Todd Field at an Oscars nomination luncheon in February 2023.

One of the nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Best Director has a surprising connection to baseball, and to a popular product long associated with baseball. Todd Field, director of Tár (which is nominated for six Oscars overall), has a remarkable backstory involving gum Big League Chew.

As per a new piece from Lindsey Adler and Ben Cohen at The Wall Street Journal, the story of Big League Chew starts with the independent Portland Mavericks in the 1970s, when Field was a teenage batboy for them. His idea to put strings of licorice in a tobacco pouch to make it look like he was chewing got the attention of pitching coach Rob Nelson, who was dating Field’s older sister.

Nelson and Field then experimented with the idea as gum, making their first batch in the Fields’ mother’s kitchen in February 1979. Nelson went on to further refine it, and brought that to market with the help of Ball Four author Jim Bouton (who pitched for the Mavericks during a comeback bid in 1975) in January 1980. And Nelson and Bouton then sold the brand to Wrigley later that year, which led to it becoming widespread throughout baseball and beyond.

Field (seen above during an Oscars nominating luncheon last month) didn’t wind up getting money for that sale. But he told Adler and Cohen he’s fine with that, as he was inspired by the way Nelson (who he still talks with) took his idea and ran with it to turn it into a product. And he said he’s used that in his own film career (which includes decades as an actor, then directing In The BedroomLittle Children, and now Tár), and he wouldn’t have had that career if he’d gotten rich off of Big League Chew:

“Seeing someone run with an idea the way Rob did completely changed my life,” Field wrote in an email. “He was a powerful example of someone who understood the value of an idea, and had the terrier-like determination to share that idea on a massive level. Had I not met Rob, my life would have been very different. Not only would I not have made ‘Tár,’ but it’s likely I wouldn’t have ever been involved with making films.”

He also said he wouldn’t have written, produced and directed “Tár” in the alternate universe in which he was rich from a young age because of Big League Chew. 

“Absolutely not,” Field said. “It would have ruined me.” 

So there’s a nice ending here (even if with one particular note; Field mentions he wishes he got some packaging credit). And this is also one of the many wild sports media stories involving the Mavericks. In addition to their time with Bouton, they were owned by ex-minor league player and TV actor Bing Russell, and his son, prominent actor Kurt, played for them in 1973. Manager Hank Robinson had a previous acting career as well, and so did players Robbie Robinson, Jason Tatar, and Ken Medlock.

And Bing Russell’s grandsons, Chapman and Maclain Way, are filmmakers who not only made The Battered Bastards of Baseball about the Mavericks in 2014, but have continued in the sports world with two volumes (to date) of Netflix’s Untold. So one independent minor league team’s made a huge impact on the sports world and media world, and it may soon be able to add “Oscar-winning director” to its list of accomplishments if things go well for Field Sunday. But regardless of what happens there, they’ll always have Big League Chew.

[The Wall Street Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.