This is my 5th one of these. My wife and I are going to Cooperstown this summer – sans kids – and I’ve convinced her we should watch a few baseball flicks before we go. She and I had both seen this, but it had been quite a while, so there was a lot I don’t really remember. A lot of people view this as one of the best, if not the best, baseball movies of all time. Right up there with Field of Dreams and Major League.
Here’s the obligatory statement (that hopefully isn’t necessary for a 1988 movie) – SPOILER ALERT!
Movie/Studio: “Bull Durham”, Orion Pictures, 1988
Director: Ron Shelton
- Kevin Costner – Crash Davis
- Susan Sarandon – Annie Savoy
- Tim Robbins – Nuke LaLoosh
- Trey Wilson – Skip Riggins
- Robert Wuhl – Larry Hockett
- William O’Leary – Jimmy
- Jennie Robertson – Millie
- Max Patkin – himself
- Dave Niedorf – Bobby
- Danny Gans – Deke
Plot: This movie features a fictional version of the High-A Durham Bulls. Crash Davis, a veteran minor league catcher, is sent down to the Bulls from the triple-A level to train brash rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh. LaLoosh has an incredible fastball but can’t control it and is unreliable off the field. They get off to a bad start on Davis’ first night in Durham – fighting over Annie Savoy. Annie is a lifelong fan of the “Church of Baseball”, and every year she picks one player as her protegé – in bed and in life. Crash walks out, and Annie begins a relationship with Ebby Calvin – whom she nicknames “Nuke”.
Instead of sleeping with him, though, Annie reads poetry to Nuke on that first night. She tries to get him through the mental hurdles that he’s having with pitch control through unique methods like “breathing through his eyes”. Crash teaches him on-field lessons in a way that is also unique, but more brunt; when Nuke refuses to throw the pitch Crash calls, he tells the hitter what’s coming.
After floundering early on, Nuke and the Bulls go on a winning streak. Nuke is afraid to jinx it and refuses to sleep with Annie while their winning. Frustrated, she confronts Crash for putting the crazy superstition in his head, and the two begin to realize they are better suited for each other. Nuke finally loses a close game, but right as he’s about to reconcile with Annie, he gets a call that he’s being brought up to the Majors. He says goodbye to Annie, and later to Crash. Crash, on the other hand, gets released as the club no longer needs him as Nuke’s mentor. He and Annie hook up, but in the morning Crash sneaks out and leaves for Asheville. He signs with the Asheville Tourists, quietly hits a homer that sets the all-time minor league record, and promptly retires. At the end of the movie, he drives back to Durham, and waits for Annie on her porch.
Big League Players in the Movie:
There aren’t any in the movie as far as I know – but Grady Little was the manager of the Bulls in 1988, and helped with the movie as a baseball trainer. He’d later become infamous when he didn’t take Pedro Martinez out of game 7 in the 2003 ALCS.
Max Patkin, the clown prince of baseball who performed as a baseball clown for over 50 years, is in the movie playing himself.
Danny Gans, who played minor league baseball in the late 70’s and then became an actor/comedian, is the team’s third baseman.
Baseball card connection: There is one minor league baseball cards in the movie – Annie uses the 1987 Durham Bulls card of Alex Smith as a bookmark.
Smith never made the majors, but was a scout for the Expos I didn’t recognize them as anything cards I’d ever seen.
On the other side, there are a ton of cards of the movie. First, there was a 4-card over-sized set (4″ x 5″) with Crash, Annie, Nuke and Millie. I’ve read that the set came packaged with Gatorade; it has quotes from the movie on the back.
In 1988 and 1989, Star got Costner into their Durham Bulls minor league set. There are a couple of different border colors.
Orion came out with a set to promote the movie’s video release in 1989. Max Patkin is in this set, but it seems to be the toughest to find.
At the end of last year, Leaf came out with a few Kevin Costner autographed cards this year that weren’t movie-authorized but were definitely images from Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.
Finally, Topps just came out with a set in 2016 Topps Archives that featured 9 cast members. Unfortunately the Sarandon and Coster cards are only available as autographs, and there’s no Max Patkin.
Best quote: “Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once – the 21 greatest days of my life.” – Crash Davis, when asked if he’d ever made the major leagues.
The more famous one from the start of the movie is listed below. But I liked this one the best. First, it’s kind of become a coined term for a short time in the big leagues. More importantly, it better captures what the movie is about to me. While a lot of this movie is about life in the Minor Leagues, with some comedy sprinkled in, I think the more endearing quality has to do with Crash, his attitude, and his relationship that evolves with Annie. Nuke is a rookie who can do it all and has the big leagues ahead of us. But Crash is easier to relate to. He’s making the best out of a situation he didn’t want. He, and to a lesser extent Annie, are making do with a life that probably wasn’t what they originally planned. At the end, they both turn the page to the next chapter. That’s what makes the movie a classic to me.
Just so you’ve got it, here’s the honorable mention (and more famous) quote, and one other from Annie that’s really cool:
- “I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” – Crash to Annie as he rejects playing in a competition for her affections.
- “Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.” – Annie as a narrator.
Best song: “Centerfield” – I thought about picking Love Ain’t no Triple Play, which is the credits song, because it was done for this movie. But you can’t beat one of the most memorable baseball songs of all time by John Fogerty.
Other Notable facts:
- Ron Shelton based the movie in part on his experience in the Orioles farm system in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He named Costner’s character after an infielder for the Philadelphia A’s from the early 1940’s.
- This film brought the baseball genre back – aside from the Natural in 1984, this was the first successful baseball film in decades. After Bull Durham, the floodgates sort of opened with Field of Dreams, Major League and a number of others followed.
- It has won a ton of accolades – most notably, Sports Illustrated ranked it as the #1 sports movie of all time. It was 97th on AFI’s 100 years … 100 laughs list.
- In 2003, the Baseball Hall of Fame planned to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the movie but cancelled it due to comments made by Robbins about the war in Iraq. I think they misread and overreacted to that situation.
- At the time it was the highest grossing baseball movie of all time eclipsing “The Natural” as the highest grossing baseball movie ever.
- Annie’s shrine features a lot of cool old gloves and autographed baseball, but the coolest thing is a picture of Thurman Munson, who had been deceased for nearly a decade by the time this movie came out.
My opinion: This is a lot of people’s pick for the best baseball movie of all-time. It’s not mine, but it’s up there and I can see why it’s some folks’ favorite. Making a movie about life in the minors was unique at the time. As I mentioned, the story has a relatability to it with Crash and Annie; it weaves in comedy throughout a few more serious themes. The main 3 actors really make the story come to life. Costner is great as the wily veteran, Robbins is great as the young LaLoosh. But Sarandon’s portrayal steals the show and really makes the movie work. If she wasn’t so great, I don’t know how well it would have worked. She manages to come across as a classy part of that baseball community, as opposed to a slutty spinster. By having her narrate, Shelton differentiates it from other movies. It also instantly makes it a movie I can watch with my wife. All in all – a great movie.