Derek Begins…#2
Ron Sheltons
Bull Durham

Number 2. Ron Sheltons “Bull Durham”, 1988

Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl and Trey Wilson

Writer/Director Ron Shelton based this movie on his own personal minor league experiences and he does not disappoint. A baseball fan’s must see. This story focuses strictly in the minor leagues and the single A team the Durham Bulls. Not a single major league team is mentioned by name by the players. Instead it is refered to as “The show”. Kevin Costner’s character gives a brief description of what life is like in the show about midway through the film. The timing was perfect because we as viewers had gotten so used to seeing minor league baseball and life at that point. The smaller things he stated like “White baseballs used for batting practice, someone always carrying your bags for you and the ballparks being like cathedrals” really hits it on the spot and tells the viewer how Minor League life differs from the Majors and why it’s an ultimate goal for almost every single Minor League player to make it to the show.
The 3 main characters in this film is Crash Davis played by Kevin Costner, Annie Savoy played by Susan Sarandon and Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh played by Tim Robbins. The story opens with Susan Sarandon as Annie narrating. She recites her poetry and spiritualism and says she belongs to the church of baseball. Her true love is the Durham Bulls. Her eye is on the new comer Ebby Calvin Laloosh. This is where we see how baseball smart Annie really is. As Ebby pitches his first game, he is firing some serious heat for balls and strikes. At the end of the game Ebby sets a new league record for strikeouts, walks, wild pitches and hit batsmen. His post game interview comes off as a little immature as he says things like “Radical” and “Out there”.

Annie realizes that not only does he need to improve his mechanics as a pitcher, but he is just a boy who needs to become a man really quick if he is going to make it to the show. Enter Crash Davis. His first scene in this movie is probably one of my personal favorite scenes in all of sports movies. Its got suspense, fire and most importantly humor. Crashs’ first scene is when he enters the manager’s office and introduces himself as the player to be named later (The movie’s original title when it was written). Crash is a 12 year veteran minor leaguer who has been around for years. He had some stints with the show (21 days was his longest), but has mainly stayed in AAA ball. But now Crash has been demoted and his first question to his new manager is why? Crash is told that the new pitcher (Laloosh) recently signed has a “Million dollar arm, but a five cent head” and that they need an experienced catcher to bring him along and mature him. Crash is told that he will get to play everyday and get paid for it. It will also help strengthen his chances at management down the road when he is ready to retire as a player. Crash is furious at the offer saying something like:

“My triple A contract gets bought out so I could hold the flavor of the month’s dick in the bus leagues? Well fuck this fuckin game! I fucking quit!”

Crash storms out of the manager’s office and a long pause ensues. The manager Joe Riggins (Trey Wilson) and pitching coach Larry Hockett (Robert Wuhl) play their parts brilliantly in this entire scene. After Crash storms out they are silent like his whole outburst was expected. Crash does not advance very far past the manager’s office as he is seen through the window pondering on what to do. His conscience probably gets the better of him and he realizes that what Jimmy and Larry say probably has a lot of truth to it. Jimmy and Larry just sit idly in the office knowing that Crash will come to his senses but they do not make it obvious. They’re right. Crash barges back into the office and asks who they’re playing next. The managers tell him and as they’re about tell him batting practice is in the morning, Crash leaves. This is the part of the movie I could watch over and over and never get sick of it. This scene and the entire pitching conference scene later in the movie that eventually gets Crash thrown out of the game for arguing a close play at the plate and calling the umpire a cock sucker. They were perfect scenes defining the tone of the movie which was minor league serious which translates into humorous and the lighter side of baseball for the viewers. Annie commits herself to Laloosh for the season and nicknames him “Nuke” because of his wildness.

