Film: Bull Durham

Bull Durham is a 1988 Sports/Romance comedy by Ron Shelton.

It's the Carolina Leagues and the last-place Durham Bulls are working out a rookie pitcher Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). LaLoosh has a "million-dollar arm and a five-cent head," so the ownership sends down "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), an aging catcher who'd been working his whole adult life to make the Majors, to teach and guide the new kid. Angry he's been sent down instead of up, Crash almost refuses to take the assignment to help the new "Meat".

Mixing into the conflict is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), long-time resident of Durham and a long-time fan of baseball. A sports groupie, she takes it upon herself to latch onto a promising new talent every year and train him on the mysteries of baseball, sex and life (the coaches don't mind: every rookie she beds has a great season). She spies both LaLoosh and Crash and invites them to compete for her affections: Crash, every bit her spiritual and intellectual equal, notes he's too old to "try out" for anything and leaves her with LaLoosh by default, whom Annie quickly beds and nicknames "Nuke".

Now with Crash and Annie teaching him - sometimes in conflict, but more often than not in concert - Nuke goes through the trials and errors of a pitcher: knowing when NOT to shake off a catcher's sign, the value of a rain-out, how bondage and poetry improve sex, how to hold a ball like an egg, how NOT to think when pitching, how to have actual fun during a game, and which way a garter belt ought to be worn ("Rose goes in front, big guy.") But while all that's going on, Crash and Annie get to realizing that the two of them might be perfect for each other, except that she's with Nuke...

Critical reception for Bull Durham was mostly positive when it came out and was a moderate success, but in the years since its release the film has been re-assessed as a full-out classic among sports film: critics, sports columnists, and baseball fans argue it may be the best baseball movie ever.

Costner's next film would be another iconic baseball film, Field of Dreams.

This movie contains examples of baseball and sex, and a few of these tropes:

