English romantic poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with coining the phrase “suspension of disbelief.”
The term describes the requirement a work of fiction places upon a theoretical audience member or reader to willfully accept as truth certain fantastical or implausible elements contained therein.
This aesthetic imperative enables us to become invested in alternate realities we know to be false, and use the shadowy truths and broad archetypes we find so appealing in fiction to simplify the dizzying complexities of our own empirical reality.
Now, let’s be honest: Major League is as far-fetched a film as they come. The parallel universe created here—familiar to us because it speaks a well-known language of baseball, complete with well-known team insignia—provides the framework for the ultimate underdog story.
Fueled by the multiplication of unlikely events, the narrative pays the debt that every suffering baseball fan believes he’s owed.
But in a much larger sense, it follows the blueprint drawn up by the deepest desires of humanity.
We take tremendous comfort in the story because it expands the limits of what Man, even in his most wretched state, is capable of.
The elevation of the lowest common denominator empowers the human imagination to reach heights untalked-of and unseen, fulfilling our eternal hope that the lives we lead eventually break loose from the shackles of mundane monotony we’re so accustomed to wearing.
Prince Hamlet tells us that fiction holds the mirror up to nature; and so it does.
But fiction also increases our appreciation for the beauty of nature’s most improbable realities.
The 2010 San Francisco Giants were branded as “misfits” and “outcasts” early in their playoff run. Against all odds, they became World Champions, triumphing twice over teams they weren’t supposed to beat.
The formula is familiar. The Cleveland Indians in Major League provide a bare-bones model for misfit champions that our own beloved Giants flesh out.
Only when we move from the fictive to the real, we transform our implicit contract of “suspended disbelief” into the power of “sustained belief.”
So let’s get started, shall we?
The scary similarities between these two managers begin with obvious outward indicators, such as speech and appearance.
Brown and Bochy both wear distinctive facial hair around the lips that lends a certain quality of mystique and gravitas to their managerial auras. Whether it’s the moustache or the goatee, these physiognomic decorations seem to scream “I mean business” across the field to the other dugout.
Both men speak with a low, granular drawl that seems to grant an extra layer of authority to everything they say. All of their decisions just seem to have more justification when articulated in that tone.
And speaking of decisions, both Brown and Bochy pushed all the right buttons at all the right times, managing personalities perfectly and always giving priority to good baseball sense.
Lou Brown held stud rookie Rick Vaughn out of the division-clinching game in favor of crafty veteran Eddie Harris even though it was the former’s turn in the rotation.
And how did the fiery Vaughn respond? By coming out of the bullpen with a chip on his shoulder and striking out the Yankees’ formidable slugger Clu Haywood on a 102 mph fastball.
But Bochy, not to be outdone, made all the calls needed to ensure that his machine was fully oiled for its championship drive. His decisions were drawn out over several weeks, but since they were unaided by the attention-grabbing nature of cinema, they were less obviously instrumental to his team’s success.
Nevertheless, one may point to Bochy’s choice of Cody Ross over Jose Guillen at the start of the postseason as representative of his managerial acumen. Not only did the move bring out MVP-quality play from Ross, it kept the subject of an HGH investigation from becoming a distraction.
Bochy’s MLB stock rose appreciably during the 2010 playoffs, while his unassuming, humble air only increased the likability of the team he headed. These qualities make San Francisco’s skipper the spitting image of the fictional Indians’ manager.
In Major League, we are introduced to all of the characters by way of a simple device: GM Charlie Donovan and Lou Brown discuss the idiosyncrasies of the new team as the procession of players arrive for the start of Spring Training. Their chorus supplies the following hilarious exchange:
LB: “I thought you said you didn’t have any high-priced talent on this team.”
CD: “Forget Dorn, because he’s only high-priced.”
Several fans in the Bay Area have been driven to make similar quips about the Giants’ $14 million reserve, Aaron Rowand. Although he began his tenure with the Giants as a gritty veteran leader, through spotty offensive production he transformed into an albatross.
Both Dorn and Rowand spent most of their time as notorious liabilities—one with his glove, the other with his bat. But their glaring deficiencies slowly faded into the background as larger-looming team success began to overshadow their shortcomings.
To their credit, neither player allowed a sense of entitlement or negative attitude to affect team chemistry.
After Dorn discovered that Ricky Vaughn had slept with his wife, his teammates thought he would bring a vengeful grudge onto the field; then he surprised “Wild Thing” by encouraging him to strike out the intimidating Clu Haywood before an important late-game confrontation.
Rowand, meanwhile, found himself riding pine after getting swept away, like a house in a hurricane, by the torrential play of Andres Torres.
He could have become a distraction; instead, he became an opportunistic situational hitter, galvanizing the team with a pinch-hit home run in a late-season game against the Padres, and later contributing a thrilling triple to the Giants’ remarkable seven-run eighth-inning rally in the second game of the World Series.
Overpaid? Yes. Worthwhile contributor? Sometimes. A distraction? Never. Aaron Rowand could play a very convincing Roger Dorn—and he’d be happy to do it for the good of the film.
It was love at first sight.
Following Pedro Cerrano’s lead, Juan Uribe’s play for the 2010 Giants was characterized by a swing-for-the-fences mentality that produced both prodigious home runs and foolish-looking strikeouts, an uncanny knack for coming through in clutch spots, and reliance on a Voodoo idol named Jobu to solve all of his baseball-related problems.
Okay, so maybe not that last one.
Still, one has to imagine that Juan Uribe made a sacrifice to some Pagan god before willing that Ryan Madson fastball just barely over the right-field fence at Citizens Bank Park and wrecking the Phillies’ designs on a third-straight NL pennant. I mean, how many opposite-field home runs can you even remember Uribe hitting?
