Jeremy Piven Was Left On The Cutting Room Floor & More From Sports Illustrated’s Oral History Of ‘Major League’
Baseball movies are a notoriously hard sell, which is why they don’t get made very often. But every once in a while, one connects, and 1989’s “Major League” was nothing short of a homerun, finding favor with both audiences and diehard baseball fans, kicking off a franchise. Starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bersen and Rene Russo, and directed by David S. Ward, the film follows the hapless Cleveland Indians, a team of misfits brought together for the sole purpose of drumming up a losing season so the owners can move the team. However, when the players catch wind of the plan, they band together and put together an improbable winning season.
With three “Major League” films official released and one more in development (more on that below), twenty-two years on, the movie still resonates and is seen as classic of the genre. Sports Ilustrated has reached out to the filmmakers and stars of “Major League” for an extensive oral history of the film as you might expect with anything Sheen related, there’s drugs, women and oh yeah, baseball.
1. Charlie Sheen Compares The Script To Catnip, Crack & An Oscar Winning Vietnam War Movie
Before Sheen became the winning warlock we know him as today, in the mid-to-late 1980s he was one of the hottest stars of his generation, with a string of notable turns in the Oscar winning “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” “Young Guns” and another revered (though less seen) baseball movie “Eight Men Out.” You might think a low-brow baseball comedy to be beneath the actor, but according to Sheen, he flipped when he read it.
“When I saw the script it wasn’t like catnip, it was like crack. I was going to a premiere, and I had a meeting with [director] David [S. Ward] in the morning, so I had the script in the limo, and I was late because I couldn’t put it down. Then I sat in my driveway for an hour to finish it. It was probably as good a script as ‘Platoon,’ seriously,” Sheen said.
And the actor made no secret about his enthusiasm as producer Chris Chesser recounts, “It was David’s idea to get a real baseball player and set up a training camp for a few weeks to whip these actors into shape. He got Steve Yeager’s name from the Dodgers. Charlie said it was like when he made ‘Platoon’ and Oliver Stone sent them to boot camp.”
2. Charlie Sheen Admits He Used Steroids While Working On The Film
It seems in the bevy of various pharmaceutical Sheen has ingested over the decades, there was one drug the used strictly on the movie to mixed effect. Combined with his outrageous lightning bolt haircut, it left the usually unshakable actor a bit more on edge than usual however, as everyone relates on the movie, Sheen was a natural on the pitcher’s mound and his performance enhancer only helped his turn as Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn.
“I didn’t like the haircut because it generated so many comments in bars. I’ve got enough of that already. Add that to the mix and it’s a recipe for a fistfight,” Sheen said. “I was already bitchy because—let’s just say that I was enhancing my performance a little bit. It was the only time I ever did steroids. I did them for like six or eight weeks. You can print this, I don’t give a f—. My fastball went from 79 to like 85.”
3. The Original Ending Was Tossed After Test Audiences Reacted Poorly
The entire plot of the film revolves around the Cleveland Indians rallying against the team owner Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) who wishes the team to lose so she can move them to Miami. As seen in the “Wild Thing Edition” DVD an alternate ending was shot that was soon scrapped.
“Originally, ‘Major League’ had a different ending,” explains Ward. “I was trying so hard to be clever, adding a little twist at the end where the owner—this person who you think has been trying to sabotage the team—actually turns out to have been the architect of the team’s success. But when we tested it, audiences were pissed. They enjoyed hating her.”
4. Jeremy Piven Was Cast In The Film, But Had All His Scenes Cut
In what would have been one of his first major screen roles, Jeremy Piven was cast in the film but with a result that would’ve made Ari Gold furious.
“A lot of people don’t know this but Jeremy Piven was in the movie. He was a bench jockey, and all his bits were him yelling insults at opposing teams,” Ward says about Piven’s role. “But it didn’t really work, and I cut the whole thing. He’s done O.K. for himself, although I’m sure he was disappointed at the time.”
