The funny thing about Major League II is that it appears to have a specific team being used as the primary antagonist. The Cleveland Indians spend so much time playing against and worrying about the Chicago White Sox that you would assume the White Sox appearances were one of Bill Veeck's stunts.
Major League II picks up the year following the original movie. After winning their divisional title, the Cleveland Indians went into the playoffs and were promptly swept out of it by the Chicago White Sox. When we pick up at spring training, we immediately get the sense there's something different about the ragtag crew that came out of nowhere to win the division and put the clamps on owner Rachel Phelps's plans to move them to Florida. Roger Dorn, the aging star from the first Major League, has retired and bought the team from Phelps. But now that the Indians have been successful, all of the talentless characters from last year have decided they have to begin living the high life. There are some new faces on the squad: Jack Parkman, a slugging catcher who believes he's the only winner on a team full of losers; Isuro "Kamikaze" Tanaka, a sensation from Japan; and rookie catcher Rube Baker, who has the ability to throw left in spite of aiming right.
Problems begin to abound with clashing egos, though. Willie Mays Hayes made a movie in the offseason, performing all his own stunts (and even doing some of his own acting) and spraining his knee in the process. He also has an entourage now. Pedro Cerrano underwent one of his trademark spiritual conversions, going from an aggressive form of Vodun (Voodoo) to Buddhism, and Buddhism, being more inner-peace-and-meditation based, is affecting his drive. Probably the most drastic change is by Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn, whose shoulder chip is now lifted, which is bad because he's now a yuppie more concerned about his image and marketing potential than anything.
Since Charlie Sheen was nearing the end of what was ultimately the apex of his star potential by the release of Major League II, the movie is more centered around Vaughn than anyone. (While on the subject of big stars, Wesley Snipes, who had played Willie Mays Hayes in the original, was replaced by Omar Epps, Snipes having also become an A-list star.) Vaughn has a new girlfriend, Rebecca Flannery, who is high-class and concerned about her boyfriend/client's PR. He's ditched the Harley for a convertible, much to the disappointment of his old crew.
Major League II follows the same formula as the first movie. The team is bad until it's suddenly good. In Major League II, the instigator of the turnaround is a big dugout fight and the eventual trade of Jack Parkman to the White Sox. (In this movie, who else would it be?) Even though Roger Dorn bought the team, the movie still creates room to put Rachel Phelps back in charge when Dorn prove to be supremely terrible at managing finances and has to sell them back. Phelps still has designs on the big move to Florida, which is a pretty disappointing development because Dorn's financial mismanagement could have made a more compelling story and really given Major League II its own identity separate from the first movie.
Jack Parkman stands out as a great villain. Every time he pops up onscreen, you want to grab the nearest bat and take out his kneecaps. Hayes's ego is at least used for good, but Parkman believes everyone else is a loser and isn't shy about saying so. Even though Dorn spent a ton of money on him, manager Lou Brown still thinks it necessary to trade him to Chicago because of the clubhouse division he causes. So when Vaughn pitches him out at the end of the movie, it's satisfying to see him eat his words, and yet also dissatisfying because no one clocked him.
Major League II takes a lot of crap for not being up to the standards of the first one, but since the day I first saw Major League II, I've been arguing that it's actually better. I think the first Major League movie is overrated. Yes, it's very funny, and there's definitely a lot of effort obvious in it. The jokes are inspired, the writing is solid, and you can tell the people behind were, as they claim, diehard Indians fans sploshing one of their greatest fantasies all over the screen. But I had two huge issues with it the bogged it down for me: The first was the story of Roger Dorn and Jake Taylor having problems with their girlfriends, and the second was that the climactic scene involved just about every possible cliche from every climactic sports game in every sports movie ever, and it probably invented a few of its own as well. Major League II involves the romantic problems of Ricky Vaughn, but the added dimension of Vaughn creating a new image for himself makes his romantic problems look almost like a last-minute, backseat addition. The climax has also been improved. There's no way to do the Big Game in sports movies these days without doing cliches, but Major League II has less of them, and the idea of Vaughn regaining his confidence and putting players on base purposely just because he personally wants to take out Parkman was a nice touch.
The storyline of Jake Taylor is also a retread, even if it is in a different form. This time, Taylor is hoping to make the team as a coach to his fellow catchers Parkman and Baker.
Tanaka is probably my favorite new character. I love his chemistry with his main antagonist, Cerrano, and the way they try to get into each other's heads in order to turn each other into better ballplayers is a real hoot. Tanaka believes a ballplayer needs to be a strong warrior, while Cerrano believes in calmness as the best approach to excellence on the diamond.
The one character in Major League II who didn't change at all is Lou Brown. He's still grounded, leading his team with a touch of old-school manager grouchiness. There's a scene later in the movie where he has a heart attack, which puts him in the hospital. He's forbidden from doing anything baseball-related because he gets worked up over it, but true to his style, even in the finale he's got his portable radio and headphones on, listening to the game, living and dying with every pitch. In one scene, one of his players goes to visit him, and he specifically tells the player not to go to the stadium and give one of the "win one for Lou" statements because he hates that. What does the player do? Go to the stadium and encourage everyone to win one for Lou.
The first Major League is considered a genuine classic among sports movies. I can't say I share that viewpoint, but I understand it. My personal preference is for Major League II, less bogged in cliche and funnier. And it seems like the Cleveland Indians may agree with that. When Major League was released, the Tribe was stinking up the league the same way they had done since the Rocky trade. After Major League II, the Indians began a run as one of the most dominant teams of the American League. Just a year after Major League II, in fact, the fantasy evoked in Major League II became real: The Cleveland Indians were in the World Series.