'Major League' writer, director Wild about Tribe

Ward believes this year's Indians have 'that destiny feel'

October 23rd, 2016

CLEVELAND -- Welcome back, Jobu, Wild Thing, Roger Dorn and Lou Brown.

We've missed you. Actually, you never really left us, but given today's current events, it's nice to hear that you're back in the conversation.

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"Major League" long ago cemented its reputation as one of the very best of many baseball movies made in the past 50-plus years, but not because it was an emotional experience, like "Field of Dreams," or inspirational, like "The Natural," or historic, like "The Pride of the Yankees."

No, "Major League" is iconic because it is hilarious, somewhat true to life and totally relatable.

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And it's all coming back to the forefront, thanks to the real-life Indians -- the talented, underdog Indians -- winning the American League pennant.

This all makes David Ward -- Indians fan, all-around sports fanatic and the brilliance behind "Major League" -- a very happy native Clevelander.

"There's something about this team that has a little bit of that destiny feel," Ward said.

That's not what Ward, who grew up in South Euclid and Cleveland Heights, was feeling 27 years ago, when the movie he wrote and directed hit the theaters. Yes, "Major League" was based on the Indians because they are Ward's beloved hometown team, but he also targeted the Tribe because the film was largely about a team that was accustomed to being terrible, and being terrible can also be, if written properly, very funny.

At that time, it was a perfect partnership. The Indians hadn't come within a sniff of first place in decades, and through the angst, Ward saw the humor.

"It was their history of losing," Ward said. "I felt at that point, if the Indians were ever going to win anything during my lifetime, I would have to write a movie where they did. And obviously, given their futility at that time, it had to be a comedy."

In 1989, Ward had no idea the real Indians were just a few years away from becoming one of baseball's elite teams, a status they would enjoy for the better part of a decade.

"I can't take any credit for that," Ward said, chuckling. "I'd like to think the movie kept the fanbase entertained for a couple of years. Hopefully, it gave them some relief from the misery for a while."

"Major League" is played and replayed in syndication to this day, giving it contained life throughout the years, no matter how much times -- and trends -- change.

But now that the Indians are back in the national spotlight as AL champions, the movie has made a bit of a resurgence. Almost as soon as the Tribe clinched the pennant, a social media movement began that called for Charlie Sheen -- Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn in the movie -- to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at one of the World Series games.

Additionally, stories from earlier this season revealing the current Indians' attachment to the fictional ones resurfaced in the news.

Remember the Jobu shrine and built between their lockers during a midseason winning streak? How about the players offering chicken to the baseball gods and Jobu in order to help through a hitting slump?

"Major League," it seems, is not only hilarious, but timeless as well.

Perhaps it's still so popular because its characters are so relatable. Ward used real-life Major Leaguers to create the fictional ones for the film.

"Wild Thing" was based loosely on two gregarious relief pitchers -- Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky, master of the crazy mound antics, and Ryne Duren, who, as Ward remembers him, "threw the ball about a gazillion miles an hour but didn't see well. He didn't always know where the ball was going."

The Alou brothers, Matty and Felipe, were the inspiration for the Pedro Cerrano character "not so much in terms of his look and his intimidation factor, but the superstitious stuff," Ward said. "The Alou brothers, they were known to talk to their bats."

The inspiration for Willie Mays Hayes was not the real Mays, but rather Rickey Henderson, who, like Wesley Snipes' character, was "a great basestealer with plenty of bravado," Ward said.

When it came to casting Harry Doyle, there was only one person Ward wanted playing that role.

"I wanted [Bob] Uecker," Ward said. "There was never anybody else up for this job. I said, 'Get me Uecker, I don't care what it takes. We've got to have him.' He contributed ad libs that were sensational."

Ward, who teaches part-time at Chapman University in Southern California, said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the Tribe's chances to win the World Series, but he senses there is something special about this group.

"When I look at the team, they don't seem as talented as those teams in the 1990s," Ward said. "But they have some kind of resilience and poise. They make you beat them. They're not going to give anything away. This team battles, they're aggressive on the bases and they play defense."

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If the Indians do win it, Ward will embrace an improbable second championship won by a Cleveland professional franchise this year. The NBA's Cavaliers started the party with their "Believeland" run in June, and the "Win-dians" could add to the Titletown euphoria as early as this week.

"It would be so cool," Ward said. "I just think it would be a great thing for the town. I tend to like to see small-market teams win anyway, even if it wasn't the Indians. I'm going to be real happy."