MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The film Major League originally had a dramatic twist at the end involving the team’s owner.
After defeating the San Francisco Giants last night 10-0, the Kansas City Royals have forced a deciding Game 7 tonight in the World Series, with the winning team becoming the baseball champions. In honor of this event, I decided I’d feature an old baseball legend I’ve never spotlighted before. As I’ve mentioned in a number of Legends Revealed over the years, test audiences can dramatically change the way that a TV series or movie ends up. They gave us Penny instead of Katie on The Big Bang Theory, they broke up Andie and Duckie in Pretty in Pink, they gave us Edd “Kookie” Byrnes on 77 Sunset Strip and they gave us Hill and Renko on Hill Street Blues. They also dramatically changed the ending of the hit 1989 baseball film Major League. Originally, the owner of the Cleveland Indians was secretly the hero of the film! Read on to see how test audiences changed the plot.
Very few movies about sports have been embraced by a team as much as Major League has been by the Cleveland Indians. At the time of the film’s 1989 release, the Indians were mired in one of the worst three-decade patches of baseball that you could imagine. After finishing second in 1959, the Indians wouldn’t finish above fourth for 29 of the next 30 seasons (a third-place finish in 1968 would be the only break in the streak). Not only that, but when the American League went to two divisions in 1969, the Indians finished last or second to last in 16 of the 21 seasons (up to and including 1989).
So when a film about an Indians team made up of scrappy underdogs who somehow make the playoffs after everyone counts them out, well, that’s just the sort of thing a fan loves to embrace, and embrace them they did. And when the actual Indians team started winning in the 1990s (including five straight division titles and a trip to the World Series in 1995 and 1997), it was almost as if the film blessed the team.
The plot of the film is that a new owner Rachel Phelps (portrayed by Margaret Whitton) inherits the Cleveland Indians after her husband passes away. She plans to exploit a clause in her lease with the city that will allow her to move the team to Miami if attendance dips below 800,000 for the season. Her plan involves trading away or releasing most of the previous team’s roster and then filling it with nobodies and has-beens, including a longtime minor league manager Lou Brown (played by the late, great James Gammon). With such a pathetic team, she figures she’s bound to reach her attendance goal.
Her plan was working pretty well, with the team one game under .500, despite Brown doing some excellent managing of the young misfits. Things change, however, when hapless general manager Charlie Donovan reveals Phelps’ plot to Brown, who then uses her evil scheme to inspire his players to win. In a famous sequence, he finds a nude photo of Phelps (during her days as a showgirl) and turns it into a clothed cardboard cutout (along with a word balloon of her telling the players that they stink). Every time they win a game, he removes one piece of clothing until she’s completely naked. This keys a turnaround in performance, as the team soon rattles off a long winning streak and gets back into playoff contention.
However, there’s always been a pretty major plot hole: First off, if Phelps is so set against the team winning, why not just trade or release the good players or send them to the minors as soon as they begin winning? Secondly, once it is evident that the team will meet the minimum attendance requirements, why does Phelps continue to rally against the team when going to the playoffs will make her more money? Well, screenwriter David S. Ward (who also directed the film) had a very good explanation for that. You see, in the original script, Phelps was secretly trying to help the team!
In a scene right before the big game that will determine whether the Indians make the playoffs, Brown confronts Phelps. With the final game of the season about to be played, he turns in his resignation, effective as soon as the season ends. Phelps responds that she wanted Donovan to tell Brown about her plan, because she knew Brown would use that information to motivate the team. Brown incredulously asks, “You tryin’ to make me believe you wanted us to win all along?”
After she nods, she explains her plan:
We were broke. We couldn’t afford anything better. Donald [her late husband who she inherited the team from] left the team nearly bankrupt. If we’d had another losing season, I would have had to sell the team. I knew we couldn’t win with the team we had, so I decided to bring in new players and see how they’d do with the proper motivation. There was never any offer from Miami. I made it all up.
When he doubts her, she points out the plot problem I mentioned earlier; if she wanted them to lose, why not just send the best players down to the minors?
Phelps then basically reveals that she discovered “Moneyball” years before Billy Beane did, as she explains how she put the team together:
You think this was all an accident? I personally scouted every member of this team, except Hayes, of course [Willie Hayes, played by Wesley Snipes, was a walk on to the team]. He was a surprise. They all had flaws which concealed their real talent, or I wouldn’t have been able to get them. But I knew if anyone could straighten them out, you could. And if you tell them any of this, I will fire you.
As he shakes his head in disbelief, she tells him, “I love this team, Lou. Go get ’em tonight.”
The scene was filmed, but test audiences reacted poorly to it. Basically, they had gotten so used to disliking her that they weren’t prepared for her suddenly to be a “good guy.” So the producers dropped the scene and filmed some additional sequences of Phelps reacting to the Indians’ success with dismay when they do, in fact, make the playoffs.
Isn’t it amazing how much that would have changed the way you watched that film?
The alternate ending is available on the Major League: Wild Thing Edition DVD.
The legend is…
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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!
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