Good News, Bad News – Billy Bob Pitches to Soup

Jeff Suppan recounts his encounter with Billy Bob Thornton during the filming of the upcoming "The Bad News Bears" movie

In a very, very different character from his acclaimed performance as a pressure-cooked Texas high school football coach in the movie adaptation of Buzz Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights", Billy Bob Thornton is playing the role of a coach again. This time, it is the lead in a remake of "The Bad News Bears", a very successful Walter Matthau-Tatum O'Neill comedy from 1976.

Thornton plays a beer-guzzling low-life named Morris Buttermaker who volunteers to baby-sit a bunch of Little Leaguers for dubious reasons and despite himself helps the rag-tag bunch of misfits become successful. Not surprisingly, he also gets the girl.

For those who didn't see the original, think of Billy Bob's new role as sort of a cross between two earlier ones - Coach Gary Gaines and Bad Santa.

Having been the manager of a movie theatre that showed "The Bad News Bears" back in 1976, I can tell you all about the characters - Manda Whurlizer, Kelly Leak, Ogilvie, Engelberg and the rest. But, showing mercy, I won't. You can see it yourself.

The new version of "The Bad News Bears" is being released by Paramount Pictures in three weeks – on July 22. It is directed by "School of Rock" head man Richard Linklater. Catch the trailer and more here: Bad News Bears movie

That's nice and all that, but what does this have to do with the Cardinals, you ask?

Well, it turns out that Cardinals' pitcher Jeff Suppan had a behind-the-scenes encounter associated with the filming over the winter, when Soup and Billy Bob, a former player himself and a long-time Cardinals fan, got together for some catch.

Recently, I asked Jeff, a Southern California native and off-season resident, how it came about.

"We had a mutual friend who kept telling me, "Billy Bob is a big Cardinals fan"," Suppan said. "They were filming at the same facility where my friend has his batting cages and they were talking back and forth."

Suppan was clearly excited about hooking up with the multi-talented film star, writer, director and musician. "I went in there one day and we talked for a long time. I found out how much he loved baseball and how much he loved the Cardinals. We were swapping stories. It was fun," Jeff recounted.

It could have ended right there, except that just like a pair of kids, one asked the other if he wanted to play a game of catch. As a result, the filming of a major motion picture had to wait.

Suppan explained. "They were getting ready to go on set, but I said "Do you want to throw together - just goof around or whatever?" Billy Bob said, "Yeah, yeah. Hold on one second." He had all his makeup on and they wanted to keep him out of the sun and everything. He just gets in the car and we drive two minutes to where the baseball fields were."

I couldn't believe it, asking incredulously, "So, you took Billy Bob away from the movie set to play catch in the middle of filming?"

"Not me. I didn't take HIM," Suppan laughed.

Soup continued. "We got out there and they had two pitching mounds, so I started playing catch and he jumped in there. So, I said, "Hey, why don't you get on the mound?" So, he got on the mound and I kind of squatted down once he got loose."

"He was throwing a bunch of pitches and he looked really good, actually. At that time, I didn't know that he had played. He was obviously very athletic. He could still play in an over 18 league if he kept throwing."

Thornton used an anecdote about Cardinals history to help Suppan appreciate his pitching prowess. Said Jeff, "Before we got started, he told me that he had read a book about Gibby – Bob Gibson. And he learned a slider. So, one day – I don't know where it was – but I guess Gibson was catching. And he was throwing out the first pitch and it was a slider. Gibby said, "Hey, that was a pretty good pitch. Where did you learn it from?" Billy Bob said, "Well, I read your book as a kid."

Suppan was just as impressed with Thornton's Cardinals knowledge as with his pitching stuff. "He's very knowledgeable about baseball. Growing up in Arkansas, he talked a lot about the Cardinals – things I didn't know about. Growing up as a fan, he told me some great stories. I was relating those stories to what we went through last year."

"He was very knowledgeable. He was filling me in on some neat Cardinals history. I never knew that Arkansas was such a big Cardinals area. We went on to talk about the Cardinals being the farthest west and southwest team for so many years and how that built the fan base."

I asked Suppan if he actually spent time on the set and if we might see his name in the credits as a technical adviser as a result.

Jeff shook his head no. "I wasn't a part of the movie set or anything. I did meet one of the kids from "The Bad News Bears". Once we were done, he went back and we exchanged numbers. I talked to his assistant and said, "Any time he wants to throw or whatever, just let me know." I think we had a bunch of rain in L.A., pouring rain for awhile. So, we never got to hook up again, but it was a lot of fun."

"When we parted ways, I said "Maybe when we come to L.A., we'll get you out there or something." He was a very nice guy. I am so glad I met him."

Don't forget to check back here at in about two weeks, when I hope to share Billy Bob's view of the story…

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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