5. Charlie Sheen’s Proclivity For Chasing Tail Was In Full Effect
Sheen spent much of his post-“Two And A Half Men” meltdown in the company of his “goddesses” (who have since left him) with his penchant for high priced escorts and higher priced porn stars no secret. But even back as a young buck stalking Hollywood, Sheen’s taste for women was seemingly insatiable.
“Brewers pitcher Pete Vuckovich was in the movie, and he had a bar in Milwaukee that we would all go to a lot,” Bersen says about the downtime on the shoot. “And you have Charlie, the ringleader. He was a chick magnet. It was the most astonishing thing any of us had ever seen. He was the Pied Piper of beautiful women.”
But it wasn’t just the local talent that interested the actor. “Charlie had a lot of women flying in and out of Milwaukee,” Ward confirms. “His biggest problem was trying to coordinate the airline schedule so that these women wouldn’t run into each other.”
Even Sheen freely admits he had quite the operation going on, but even he had his limits saying, “It wasn’t as bad as on ‘Young Guns’ [a year earlier]. We made that one in Santa Fe, and you would fly into Albuquerque and drive to Santa Fe on this two-lane highway. Literally, the girls that were leaving would pass the ones coming in. “Major League” was so physically demanding that you didn’t have a lot of time for that. You’re lying in bed and everything [hurts], and you’re thinking, I have to pitch tomorrow?! But there were certain days that we’d look at the schedule for the next day and be like, ‘Gentlemen, tonight we ride.'”
6. David S. Ward Admits The Sequel Was Not As Good As The Original & ‘Major League IV’ Is All About Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn’s Comeback
With the original a smash success, it wasn’t long before a sequel was in development but by then, the film had already gone to the head of the some of the stars.
“A couple years after ‘Major League’ I saw Wesley. I said, ‘Hey, man, they’re gonna make Major League II!’ And he was like, ‘You’re gonna do that?’ And I thought, Wow, how quickly they forget. He’d become Wesley Snipes. That rubbed me the wrong way,” recalls Bernsen. Snipes was replaced in the sequel by Omar Epps.
As for Ward, he’s quite candid about the sequel and its followup. “I didn’t write ‘Major League II.’ I decided to direct it at the last minute because I couldn’t see someone else taking my characters. But it’s not as good as the first one. It tried too hard to be funny. The third one [‘Major League: Back to the Minors’] is a complete mystery to me. I don’t even consider that a ‘Major League’ movie.”
Even the perennially jovial Bob Uecker dismisses the third incarnation as a disaster saying, “‘Major League II’ was good. I was in it more. The third ‘Major League’ was bad. I should have never done that. It was terrible.”
As reported during the whole Sheen/”Two And A Half Men” saga, “Major League IV” is in active development and while Morgan Creek CEO James Robinson had openly cautioned Sheen that if his antics continue he’ll be bounced from any future film, it may be hard given the premise. “I’ve written a new Major League sequel. It’s more than 20 years later, and Wild Thing is out of baseball. It’s about him coming back,” Ward says.
As for Sheen, he’s game and he elaborates on the (randomly) star studded viewing party he threw for the movie last fall. “I’m in. F—, yeah. Why not? I think enough time has gone by. Let me tell you a story. We had this party at my place a few months ago to watch ‘Major League. It was awesome. The beard was there—Brian Wilson, from the Giants. We had Eddie Murray and Kenny Lofton. And I got David Ward to introduce the film. Colin Farrell showed up,” Sheen shares. “And when my big strikeout at the end comes on, the place goes nuts like we’ve never even seen the movie before. I’m in between my two girlfriends, and I look over and there’s Colin Farrell giving me a thumbs-up. I reach behind me for a fist bump from Brian Wilson, who goes, ‘Winning!’ I’m telling you, David Ward created a baseball classic, and baseball is all that matters in the world. You know, I always wonder what I’m going to be in the middle of when I die. And I just hope it’s not in the middle of the greatest f—— pennant race ever.”
What else is there to say?