“Let Them Play!”

Baseball is a beautiful game, largely because it has no clock determining its end.  An NFL team has 45 seconds to execute an offensive play.  An NBA team, 24 seconds.  But baseball has no time limit.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training illustrated this point with the help of an inspirational chant, a defiant kid, and Bob Watson.

The Bears of the North Valley League in southern California travel to Houston for a championship against the Toros, a team that is Goliath to the Bears’ David.  Less coarse than the 1976 progenitor film — The Bad News Bears — this 1977 offering has an underlying sweetness.  The team’s worst player, Timmy Lupus, is bedridden because of a skateboarding accident.  He broke a leg.  Thus, he cannot make the trip to Houston.

Where else could the climactic game take place but the Astrodome, the post-modern Eighth Wonder of the World?

With Tatum O’Neal and Walter Matthau absent as star pitcher Amanda and Coach Morris Buttermaker respectively, the Bears need a pitcher, a coach, and a way to get to Houston.  Jimmy Baio plays Carmen Ronzonni, the replacement pitcher.

The Bears employ a maintenance worker to play the part of the coach at a departure gathering for the team.  Nearly mute, he learns a couple of bland phrases that allows the Bears to fool the parents about having a coach to chaperone them.  Then, the Bears take the van to Houston with star player Kelly Leak at the wheel, headed for the Astrodome.  Jackie Earle Haley plays Kelly Leak.

Along the way, they nearly pick up a gorgeous hitchhiker, outwit cops on the highway, and motor to a catchy 1970s song called Looking Good with lyrics by Norman Gimbel, music by Craig Safan, and sung by James Rolleston.  A subplot reveals itself when Kelly Leak confronts his long-absent father, Michael Leak, at a factory.  William Devane plays Michael Leak.  Tanner Boyle, the Bears’ loudmouth shortstop, writes to Timmy Lupus that nobody knew Kelly had a father.

Initially for appearances sake, Michael agrees to be a figurehead coach.  No coach, no game.  But his status soon changes.  The Bears realize he can actually help them in their game against the Toros.  The already strained relationship between Kelly and Michael continues to fracture during a tense moment in a practice where the father eclipses the son as the team’s leader.

Right before the game at the Astrodome, Tanner gives a locker room speech mirroring the climactic Win One for the Gipper speech in Knute Rockne, All-American, a movie he saw late at night while the rest of the team was asleep in the hotel room.  Tanner’s speech is Win One for the Looper aka Timmy Lupus.

The four-inning game between the Toros and Bears takes place between the games of a doubleheader at the Astrodome.  Only one problem.  The powers that be call the game on account of time.  Real life Astros Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno appear in the Bears’ dugout.  Watson shouts, “Come on, let the kids play!

Inspired, Michael Leak takes the field and shouts “Let them play!  Let them play!”  Soon, Kelly and the rest of the Bears join him in the chant as does the Astrodome crowd.  Meanwhile, Tanner continues to evade the two suited gentleman trying to capture him.

Caving into massive pressure, the powers that be resume the game.

Carmen Ronzonni hits an inside the park grand slam to win the game, vindicating the Bears.  Michael and Kelly repair their relationship after the game.  And the Bears are off to Japan for their last adventure in the movie trilogy — The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.

CBS aired a short-lived comedy based on the movies.  The Bad News Bears starred Jack Warden as Coach Buttermaker.

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.  As the title song says, looking good.

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