the bases when I was playing second base and a kid from the other team got a hit. When playing the outfield I once ran back to catch a bird that was flying overhead. And on one memorable at-bat, I couldn’t make myself stop throwing the Louisville Slugger in the air every time I swung at the ball, causing everyone on the field to go running for cover.

I like movies about misfits.

As for the sequels, and the remakes? Nah, I haven’t got any use for them.

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