By the early 1980s writer-director David S. Ward should have been a happy man. At 29, he'd won an Oscar for writing the Robert Redford--Paul Newman con man caper The Sting. He was at the top of his profession—the sort of bankable storyteller with whom every movie studio wanted to do business. But deep down this baseball fan was miserable. Ward's beloved Cleveland Indians were perennial basement dwellers, finishing more than a game above .500 only three times from 1960 through '83. If he was ever going to see his team win it all, some Hollywood magic would be necessary. So Ward sat down and created a colorful cast of baseball losers—a washed-up cad of a catcher named Jake Taylor, a brash young fireballer nicknamed Wild Thing, a voodoo-worshipping cleanup hitter named Pedro Cerrano. ... This was a team that Cleveland fans—fans of any team, really—could root for. And that they have. Since its release 22 years ago, Ward's little $11 million cheapie, Major League, has cemented itself as a timeless sports classic. Today, if snippets of it are not airing on stadium scoreboards, chances are it's playing to laughs in team clubhouses, where Bob Uecker's deadpan calls ("Juuust a bit outside!") are quoted like scripture. To commemorate the movie, SI reassembled the most memorable Indians team since the days of Bob Feller for a look back at the making of Major League.
I. "A reminder, fans, about Die-hard Night. Free admission to anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won a pennant."
David S. Ward (writer, director)
: I grew up in Cleveland. I remember the 1954 World Series and how upset my father was that the Indians, after such a spectacular season [they were 111--43], were swept by the Giants. That's when I realized how important a baseball game could be. After that, things went into a decline in Cleveland. Just grim, awful, hopeless years. I thought, The only way the Indians will ever win anything in my lifetime is if I make a movie where they do. And obviously it has to be a comedy because nobody would believe it as a drama.
Chris Chesser (producer): My first job as a studio executive was at Orion Pictures on Caddyshack. Then I stepped out to be a producer. I approached David to see if he was working on anything, and he told me about Major League.
Ward: I began writing Major League in 1984, but it took about four years to get it made. The studios kept explaining that baseball had just started being broadcast on cable and people could see the game anytime they wanted; why would anybody pay to see a movie about it? We finally brought it to a company called Morgan Creek, and they thought it would be a good reteaming of Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen from Platoon. And I was like, Well, they're not exactly comedians... .
Tom Berenger (washed-up catcher Jake Taylor): Charlie asked if I was going to do it. I said, "Yeah, I think it's great, don't you?" He said, "Yeah." I think he wanted to know what his old sergeant thought.
Charlie Sheen (fireballing reliever Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn): 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 David 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.
II. "Forget about the curveball, Ricky. Give him the heater!"
Chesser: 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.
Ward: Steve ended up doubling for Tom behind the plate too. Whenever you see Tom throw with his mask on, that's Yeager. The guys took hitting practice every day, fielding practice, throwing... . There's a lot of camaraderie that comes out of running sprints.