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Rudi Stein

June 6, 2011

Chico’s Bail Bonds Player of the Week: Rudi Stein

[My ode to the 1977 movie The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is due out June 7. To celebrate, I’ll be shining a weekly spotlight on the boys in the customized van.]

Have you ever stood on a pitcher’s mound and taken an endless beating? I have. I was 12, the same age that I would guess the character Rudy Stein is supposed to be in The Bad News Bears. I was in my final year of little league and to that point had never done any pitching and wasn’t a strong kid and couldn’t throw hard, but we weren’t a very good team, either, so I got three chances to pitch. The first appearance went misleadingly well, as I pitched the final inning of a lopsided win against the worst team in the league and struck out three bottom-of-the-order nine-year-olds. The next day in school a tough kid in my grade who had seen the performance cornered me.

“That was just luck yesterday,” he said. The kid didn’t even play little league, but my improbable success, brief and inconsequential as it was, seemed to offend his sensibilities.

“You got lucky,” he said, scowling.

My next performance was another short appearance but a bad one, a brief hemorrhaging of hits and walks mixed in with the occasional out. In my third and final time on a pitcher’s mound I did not record a single out and, eventually, during a mound conference with the coach, wept. Between sobs, I begged to be taken out of the game. The coach complied, and that was that for pitching.

In the 1976 film The Bad News Bears, Rudi Stein, patron saint of endless mound beatings, never crumbled as I had but instead just kept hurling for however long his team needed him to. Midway through the film, his utter ineptitude, central as it is to the team’s hopelessness, prompts the team’s coach, Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), to bring in a ringer, Amanda (Tatum O’Neal). After she rides to the rescue, Rudi is needed only for two more ineffective appearances on the mound, once when Amanda has a bad cold and again, in the last inning of the championship game, when Amanda’s sore arm causes Buttermaker to replace her. Within moments of Rudi’s entrance into the tightly contested championship, several line drives have been rocketed all over the field, puncturing the tension of the game. Rudi Stein exists independently of the possibility of winning. He doesn’t weep or quit. He keeps throwing his powerless pitches.

***

By the outset of the 1977 sequel The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, Rudi Stein, suddenly appearing to be an at-bat or two from leaping straight out of childhood altogether and into stooped, paunchy middle-age, seems to have surrendered his deepest hopes and dreams. In the first movie, he had been the very first Bear player to announce both his name and his wishes: he wanted to pitch. He wanted it so much, in fact, that he pitched and pitched despite having absolutely no knack for it. But at the start of the second movie, there’s no sign at all that the Bears have a pitcher on their roster at all (Amanda’s absence is never mentioned), only that they desperately need a pitcher, which is how the swaggering, vulnerable bullshitter Carmen Ronzonni enters the fray.

Throughout the sequel, Rudi Stein is a marginal character, a member of the wow, cool chorus in the back of the customized van as it sails across the West. We are left to make up for ourselves what might be going on in his mind now that his original dream to move from the sidelines to the middle of the diamond has faded, sending him back to the sidelines again, now without any hope, really, of ever reentering the game in a meaningful way.

Rudi’s most memorable moment in the movie is when he wanders over to the bleachers at the outset of the Bears’ first practice in Houston. He takes his place near Kelly Leak’s father, Mike, who has been told that beyond posing as a coach he doesn’t really need to do anything else since the Bears don’t need a coach. Without a word to Mike Leak, who is reading a paper, Rudi lies down and puts his hat over his face to take a nap. It’s a funny thing for a kid to do, especially one who went so far as to trick his parents into letting him ride with the other boys unchaperoned across several state lines, this familial betrayal ostensibly launched because everyone involved in the ruse wanted badly to keep playing baseball. But Rudi Stein, given the chance to play some baseball on the practice diamond, chooses instead to take a nap like he’s a retiree winded from his morning mall-walk. He rises from the nap only when the practice devolves into a brawl. He takes the cap from over his face, sits up a little, and looks at the bodies flying.

“Oh my,” he says, mournfully, his pubescent voice cracking.

With that, he is out of his slumber and back in the world of the Bears. If things ever went smoothly, he’d be left out entirely, but there will always be a need for someone to rise and endure the meaningless innings. Rudi Stein leaves the sidelines and moves without hesitation toward his fate, our fate, garbage time.

12 comments

  1. Some addenda:
    Rudi wasn’t much of a pitcher, but in the available data from the first two films, he actually has quite the on-base percentage: .750 (4 plate appearances, one single, two HBP, and one groundout).

    Here’s a nice tribute to Rudi, along with an interesting interview with his portrayer, David Pollack:

    http://www.cultfilmfreak.com/davidpollock/


  2. “Garbage time”…? In the words of Randal Graves in CLERKS 2, Rudi is taking it back. Hell yeah he is. The interview with Mr Pollack is almost as charming as Rudi’s spotlight here. He has a very solid grasp on Rudi’s fortunes and motivations, and indeed that unique legal practice would be a lucrative sideline when the baseball tapped out.

    Please tell us you scored a BNB:IBT poster as a result of writing your latest, Josh? Or already had one? Talk about taking it back. I can only presume your next assignment is recovering the long lost UNA PANDILLA DE PELOTAS: CUBA LIBRE! script, or creating a new one. You owe it to Senor Castro before his demise. It’s fun to think that Paramount had a plan to film as many BNB sequels as the market would allow before puberty inevitably seized the young actors, much like the ten-year march of the HARRY POTTER cast; stupid market. I’d like to visit that alternate universe where the BNB double trilogy was completed.

    Until then, though, I’m off in search of one of those Dairy Queen BNB sundaes. All this nostalgia is making me hungry.


  3. The Bears though were a one season team. That is what made the first movie so great and the ones after have such a tough time.


  4. I watched the original last night and was amazed at how heavy-footed Rudi was. He could barely get out of the box! How different would the 6th inning have been if he could have drug those cinder block feet out of the quicksand and actually made it to second instead of getting thrown out. Are we sure he didn’t grow up to be Sid Bream? Have we ever seen the two in the same place at the same time?


  5. jbavi: Sid Bream was fleet enough to score from second on Francisco Cabrera’s bullet single to left to win the ’92 NLCS for Atlanta. Give Sid some love!


  6. Two things I wondered, even back then:

    (1) How were there no usage rules bulit in to foil Butttermaker’s plan to have Amanda pitch out the season? Even after her complete game in the final game of the season, she’s back on the mound the next day for the championship.

    (2) When denied the sweet right arm of Amanda, why does Buttercrud go back to Rudi and not Kelly? After all, he first noticed Kelly’s skills when he threw a foul ball back in on target from 200 feet away. In my Little League, 12-year-olds who weren’t called up to the Major League were permitted to continue in the Minor League, but not permitted to pitch. Is that what’s keeping Kelly off the mound?

    A few non-Rudi things I also wondered, even back then:

    (3) Why is Kelly wasted in left field (occasionally center) any how? We all know the best athletes in Little League end up at short, pitcher, and first.

    (4) How did the Bears achieve “California Champs” status anyhow? Is this a continuation of the season from the first film or the next season, in which they made good on Timmy Lupus’ threat? Did they win the local championship and go through a statewide tounament? Were Buttermaker, Wurlitzer, and Leak with them through this improbable run, and then they suddenly quit before the trip to to Houston? Really?


  7. It’s charming to think about Amanda being on a pitch count in those larval days of sabermetrics in the mid-70s. She certainly accumulated her share of Pitcher Abuse Points during that run to the title game. I will stop short of comparing Buttermaker to Dusty Baker, however.


  8. There was really no reason for the Bears to be the California champs. The possibility of the Yankees coach having family issues and being unable to coach is negated due to Buttermaker being out of the picture as well. Couldn’t they have come up with some weak explanation early in the film just to patch the hole? And was it just me or was the wife of the Yankees coach pretty hot?

    I read the Deep Focus BNBIBT book last week and I will give it my highest compliment to a book…although I wanted to keep reading I made myself stop a few times it so as to stretch it out as long as possible. It was really enjoyable and brought back memories of being a kid. Also good to know I am not the only one who questions the illogical lineup every time I watch the movie. You can’t help but notice some players batting almost every inning.

    Does anyone know if there is a trailer for BNBIBT somewhere on the internet? I have looked but can’t find one. I have the DVD and it does not have the trailer. I was always fascinated with going to the movies as a kid and loved the trailers. Going to see BNBIBT with my friends back in the 70’s was similar to how Josh described. Thanks for a great follow up to Cardboard Gods.


  9. I think the 1977 novelization of Breaking Training came up with some premise that Buttermaker (before having to exit before the action begins) had hustled up the game in the dome through a friend in the beer industry.

    Thanks for the good words about the book!


  10. I never read the BNBIBT book, I was just thinking about heading over to the used book store this week to take a look for it. I remember reading a portion of the original book prior to seeing the movie. I read a bit of it in a grocery store while waiting for my mother to pay for her items. It was 35 years ago but I remember it pretty clearly, or at least I think I can.

    I have to say your Deep Focus book was too short. I could have gone for another couple of pages, it was really enjoyable. How about a Deep Focus about the original?


  11. I like the notion that guys who drink a lot of beer, by definition, have clout in the beverage industry.

    Hard to understand how Budweiser consented to its brand’s use in these films — its product guzzled in the car by a fringely loser mixing it with whiskey in the first movie, and a promoter from the company in the second film being a child exploiter and sap.

    It was a different time. Congratulations on the great book, Josh. Maybe I’ll find a copy of the novelization as well.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Bad-News-Bears-Breaking-Training-1977-Movie-Novel-/310267739384


  12. I wonder if companies like Budweiser were even consulted or asked for consent? As Edward just said above, it was a different time… and pre-teens drinking and smoking was almost a Hollywood cliche by the dawn of the 80s.

    As far as this movie… Looking back it was fairly obvious that it cost HBO more money to run the original movie then this one… Because the sequel was all over cable when we first got it in the early / mid 80s, but you didn’t see the original. For years, I doubt that I even knew that this was a sequel at all. I have fond memories of this as a surf stopper… On those rainy days in summer when you were stuck inside and casually flipping channels, stumbling into a showing of BNBIBT already in progress always put the breaks on my remote control thumb. I just added the first two BNB movies to my Netflix queue and added Josh’s book to my x-mas wish list.



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