  • 108: In the opening narration Annie connects the 108 beads in a Buddhist rosary with the 108 stitches in a baseball—except that she confuses the Buddhist rosary with a Catholic rosary (59 beads).
  • All Men Are Perverts
    Annie: A guy will listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Annie and Millie, although Annie tempers hers with roleplay.
  • Artistic License – Sports: Mostly averted, but early in the film Nuke is said to have compiled 18 strikeouts and 18 walks in his first start. This would require a mathematical minimum of 126 pitches (already a high count for a rookie in the minors) and in reality probably more than 200 pitches (an absurdly high number).
    • It's extremely unlikely for a A-ball pitcher to get called directly to the majors.
  • As Himself: Max Patkin receives this credit.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie ends on a rain-out and Annie returns to her home to find Crash having played his last game, hitting his record-setting home run for another team. Crash reveals he's quitting as a player, while Annie reveals that she's quitting too (just boys, not her love of baseball). Crash then reveals he might get a coaching job in California, suggesting that managing is his ticket to The Show.
    Annie: 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.
  • Book Ends: "La Vie En Rose" plays while Annie has Nuke tied up in bed and reads poetry to him towards the beginning of the film, and it plays when she says goodbye to him towards the end. (But neither scene opens or begins the entire film).
    • The Bulls manager releases a player at both ends of the film, using a boilerplate speech both times.
  • Bowdlerise: An in-universe example. Millie reads Crash's note to Annie as, "I want to make love to you." What he actually wrote was, "Let's fuck sometime."
  • Brains and Bondage: Annie reveals in one scene that in her day job she's an English prof at a community college. She's very given to quoting famous poets, and the first night she and Nuke Laloosh were together they didn't even have sex: she just tied him to the bed and read Walt Whitman to him all night. When she and Crash Davis finally get together it turns out she also likes being on the receiving end.
  • Brick Joke: At one point, Crash teaches Nuke all the cliches he's going to have to tell reporters when he gets to the majors ("We gotta play it one day at a time"). At the end, when Nuke is in the majors, and speaking to a reporter, he's using them all.
  • Call Back: Nuke has trouble with women's underwear. When Crash finally has sex with Annie, he immediately unsnaps her garter, causing Annie to breathe, "Oh, my!"
  • The Cameo: some of the background characters were real-life persons involved with the Durham Bulls organization when the film was made.
  • Captain Obvious
    Nuke: A woman's pu ... pussy ... um, well, you know how the hair is kind of in a V-shape?
    Annie: Yes. I do.
  • Catch Phrase: To this day, minor league pitchers want to "announce my presence with authority!"
    • Annie says "Oh, my!" several times in the film.
  • Centipede's Dilemma: One of the best examples of this. Nuke has no control when he thinks about what he's doing. He can't even hit Crash in the chest from five feet away when he thinks about what he's doing. Once he learns how to focus on something else, his control greatly improves.
  • Chained to a Bed: Part of the light bondage Annie uses on Nuke.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Half the dialog is spiked with profanity. If you ever watch Bull Durham on a basic cable channel, you're missing probably thirty percent of the movie.
    • There's also the Precision F-Strike for when the F-word helps make a point:
      Crash: Never fuck with a winning streak.
    • There's apparently one word "cocksucker" you're never supposed to say to an umpire.
      Millie (listening to a game on the radio as Crash gets thrown out): Must have called him a cocksucker.
      Annie (sighs): How romantic.
  • Dance Party Ending: Annie and Crash over the closing credits.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Crash. (He's played by Kevin Costner. So, of course.)
  • Deconstruction: Before this, sports movies had clean-cut heroes, outright villains, and every problem resolved by a Big Game that saves the day. This movie dumps all of that for serious character development and introspection, and that winning the game is unimportant compared to coming to terms with who you are. By playing by none of the rules, Bull Durham is considered one of the best sports movies ever.
  • Ethical Slut: Annie probably isn't this, as she beds one player per season, but Millie is. She's cheerfully unembarrassed when the manager catches her and Nuke together in the opening scene.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Millie, Annie's friend and fellow groupie, has basically slept with half the Carolina League right up until she tries hooking up with the overtly religious Jimmy. After just one night, the two of them get engaged.
  • Glory Days: Crash once spent 21 days in the major leagues (what he calls "The Show".) He's spent the rest of his minor league career hoping and praying to earn his way back ever since.
    Crash: Yeah, I was in the Show. (all the rookies perk up) I was in the Show for 21 days once - the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the Show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains...
    • In a non-sports way, Annie. She keeps wanting to relive the magic of seducing and mentoring a hotshot ball player every year... but even she realizes she's getting too old for that now.
  • Good People Have Good Sex
  • Informed Ability: Let's just say that while Costner does a pretty good job playing a ballplayer, some of the others don't. Tim Robbins is a big tall guy who fit the physical profile, but his pitching motion is a pretty poor imitation of the real thing.
