CLEVELAND — It’s been over 30 years since the movie “Major League” premiered in theaters, but when the Indians’ bats fall silent, a handful of fans will take to Twitter to post Pedro Cerrano’s famous “Have to wake up bat” quote.
It’s a movie that remains so closely associated with the Tribe even decades after it was released. But how did the movie come to be? Indians senior vice president of public affairs Bob DiBiasio worked closely with the filmmakers to make Cleveland’s baseball team a hit sensation on the big screen.
MLB.com talked with DiBiasio about his memories of the production of “Major League.” Here is what he had to say.
MLB.com: Why was a movie something you guys were interested in being associated with?
DiBiasio: [The producer of the film] Chris Chesser grew up in Tucson, Arizona, as a baseball nut. Tucson was our Spring Training home and as a middle school kid, he would ride his bike after school over and look for home run balls behind the fence. He claims that I would talk to him on occasion. So the first time we met working on this, he relayed that story and that this was really a labor of love for [writer and director] David Ward, who grew up in Shaker Heights and the Indians were his team. And Chesser loved the Indians because he grew up in Tucson. So to have that connection, we knew we were in good hands if this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have real fun with something incredibly special. At that point, we were in the midst of continuing our struggles for a couple decades.
MLB.com: How did you become the person who was responsible for approving the final movie script?
DiBiasio: I was sitting at my desk one day and Hank Peters, who was our president and general manager, just buzzes me and his secretary says, “Hey, do you have a second? Hank wants to ask you something.” So I go running back to his office and there’s a big stack of paper on his desk and he nudges it towards and he goes, “For some reason, Major League Baseball thinks it’s a good idea to make a movie about us. It’s all yours. Have fun.” So I sat there with the book and I took a red pen and I didn’t make too many edits. … I actually have a version of the script with my notes that I had in my office at home.
MLB.com: How closely did you work with the movie crew after you approved the script?
DiBiasio: We worked with them pretty closely obviously when they came to town to do some shooting. One of which is they needed an aerial shot of a packed ballpark. So, we were in discussion and said we’re gonna get 50,000-plus [fans] for this July 3rd ballgame. I think we were playing Seattle, and they asked if our guys in the seventh inning would be willing to wait an extra 60 seconds before they went out on to the field so they could get a packed house with nobody on the field. … Everyone was like, “Sure, this is fun. No big deal.” The helicopter came flying over and the camera man was sitting there, got what they needed and when it left, we took the field again. And then they needed to shoot other things like what does the press box look like, what does the locker room look like, having their production people doing that.
MLB.com: What was it like to work with actors like Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen?
DiBiasio: They couldn’t have been nicer. They couldn’t have been more accommodating. Sheen brought a — with his athleticism and his ability to throw a baseball in a pitcher’s motion naturally and loving the game — different element to that movie. You could tell he was an athlete and loved the game of baseball and played and pitched. That was pretty cool.
MLB.com: Do you have any favorite memories from working with them?
DiBiasio: I go up to Charlie and said, “Hey, about 6:15 are you willing to do an interview with the local TV station?” He said he’d love to. So I walk over to him about five minutes before and I said, “Are you ready to get mic’d up for the live shot?” And he goes, “Live shot? I don’t do live.” And I said, “What? But you’re an actor?” Berenger happens to walk up and stand next to us as we’re talking. I said, “Really? Are you just messing with me?” He goes, “No, man, I’m so sorry. I act, but if I screw up, we start over and do it again. I just don’t do live.” Berenger looks at me and goes, “He’s telling you the truth.” So I asked Tom if he could jump in and do the live shot and he said he’d 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 on and doing this.” I was like, “I guess he was telling me the truth.”
MLB.com: What was it like going to a movie premiere?
DiBiasio: It’s TV cameras everywhere, photographers everywhere, people didn’t have cell phones attached to their hand, so you needed a photographer to get your picture. Food and drink galore and just an incredible energy. … So, just the glitz in Cleveland, Ohio, I don’t know when prior to that when there was a premiere of a movie in Cleveland. So it was pretty 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 that worked at Cleveland Stadium. … I think most everybody [attended]. It was a hot ticket. We took care of season ticket holders. We didn’t have as many back then, so this was a way to really help season ticket holders, corporate sponsors, business leaders. It became the hottest ticket. But really the hottest ticket was the party afterwards down at the Galleria.
MLB.com: It’s coming up on 32 years since the movie was made. Now, the Indians have a pitcher who wears No. 99 and runs out to the song, “Wild Thing.” What’s it been like to see James Karinchak playfully take on Sheen’s character?
DiBiasio: I love it. I just think that it’s fun that he would do it because it takes a confidence more than anything to do that. That’s what I look at. It’s a tremendous amount of confidence in his abilities in the most intense part of a ballgames. Getting the final three outs is the hardest thing to do. And he’s willing to have fun with it just shows me that he’s got a fun nature, first and foremost, but more than that, he’s got a confidence in his abilities to have fun with it.