And you have to admit, that game-winning blast was pretty reminiscent of the improbable late-inning bomb off the bat of Pedro Cerrano that evened the score with the Yankees and breathed new life into the Tribe’s quest for the division title.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Juan Uribe and Pedro Cerrano got the job done for their respective teams when it mattered most. And they both did it with a charming Latin American flair that sometimes bordered on eccentricity.
They may not be a disgruntled World War II bombardier and an army chaplain, but I still think it was meant to be.
Let me count the ways.
Accentuated by a unique brand of wildness, Brian Wilson brought an intimidating presence to the mound every time he pitched.
Sound familiar? Wilson's explosive fastball and late movement gave batters fits, and much like Vaughn, he was able to access a little reserve velocity whenever he needed a big strikeout.
Although he never experienced control problems to match the Ankielian struggles of Rick Vaughn, Wilson approached each save situation like an adrenaline addict looking for his next fix.
Say what you will about their flair for the dramatic; when it came to retiring the side in order to lock down the World Series-clinching save, or coming in from the bullpen to strike out a tough hitter in a tight game, Wilson and Vaughn both displayed unflinching resolve in the most pressure-packed situations.
And then there’s the obvious:
Both Vaughn and Wilson fit the description of that unique specimen of player who, with the help of a simple hook, attracts a coterie of rabid followers.
Wilson’s beard became the stuff of instant legend, inspiring a band of devotees who sported exaggerated jet-black copycat beards and wore ‘Fear the Beard’ merchandise. As for Vaughn, his widespread support can be summed up by his city’s appropriation of the popular lyric, “Wild Thing, you make my heart sing.”
The nickname, the swagger, and the stuff. Let's face it: Brian Wilson IS Rick Vaughn.
Perhaps out of all the characters in Major League, Willie Mays Hayes captures the essence of “misfit ballplayer” the best.
On a team put together with spare parts taken off the scrap heap, Hayes, who didn't even garner an invite to Spring Training, played the part of scrap-heap reject.
He overcompensated by pretending to be somebody he wasn’t, associating himself with baseball immortality by way of a nifty catchphrase: “I run like Hayes, and I hit like Mays.”
But when the Indians found out he wasn't supposed to be there, they unceremoniously removed him from the complex, still asleep on his mattress.
Confused upon waking, Hayes sprinted full-speed back onto the practice field in his pajamas and outdistanced the players running sprints. Lou Brown immediately took notice and resolved to find a place on his squad for the upstart speedster.
Now imagine that sequence of events stretched out over the span of a decade, and you have Andres Torres.
Torres, a player Giants fans have grown to appreciate for his impressive skill set and unrivaled work ethic, toiled in the minors for several seasons before finally sticking with a big-league club.
After teams like the Tigers and the Rangers gave up on him, the Giants took a chance on him and were rewarded for it.
In these Post-Steroid Era days, baseball fans are leery of being fooled again; they cast suspicious glances on those 30-somethings who suddenly find that little extra they need to succeed after having failed for so many years.
We have become jaded, unwilling to accept a heartwarming real-life rags-to-riches story when we see one.
But that’s exactly what Andres Torres represents. In the 2010 season, after years of consuming humble pie, he earned the opportunity, by letting his play do the talking, to gobble up playing time on a daily basis for a championship team.
And as the underdog of all underdogs (with his fair share of base-stealing ability), he’s the perfect man to play Willie Mays Hayes.
Here’s the character sketch: An aging veteran, beset with injuries and feeling his once luminous star dwindling, desires to reach the zenith one last time before resuming his inexorable descent into oblivion.
Every ragtag group of ragamuffins has at least one Renteria or Taylor.
If Jake Taylor is Major League’s main protagonist, then Edgar Renteria is the biggest hero of the Giants’ World Series victory.
Edgar Renteria: World Series MVP. These words have passed through my lips several times since that great honor was bestowed upon him, and as the event itself recedes into the past, each new repetition becomes increasingly ineffable—more and more like the stuff that dreams are made of.
After hitting only three home runs in the regular season, Renteria blasted two in the World Series, both times driving in the game’s first runs and providing all the offensive spark the Giants’ extraordinary pitching needed to hold off the Rangers.
Just as Jake Taylor miraculously beat out a bunt single on catcher’s legs and bad knees to drive in the division-clinching run for the Tribe, Renteria somehow crushed a fastball over the left-center-field wall against the best pitcher in baseball to provide the winning RBI in the Giants’ championship-clinching win.
Renteria plays Jake Taylor because he knows what it feels like to beat almost impossible odds—and he shed the post-game tears to prove it.
When I reflect upon the Giants’ first World Championship since their move to San Francisco, I find it rather easy to wax poetic about its significance—about the mesmerizing triumph of will over expectation, and of hope over cynicism.
When we find parallels in art with which to compare the most amazing moments in our own lives, we do so because we have no choice. The only way we can grapple with the immense profundity of novel experiences is by compartmentalizing them using what we already know.
Then, the fact that I can see Roger Dorn in Aaron Rowand’s shadow, or catch a glimpse of Jake Taylor in Edgar Renteria’s bat waggle, should come as no surprise.
But ultimately, this recasting is unsatisfying. The Giants’ World Championship is special because it is entirely and uniquely theirs.
Twenty-five individual experiences coalesced into one collective accomplishment; and no team—past or present, real or fictional—can ever recreate or borrow that singular feeling of wonderment.
And besides, can you really transpose the 2010 San Francisco Giants and leave out the rally thong?