Although Annie comes off as a groupie at the beginning of the film until she reveals her baseball knowledge, she is a one-man one-woman woman when the season starts. This amazes, mystifies and irritates Crash in his first meeting with Annie. He also meets nuke the very same night at the bar. Nuke is cocky at first. He could dance and has a way with the girls. He has a Porsche from his signing bonus. It gives Crash every reason to hate Nuke from the start and give him hell when they take the field. But his first lesson comes in the bar that very same night when Nuke challenges Crash to a fight when they both try for Annie’s attention. Another classic scene ensues as Nuke, who is backed up by the rest of his teammates, wants to see the new flavor of the month rip off the head of some older know it all type. Crash tries to prevent a fight but when Nuke insists, Crash gives Nuke a baseball and tells him to hit him with the baseball. Nuke hesitates and Crash immediately exposes his weakness. Crash tells Nuke he can’t hit him with the ball because he’s thinking too hard about it. He further riled up Nuke when he tells him to show off his million dollar arm because he has a good idea about his 5 cent head. Nuke throws the ball and misses Crash completely breaking a window in the process. Crash doesn’t flinch at all. Crash punches him out afterward and introduces him as his new catcher. He says to Nuke “Don’t think, just throw! It’ll only hurt the ballclub”. From this point on Crash refers to Nuke as Meat (a name big league hitters use for minor league pitchers). Nuke remains clueless into why throughout the rest of the movie. Annie offers for both Nuke and Crash to try out and be her guy for the season. Nuke is eager to get into bed with Annie, but Crash refuses to try out. He tells Annie his views and beliefs. He states “Well, 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 walks out and leaves Annie speechless and in awe. She states that nobody has ever said no to her before and she begins to wonder if Crash is actually the right man for her permanently, not just for the season.

Throughout the movie from that point sexual tension builds up between Crash and Annie, but Annie is committed to Nuke for the season now. Nuke has a way with girls and is a charmer picking them up, but he clearly has a long way to go when he ends up with Annie who is a full-grown woman. From day one, Nuke is put through the ringer on how to become more patient and open-minded. Her first lesson is to tie Nuke up bondage style and read poetry to him all night. This holds an eager Nuke in check as he becomes confused from here on until he is called up to the majors later in the movie. Annie also gives him pointers on how not to think, just throw like Crash had said earlier. She tells him to try to “Breathe through his eyelids” and tells him to wear a garter underneath his uniform during games. She also tells him to listen to Crash. Nuke is hesitant to listen to Crash and wear the garters at first. He never figures out how to breathe through his eyelids until later on in the movie when he realizes it is not possible. Nukes refusal to listen forces Crash on 2 occasions to tell opposing hitters what pitches are coming so they could hit home runs and teach Nuke a lesson. Nuke finally comes around after being knocked around by opposing hitters and Annie’s refusal to have sex with him so he could use his energy on the field. It works. The Durham Bulls start winning. Everybody on the team loves it. Crash warns Nuke not to have sex with Annie because it will jinx the winning streak. Annie makes many advances to try to have sex with Nuke during the winning streak, but they are all rebuffed. She approaches Crash and he reassured her that a player on a winning streak has to respect the streak and she should know that. It is from that moment that Annie realizes that Crash is the man for her. even when the Bulls finally lose, Annie acknowledges that she finally gets to have sex, but it’s with the wrong guy. Annie had looked up Crashs’ stats and realizes that he is on the verge of breaking the all time home run record in the minor leagues. Crash is not too proud of being noted as the all time minor league home run champion. It’s a dubious stat that Crash doesn’t want to be known for. Annie agrees to keep it a secret. After the Bulls lose and Nuke is called up to the majors, the movie takes a major turn as the focus which was on the development of Nuke now turns on Annie and Crash and how their situations will resolve. More importantly will they end up together? Crash is released by the Bulls once Nuke is called up to the Show. He spends some time with Annie and then plays out the season with another team breaking the home run record for the minor leagues before retiring for good. Crash ends up back at Annie’s and says he will take a managing job the next season hoping to make it to the show as a manager.

