Wesley Snipes knew from the jump how to make us love him. He made a stunning feature film debut as the cocky running back Trumaine opposite Goldie Hawn in Michael Ritchie’s 1986 high school football comedy “Wildcats,” and worked in a mild variation of the cocky jock type as up-and-coming boxer Roland Jenkins in the moving Joe Roth film. drama “Streets of Gold”. Neither movie set the box office on fire, but Hollywood was paying attention. It was just a matter of finding the right parts to exploit Snipes’ charisma, which, in the 1980s, was not a sure thing for a young African-American actor.
David S. Ward’s “Major League” did not initially appear to be that movie. Paramount sold the baseball movie as a broad, raunchy comedy that eschewed the poignant undertones of Ron Shelton’s sleeper hit “Bull Durham,” but the film proved plenty of underdog heart as it follows a Cleveland Indians built to lose (now Guardians). ) team on an unlikely march to the postseason.
The cast, from Tom Berenger’s veteran catcher Jake Taylor to James Gammon’s surly manager Lou Brown, is perfect, but Snipes sizzles as speed demon leadoff hitter Willie Mays Hayes. Hayes storms onto the training ground and boasts that he “hits like Mays and runs like Hayes.” He comes in as a con man, but is, in fact, a terror on the base path (as long as he can get there).
Hayes is the most poorly written character of the three leads. He’s a trash-talking dork whose self-confidence turns out to be very well-earned. In the hands of someone else, such as Omar Epps, who took over the role of Hayes in the dismal sequel, the character would have been nothing more than a cliché swagger. Snipes, however, with his supercharged charm and supernova grin, used Hayes as a springboard to stardom. No one, not even Tom Cruise, could match his blazingly bright charisma.