Five years before Ron Shelton turned his script for Bull Durham into his directorial dbut, NBC aired Bay City Blues, which introduced millions of people to the pleasures, idiosyncrasies, and slightly desperate aura surrounding the minor leagues. NBC’s prime time lineup began the 1983-84 television season with several shows that looked promising, but quickly fell to cancellation, e.g., Boone, Mr. Smith, Manimal. As well, Bay City Blues struck out.
NBC brought Bay City Blues to prime time in the wake of an abundance of critical acclaim surrounding its groundbreaking police drama Hill Street Blues and medical drama St. Elsewhere—both produced by MTM Enterprises. Television critic Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “‘Bay City Blues’ applies the ‘Hill Street’ formula—an ensemble cast of eccentric characters bouncing their troubles off a firm but sensitive and understanding father figure—to a new set of engaging circumstances.”
Bay City Blues revolved around the Bay City Bluebirds, a Double-A team in northern California. Steven Bochco and Jeffrey Lewis created the show; Hill Street Blues was another Bochco co-creation, hence the parallel described by Rosenberg and other critics. With the minor leagues serving as a limbo of dreams from which the Bluebirds seek a reprieve, Bay City Blues showcased future stars: Sharon Stone’s legs launched a thousand sexual fantasies in Basic Instinct; Ken Olin represented the angst of baby boomers in thirtysomething; Michele Green transitioned from mousy to mighty as an attorney in L.A. Law; Mykelti Williamson befriended Tom Hanks as Bubba and Forrest respectively, in Forrest Gump; and Michael Nouri built an outstanding career as a character actor.
In New York magazine, John Leonard wrote, “When Bay City roots for its Bluebirds, it is rooting for youth and heroism, the lucky break, a last chance, grace under pressure, justice, and nostalgia. Baseball, at least for the man-child in this promised land, is so American Dreamy because it’s so helplessly nostalgic. Before we die, we want to steal second base. This game, in theory, could go on forever.”
Fantasies of a better life comprise a cornerstone of the minor leagues portrayed in popular culture. Cecil “Stud” Cantrell mourns the lost opportunity to compete with Stan Musial for a spot on the Cardinals when he suffered in injuries in World War II preventing him from going further than the Tampico Stogies in the novel Long Gone and the eponymous tv-movie. Crash Davis embodies grace at home plate while he mentors a deeply talented but crucially ignorant pitcher pitcher in Bull Durham. Hal Hinson of the Washington Post wrote, “What [Bull Durham] has is flavor, reality, a sense that the game is played by actual people, boys mostly, and not heroes.” Pastime explored a similar mentor-mentee paradigm.
Built in the San Fernando Valley for Bay City Blues, Bluebird Field also appeared in the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions. In 1989, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tore down the field, which also served Mission College and Village Christian High School.
NBC dropped Bay City Blues from its prime time lineup after four episodes aired.
A version of this article appeared on wwwthesportspost.com on November 15, 2015.