Annie says she is going to quit boys and wants to settle down with Crash. Nuke (Sporting a shorter major league haircut) gives off a more mature interview which Crash helped him with earlier in the movie. Nukes final words in the movie are a statement he echoes from his manager earlier in the movie “You throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball, but sometimes it rains”. Annie and Crash close out the movie dancing the night away leaving the audience wondering, but confident that they will change their ways and stick by each other as Crash tries to make it to the show as a manager. It’s a beautiful and poetic ending. Many have screamed for a sequel for years, but nothing has come of it. Some powerful performances. One of Kevin Costner’s best films ever. Trey Wilson and Robert Wuhl turn in some very good background performances. Their best scene together is when coach Riggins is scolding his players in the Showers and calling them Lollygaggers. Riggins is a powerless character at first. He is clearly frustrated at managing a last place team and does not know how to get his players to play better. He confides in Crash early on and asks Crash what he should do. He says he tries to be nice and relate to his players. Before he could say anything else Crash cuts him off and says “Scare them! They’re kids, scare them!”. Riggins takes the advice with a smile and he rounds up his players in the showers and gives off his memorable lollygaggers speech. It does little to inspire the players, but the scene was fun to watch. It ends with “This is a simple game! You throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball!” or something like that.

Director Ron Shelton did base a lot of these events in this movie off of his personal experiences in the minor leagues. The name Annie Savoy is a play off of the name of minor league groupies which are called Annie’s. Annie is the most influential character in this movie. She gets inside of both Nuke and Crash’s heads during games. Nuke wonders whether or not to wear garters under his uniform and tries constantly to breathe through his eyelids. Crash has trouble concentrating his first at bat after meeting Annie. The scene where the players drench the field with the sprinkler system to create a rain out was also based on a real life event. But in real life, the situation was resolved when the owner of the field brought in helicopters to dry off the field and play the game. It is never said what happened in the movie but the viewer is led to believe that the next game was called off. Nuke was based on minor league phenom pitcher Steve Dalkowski who was considered one of the hardest throwers ever, but wild. Unlike Nuke, Dalkowski never made it to the majors. Crash was modeled after William Holden’s character Pike Bishop in the wild bunch but named after Minor league player Lawrence “Crash” Davis. Lawrence “Crash” Davis signed off on permission to use his name when he was told that his character gets the girl in the end. A lot of real life veteran minor league players who have had brief stints in the majors are nicknamed Crash Davis’s by real life sports writers and press.

The two major discrepancies with this movie is the development of Nuke and the length of the minor league season.

First, Nuke is in A ball which is the lowest minor league ranking. Players usually work their way up the ranks to AA then AAA. Sometimes they jump a level but it is extremely rare that a single A player makes the jump right to the major leagues without going through the other levels.

Also it is mentioned that Nuke is being called up to the majors because they are expanding their rosters. This part is true as major league clubs are allowed to expand their rosters in September.

But they do so because the minor league season usually ends in late August/early September. So the main issue here is why Crash was released after Nuke was called up and continued to play the season out with another team when the minor league season should have been over after Nuke was called up to the majors?

My conclusion is mainly 2 reasons. First to avoid a sequel incase the movie did not do well. Usually movies will speed up a timeline and events to give the movie a satisfactory conclusion instead of making the viewers wait for a sequel. Baseball movies in the 1980s were considered a risky investment and a lot of major studios passed on the film which was written in the early 1980’s. When Orion films picked it up, they gave Ron Shelton his creative freedom to get his film made, but a lot of the cast and crew had to take lesser salaries to accommodate. Most would not want to see a sequel to see if Nuke made it to the majors.

Also I think it was necessary to alter the minor league baseball season to decide the fates of Crash and Annie , not one or the other. Early on in the film it is known that they were destined to end up together. Their chemistry is incredible in this film. The way they play off of each others beliefs is hilarious. One scene has Annie talking about who she was in her past life and Crash responds by saying something like why does everybody have to be someone famous in their last life? why can’t anybody ever be Joe Shmoe? Too funny! Anyways, instead of leaving an open ending on if Crash will break the minor league home run record, the open ending is if Crash could make it to the majors as a manager with Annie by his side. That is my conclusion. Not to fault the writer at all. It’s a beautiful ending and many fans have screamed for a sequel seeing Crash Davis as a Major league manager. Sadly 25 years later, there are no current plans for a sequel. I would love to see these 3 work together again in a baseball movie. 5 stars.


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