  • Ironic Echo: When they first meet, Crash taunts a half-drunk Nuke into starting a fight outside a bar by challenging him to nail him with a fastball. Nuke smashes a door window instead and Crash punches him out. After Nuke gets called up to the majors, he finds Crash (who knows it means the end of his stay on the team) getting drunk and taunting Nuke with baseball stats. Trying to get into another fight, Crash smashes a nearby mirror, forcing Nuke to punch Crash out. Crash then uses the moment to see if Nuke punched with his throwing hand (he didn't)... showing that Nuke has the instincts not to fuck up his career if he ever gets in a bar brawl.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Crash. He *loves* baseball and wants to make it to the Show. And he's talented and respectful enough of the game to earn that right. But for all his hitting skill and wisdom, for all the home runs he's hit in the minors, it's not enough. And he knows it. Making it worse is that he has to mentor the likes of Nuke, someone so naturally gifted he can make the Show without hassle and does but has no respect for baseball and its mystical elements.
    Crash (drunk and angry knowing his career is close to ending): Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits – 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points. There’s six months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – you get a ground ball with eyes, you get a dying quail... just one more dying quail a week ... and you’re in Yankee Stadium!
    • The ending hints Crash will make it to the Show instead as a manager.
  • Magic Feather: Annie encouraging Nuke to wear garters to help him play better. Discussed by Crash later in the movie:
    Crash: If you think you're winning because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you're wearing women's underwear, then you are!
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Annie. It's subverted a bit in that she does what she does because she enjoys it; she's not just a character-building device for the male characters.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin
  • Meaningful Name: Annie gets her name from the nickname given to baseball groupies.
    • Everyone gets a nickname - like "Nuke" and "Crash" - they deserve.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Baseball-style. As the season nears an end and Nuke is promoted to the Majors, Jake gets cut from the team.
  • Mondegreen: Nuke botches the lyrics to "Try a Little Tenderness". "She may get wooly..."
    Crash: Goddamn, I hate people that get the words wrong.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Nuke LaLoosh was based on Steve Dalkowski, a legendary minor league pitcher who like Nuke could throw it fast... and throw it wild, which is why Dalkowski never made the majors.
    • Crash Davis got his name from the real-life Lawrence "Crash" Davis, who did make The Show as a second baseman for the Philadelphia A's in the 1940s. He got a quick bump in celebrity when Bull Durham became a hit.
  • "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: Annie tries to get Nuke to focus his energies elsewhere by insisting he wears a woman's garter belt. He has a horrifying nightmare of being on the mound wearing just the garter belt (and a jock strap), and refuses to. When he finally relents, Crash is the one who spots him trying it on... and doesn't mock Nuke for wearing it. He even tells him "Rose goes in front, big guy."
    • Oh, Crash mocked him, all right— he was just snarky about it. Slapping him on the ass and saying, "That's really hot."
      Nuke: This underwear feels kinda sexy. That don't make me queer, right?
  • The Obi-Wan: Crash. The rookie players flock to his leadership and wisdom real quick, except for Nuke, who eventually comes around when Annie insists on him following Crash's advice... and it actually improves his game.
    • Annie's insistence on Nuke following Crash's advice comes back to bite her on the ass when Nuke's re-channels his sexual energy into his pitching, which helps him go on a fantastic winning streak. Annie, being monogamous in the framework of the baseball season, starts getting very sexually frustrated... even though she's the one who suggested the re-channeling before the streak. But when Nuke admits to Crash that he's thinking about having sex with her just to get her out of his hair, Crash basically says, "Are you crazy? Never ''fuck'' with a winning streak." So Nuke stays out of Annie's bed, and when Nuke tells her why, she gets pissed off at Crash.
      • And Crash calls her on it, pointing out that Annie (as much an expert on baseball as he is) should know full well that winning streaks are rare, so when someone is on one, you respect it (i.e., abide by whatever is "maintaining" it). Annie quickly realizes he's right... and also realizes she really loves Crash.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "Don't fuck with a winning streak."
    • Straight-arrow Christian Jimmy gets what counts, for him, as a precision F-strike when he sees the "special wedding cake" the boys get him:
      Jimmy: Oh, my Lord!
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Played for Laughs. One scene has Ethical Slut Milly trying to pick up various members of the Durham Bulls at batting practice. One Deadpan Snarker responds to her "I'm Milly," with "I'm married."
  • Serious Business: Baseball superstitions. While it's a game, there are things about it - from unwritten rules to personal habits - you just shouldn't mess with. One of the ongoing threads of the movie is how different people take different spiritual lessons from the sport.
    • One Hispanic player, Jose, constantly blesses his bat and glove. A fellow teammate having a bad streak tries to get Jose to bless his gear, but Jose advises against it: "That's not faith, that's desperation." the bad streak player is the one getting cut from the team at the beginning of the movie.
    • Culminating in the consequences of the Bulls' winning streak: Annie freaks out that Nuke took a vow of chastity (on her orders, no less), Jose's glove gets cursed by his girlfriend for whatever he was doing to respect that streak, with other players suffering similar off-field woes.
  • Spiritual Successor: Loose Example to Slap Shot. The mood of the two movies was different. But both are pretty accurate depictions of minor league sports life and star an aging veteran who recognizes that their chance for a job in the big leagues has passed, but holds onto the life anyway. Both are also looking to coaching as their ticket instead.
  • Wrong Name Outburst: Annie calls out Crash's name during sex with Nuke.
    • Annie smooths it over by telling him it's better she call out Crash's name while fooling around with him than calling his name while fooling around with Crash.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue