BY KEVIN KERNAN
You can change your name, but you can’t change who you are as a baseball team.
This October, barring a stunning team turnaround, the franchise formerly known as the Cleveland Indians will have gone 75 years without winning a World Series championship.
That’s right, Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series since 1948 – when ace Bob Feller lost two games in the Series against the Boston Braves, but Bob Lemon saved the day. Thirty years before he saved the day as manager of the Yankees – he saved the day for the Indians by winning two games.
That was the Indians’ second World Series title, the first coming in 1920. And that’s it.
Yankee fans whine about having won only one World Series since 2000. Mets fans have to go back to 1986 for their last World Series victory, only the second in their team’s history. The Padres have never won a World Series since being born in 1969; but the Padres would have to go another 21 years without a World Series to match where the Cleveland Guardians stand right at this moment, when it comes to October World Series success.
As if that’s not painful enough for Cleveland fans, the last two times in the World Series when they were known as the Indians, the Tribe managed to lose Game 7 twice – both in extra innings.
After a glimmer of hope last October and a loss in Game 5 of the Division Series to the Yankees, Cleveland thought it might be on its way to a bigger and brighter future.
Not so fast.
In the worst division in baseball, the Guardians are well under .500. But it gets worse.
As of Saturday (yesterday), the powder puff Guardians had managed to hit only 30 home runs all season, by far the fewest homers in the major leagues. Even the AAA A’s had 55 home runs. The Rays were leading the pack with 99, more than three times as many as Cleveland in this Home Run Era.
The Guardians were also last in runs scored, with only 173. The A’s had 185 runs and the Rangers were leading with 322.
Next year will mark the 35th anniversary since the release of the classic baseball movie Major League, a film where the comedic genius of Bob Uecker stole the show and the Indians won the American League pennant.
Remember the iconic bar scene in Major League where a motley crew of Indians fans wildly celebrated the team winning the pennant? Here at The Story we found the place where the Indians are forever winners, the place with the wonderful horseshoe shaped bar where scenes from Major League were filmed, a place where they still sometimes play the film Major League for fans, a place where the Indians, who no longer exist by that name, are truly winners.
A place where everybody knows your name and a place where they re-enacted that celebratory bar scene for the 30th anniversary of the film and are planning to re-enact it again next year for the 35th anniversary.
Fittingly, it’s called 4th Base Restaurant – and it’s a steakhouse and seafood restaurant inside a neighborhood sports bar. And it’s not in Cleveland at all, it is in West Milwaukee, about a 10-minute walk from the ballpark formerly known as Miller Park.
Back in my day the horseshoe style bar was popular, but that’s also back in the day when patrons actually talked to one another at the bar and looked each other in the eye. They didn’t just stare at their phones.
CJ Papara grew up in the family business and was five years old at the time of the filming of Major League in 1988 at 4th Base. His dad Pete ran the place back then.
Instead of ruminating about 75 years of no World Series victories, let’s talk about the good times of Major League the movie, and Wild Thing and all the other characters of those ragtag Indians.
“It’s kind of fun to keep those memories going,’’ Papara told BallNine about replaying the movie at 4th Base. “We’ve got T-shirts that say the bar from Major League.’’
You can find those shirts and much more at their website www.the4thbase.com
There’s the horseshoe bar with all the sports memorabilia and then there is the classy restaurant that is 4thBase.
It is not often you find a sports bar in the front and gourmet dining in the back.
Life doesn’t get much better than that. It’s like having a team that can not only pitch, but hit too.
“People come in here and can order shrimp and scallops and crab legs and steak and things like that,’’ Papara said of the restaurant/bar that first opened in 1977. “It’s definitely a different dynamic than what you are used to when you go out to watch a baseball game.
“The horseshoe bar is exactly the same as from the movie,’’ he said. “It’s one of those things where you just don’t see horseshoe bars in general anymore, let alone this is one from the movie. Everything is pretty much exactly the same in the horseshoe bar.’’
This is a must-stop for baseball fans and foodies when you are in West Milwaukee; the combination of a classy dining experience with a lively horseshoe bar is masterful.
Back in my day the horseshoe style bar was popular, but that’s also back in the day when patrons actually talked to one another at the bar and looked each other in the eye. They didn’t just stare at their phones. Conversation was the name of the game.
Growing up in Kenilworth, N.J., I often went to two horseshoe style bars, the Ranch House and Buffy’s. The Ranch House was known for its juke box. I can still hear the 2 a.m. intro to Ray Price’s “For the Good Times.’’
Don’t look so sad
I know it’s over
But life goes on
And this whole world will keep on turning
Let’s just be glad
We had this time to spend together
There’s no need
To watch the bridges that we’re burning
Lay your head upon my pillow
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine
Hear the whisper of the raindrops
Blowin’ softly against my window
And make believe you love me one more time
For the good times
Yes, for the good times.
That is what the 4th Base represents, the good times.
On the website you can even see the film clip where Uecker announces, “Let’s hear you Cleveland!’’
The camera pans the horseshoe bar with all the Cleveland rock & roll characters combined with blue collar fans pounding beer bottles on the bar and cheering wildly for the Indians.
