CLEVELAND – It’s been over 30 years since the movie Major League premiered in theaters, but when the Indian bats fall silent, a handful of fans will go to Twitter to post Pedro Cerrono’s famous “Must Bat Wake Up” quote .
It’s a film that is still so closely associated with the tribe decades after its release. But how did the film come about? Bob DiBiasio, India’s senior vice president of public affairs, worked closely with the filmmakers to make Cleveland’s baseball team a big-screen hit sensation.
MLB.com spoke to DiBiasio about his memories of making Major League. Here’s what he had to say.
MLB.com: Why was a movie something you wanted to be associated with?
DiBiasio: [The producer of the film] Chris Chesser grew up as a baseball nut in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson was our spring training home, and as a middle school student, he rode by bike after school looking for balls behind the fence to run home. He claims I would speak to him occasionally. When we first met to work on it, he passed this story on and that it was really a love work [writer and director] David Ward, who grew up in Shaker Heights and the Indians, was his team. And Chesser loved the Indians because he grew up in Tucson. To have that connection, we knew we were in good hands if this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have real fun doing something incredibly special. At that point we were in the middle of continuing our struggles for a couple of decades.
MLB.com: How did you become the person in charge of getting the final script approved?
DiBiasio: I was sitting at my desk one day and Hank Peters, our president and general manager, just hummed me and his secretary said, “Hey, have a second? Hank wants to ask you something.” So I run back to his office and there is a big pile of papers on his desk and he nudges him and says, “For some reason Major League Baseball thinks it’s a good idea to make a movie about us. It’s all up You. Have fun. ” So I sat with the book and took a red pen and didn’t make too many changes. … I actually have a version of the script with my notes that I had at home in my office.
MLB.com: How closely did you work with the film team after you approved the script?
DiBiasio: We obviously worked pretty closely with them when they came into town to take some pictures. One of them is that they needed an aerial view of a crowded ballpark. So we got into the discussion and said we are going to get more than 50,000 [fans] for this ball game on July 3rd. I think we were playing Seattle and they asked if our boys would be willing to wait another 60 seconds in the seventh inning before going out on the field so they could get a full house with no one on the field. … Everyone said, “Sure, it’s fun. No big deal.” The helicopter flew by and the cameraman sat there got what they needed and when he left we took up the field again. And then they had to turn other things, like what the press box looks like, what the locker room looks like, for their production workers to do.
MLB.com: What was it like working with actors like Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen?
DiBiasio: You couldn’t have been nicer. They couldn’t have been more accommodating. Sheen brought another element to the film with his athleticism and ability to naturally toss a baseball into a pitcher’s movement and love the game. You could tell he was an athlete and loved the game of baseball and played and threw. That was pretty cool
MLB.com: Do you have any favorite memories of working with them?
DiBiasio: I go to Charlie and say, “Hey, around 6:15 am, are you ready to do an interview with the local TV station?” He said he would love it. So I went up to him about five minutes earlier and said, “Are you ready to set up the microphone for the live recording?” And he says, “Live shot? I’m not alive.” And I said, “What? But you’re an actor?” Berenger happens to walk up to us and stands beside us while we talk. I said, “Really? Are you just playing with me?” He says, “No man, I’m so sorry. I’m acting, but if I screw it up we’ll start over and do it all over again. I’m just not living.” Berenger looks at me and says, “He’s telling you the truth.” So I asked Tom if he could jump in and do the live shot and he said he would love to. Then Sheen was on Johnny Carson’s show and Carson says to him, “I know you don’t love doing live, but I appreciate you coming and doing it.” I said, “I think he was telling me the truth.”
MLB.com: What was it like going to a movie premiere?
DiBiasio: There are television cameras everywhere, photographers everywhere, people didn’t have cell phones on their hands, so you needed a photographer to get a picture. Food and drink in abundance and just incredible energy. … So just the shine in Cleveland, Ohio, I don’t know when there was a premiere of a movie in Cleveland before that. So it was very special.
MLB.com: How many people from the team were able to attend the premiere?
DiBiasio: I think we only had 22 people in the entire front office working at Cleveland Stadium. … I think almost everyone [attended]. It was a hot ticket. We took care of season ticket holders. We didn’t have that many back then, so this was a way to really help season ticket holders, corporate sponsors, and business leaders. It became the hottest ticket. But the hottest ticket really was the party downstairs in the Galleria afterwards.
MLB.com: It’s been 32 years since the film was made. Now the Indians have a mug that has the number 99 on it and runs to the song “Wild Thing”. What was it like to see James Karinchak playfully adopt Sheen’s character?
DiBiasio: I love it. I just think it’s fun that he would do it because it takes more trust than anything to do that. I’ll see that. There is a tremendous amount of confidence in one’s abilities in the most intense part of a ball game. Getting the last three outs is the hardest part. And he’s ready to have fun with it, just showing me that he’s primarily funny nature, but beyond that he has a confidence in his ability to have fun with it.