We’ll start with something easy, like batting averages. See, you take the number of times a man been at bat, and you divide that by the number of times a man got a hit. Like me, I been at bat a hundred times, I got twenty-five hits. That’s simple, right? Twenty-five go into a hundred four times. Gives me a batting average of four… that’s wrong. That ain’t no way to do that. What you gotta do is the number of times a man’s been at bat and got a hit. Divide that by the number of times he swung. See I been at bat a lot, and I swung a lot! Let me see, seventy-five into a hundred… no, that would give me a batting average of two. Couldn’t have a batting average of two! Nobody could have a batting average that bad. Could they?
The Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings is a comedy about a Negro league star who’s grown tired of the evil, greedy owner of the team he plays for. He decides to recruit the best players from all over the league to start their own barnstorming team, which they will own and control equally amongst themselves. Thus begins a struggle to stay afloat while the team owners in the organized league attempt to sabotage them at every turn.
For the most part, the film is a mid-range 70s comedy. Though, it does have a lot going for it. When you’ve got the charm and charisma of Billy Dee Williams, the inimitable James Earl Jones in his first ever baseball-related role (his second of the three appearances he’ll make in this series), and some great punchlines (including the Richard Pryor quote at the top of this post), my friends, you’ve got a stew goin’.
But more fascinating to me was the timing of the film. Bingo Long came out in 1976, which incidentally was the year the MLB free agency was born. So, here’s a story about a player taking charge of his own career after growing tired of greedy ownership exploiting the athletes who actually fill the seats, released just as the same development was taking place in organized baseball. Based on film production timelines, there is no way this was planned in advance. It’s just one of those happy accidents that’s fascinating to look at in hindsight. Quite clearly, this topic was in the ether of late 70s culture.
Next Up: Late Life: The Story of Chien-Ming Wang, a documentary following Wang — a Taiwanese-born former Yankee who had a remarkably promising career derailed by injuries — as he attempts to make it back to the majors one last time.