“When I did this event four years ago,’’ Papara told me, “I betcha I had 25 locals that all had their Indians jerseys and their Ricky Vaughn jerseys and their hats and I was amazed – we are not Indians fans, but they’re all fans of the movie.’’
Much of the movie was filmed in 1988 at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium which, like the Indians’ name, is lost to history. The spring training scenes were filmed at Hi Corbett Field, at the time the spring training home to the Indians, and I would travel there for Indians-Padres games, leaving lovely Yuma to fly along the highway to Tucson.
With the regular season scenes filmed at County Stadium, that’s how they came across 4th Base.
“We’re probably a 10-minute walk right through this little parkway that is here on National Avenue, otherwise it’s less than a five-minute drive to the stadium parking lot,’’ Papara said.
The bar offers a free shuttle service to Brewers games.
The Brewers aren’t so hot either, so they know their baseball pain here, too. The Brewers are one of six teams to have never won a World Series, along with the Mariners, Rangers, Padres, Rockies, and Rays.
“We’re not far behind,’’ Papara said of the fate of the Brewers compared to the Indians’ long ago 1948 World Series championship. “It was ’82 the last time we were even there. Thank God the [Milwaukee NBA] Bucks won a couple of years ago, otherwise our city hasn’t won ever.’’
This is Milwaukee, not Green Bay.
At least the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series in 1957 in seven games over the mighty Yankees. Braves star Hank Aaron was 23. He batted .393 that World Series with a 1.200 OPS. So there is that.
And 31 years later a film crew came to town for Major League, and discovered 4th Base.
“In 1988 we had three or four scenes filmed at the bar,’’ Papara said. “Next year will be 35 years since the movie was released so we will probably put together another event, maybe a weekend promoting the movie. It seems like the older that movie gets the more popular it gets.’’
Papara is right about that.
In all my years in major league clubhouses, especially visiting clubhouses, whenever Major League was popped on the clubhouse television, it would instantly draw a crowd of players laughing and shouting at the film.
“I was five but my dad Peter started the place and him and his business partner were operating the place back then,’’ Papara said of the filming of Major League. “I was just a little tyke, I didn’t start working here until probably 15 years after that. My dad is still around, he’s not working like he used to but he is definitely still around, keeping the place going.’’
Keeping customers happy and the flame alive for Major League.
And don’t forget the tremendous food.
Go to their Facebook page, 4th Base Milwaukee, and one of the first things you see is a deli case packed with Alaskan King Crab legs, jumbo shrimp, scallops, and much more. The Friday Fish Fry this past week included Lake Perch (a Wisconsin specialty) and walleye. Then there is the Crab Stuffed Portobello Mushroom topped with blue cheese or provolone or maybe a 12-hour smoked brisket. Before a Brewers game, customers come in for a beer or a Bloody Mary. There’s even a cream ale called Ball and Glove by Broken Bat Brewing Co.
You could picture Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) and Lynn Wells (Rene Russo) having dinner there in the gourmet section of 4th Base and Lou Brown (James Gammon) having a few beers at the bar with Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), sitting on the other side of the horseshoe.
The movie was released April 7, 1989.
Paul Hoynes, legendary longtime baseball writer in Cleveland, told me that even though he has seen the movie many, many times, “Every time it’s on, I have to watch it.’’
Exactly, the same here.
The movie starts with images of Cleveland and “Burn On,’’ the Randy Newman song. There’s a longshot of a smiling Chief Wahoo swinging his baseball bat, the classic 28-foot neon sign at Gate D of cavernous Municipal Stadium.
Newman sang: “There’s a Red Moon Risin’ on the Cuyahoga River, rolling into Cleveland to the lake.’’
Catcher Jake Taylor’s chiding of his own pitchers and opposing hitters help make the movie special and when he goads A’s slugger Rexman (Roger Unice), who promptly pops up against a tiring Ricky Vaughn on the final pitch of the game, Taylor says: “Uh-oh, Rexy, I don’t think this one’s got the distance.’’
Catchers used to talk like that before everybody in baseball became best friends.
Every character is entertaining and kind of real. That’s why ballplayers and baseball fans love to watch this iconic movie.
When the hulking bad guy first baseman Haywood (Pete Vukovich) asks Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) “Going somewhere, Meat?, ’’ Hayes shoots back, “About 90 feet.’’
Imagine the number of stolen bases Hayes would have in Rob Manfred’s “You get a free pass to second, you get a free pass to third,’’ world that baseball has become with only two mound disengagements per batter.
Harry Doyle, the play-by-play announcer, played by Uecker, has the best lines.
“For the Indians, one run on, let’s see, one hit. That’s all we got? One g- – damn hit.’’
Then there is the Ricky Vaughn pitch that is nowhere close to the plate, and Doyle says, “Juuuust a bit outside.’’
The final call by Doyle that sends the horseshoe bar patrons into a frenzy is a true classic because of the emotion of the moment that Harry has in his voice. “He slides! He is… ‘’
The umpire then yells emphatically, “Safe! Safe!’’
There is no replay to ruin the joyful moment.
No fake runners anywhere in sight as Doyle explodes in jubilation.
“The Indians win it! The Indians win it! Oh my God, the Indians win it!’’
You will never hear that again in real life.
For that, you have to watch the movie Major League. Maybe someday even watch it sitting at the horseshoe bar at 4th Base.