Annie: What do you believe in, then?
Crash: Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, 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. Good night.
Bull Durham is a 1988 sports-themed romantic comedy film directed 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. The film also made the Durham Bulls, now a Triple-A team, one of the best-known minor league teams in the United States.
Costner's next film would be another iconic baseball film, Field of Dreams, while the Bulls themselves, along with their major league partner the Tampa Bay Rays (then the Devil Rays) would feature in yet another baseball film, 2002's The Rookie.
This movie contains examples of baseball and sex, and a few of these tropes:
- All of Them: Annie, Crash and Max, while having a drink at a bar, see Ebby dancing with several women.Max: Which one is he dancing with?
Annie: All of them, I think.
- 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 – Religion: One of the lines in Annie's voiceover monologue at the beginning of the movie is, "There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary, and 108 stitches in a baseball." As Ron Shelton admitted in The Church of Baseball, his book about the making of the movie, he was wrong in that there aren't 108 beads in a rosary.
- Artistic License – Sports:
- 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).
- Annie tells Crash that if he hits 247 home runs in the minor leagues, he'll be the all-time minor league champion. In reality, Buzz Arlett was the all-time minor league home run champion at the time of the film, having hit 432 by the time he retired in 1937.
- At the end, Nuke is called up to the majors from the A-ball Durham Bulls, having never gone through the AA or AAA levels. This is not unheard-of—Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco made his major league debut as a single-A call-up—but it is incredibly rare. More likely he would have been moved up during the season if he'd been dominating A ball. You can't use the Majors' expanded September roster as a reason since the Bulls' season wasn't over. Minor Leagues that are affiliated with Major League teams end their season in August because of the 40-man Major League rosters that were in use before 2020.note This plot point would actually make sense nowadays because the Bulls became a Triple-A team in 1998, which ironically was in large part due to their brand recognition from this movie making them arguably the best-known minor league team in the country.
- The Art of Bra Removal: Or in this case, removing Annie's garters. Nuke has trouble early on, underscoring his rookie nature. When it's Crash's turn, like a pro he does it with ease.
- As Himself: Max Patkin, "the Clown Prince of Baseball", plays himself in the early part of the movie. He knows Annie fairly well and he and Crash recognize each other on sight.
- 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.
- Blatant Lies: Crash is preparing to lay a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Nuke when the pitching coach intervenes, demanding to know what's going on. Nuke claims that Crash was going to teach him how to throw a breaking ball.
- Book Ends:
- Édith Piaf's version of "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.
- Early in the film, when Nuke and Crash first meet in a bar, Nuke throws a baseball at Crash and misses, shattering a glass pane. Then Crash knocks Nuke down with one punch. Near the end, when Nuke and Crash last meet in a bar, Crash throws a pool ball at Nuke and misses, shattering a mirror. Then Nuke knocks Crash down with one punch.
- 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 (with one hand!), 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.
- 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.
- Character Filibuster: When asked, by Annie, "Well, what do you believe then?", Crash replies with an off-the-cuff monologue about everything he believes that lasts about forty seconds. Though unlike most such examples it's very ribald: he believes in "the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, and the hanging curve ball."
- 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.
- There's also the Precision F-Strike for when the F-word helps make a point:
- College Widow: A close variant, with Annie Savoy being a glamorous, worldly-wise older single woman in Durham who regularly seduces promising rookies from the Bulls team.
- Dance Party Ending: Annie and Crash over the closing credits.
- Deadpan Snarker: Crash. (He's played by Kevin Costner. So, of course.)
- Distinction Without a Difference: The "cocksucker" argument between Crash and an umpire. Crash gets mad at the umpire and says he made "a cocksucking call" (Crash tagged the other team's player out and the ump called it "safe"). The umpire spins around and gets in his face about whether Crash is "calling me a cocksucker". Crash initially denies it, insisting he said the ump made a cocksucking call, the ump doesn't listen and continues demanding to know if Crash is calling him a cocksucker, then Crash starts taunting him that he's begging to be called a cocksucker, and then he does call him a cocksucker to his face and gets thrown out of the game.
- 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.
- Flirtatious Smack on the Ass: Played for Laughs in a bit of homoerotic humor when Crash does this to Nuke while the latter is trying on a pair of Annie's garters in the locker room before a game.
- 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. It's left ambiguous whether it was Love at First Sight or an Honorable Marriage Proposal on Jimmy's part after she seduced him, but there's no indication either is unhappy with the result.
- Funny Background Event: While Crash and Annie are at the batting cages, Crash takes a swing at a ball he barely even looks at because he's busy flirting/arguing with Annie. The employee collecting balls in the background watches it fly over the fence.
- Genre Deconstruction: Both before and after this, sports movies typically 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—driven home by the fact that the Bulls' season ends on a rainout. By playing by none of the rules, Bull Durham is considered one of the best sports movies ever.
- 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.
- 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.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: Crash's speech about being in The Show.Crash: Yeah, I've been in the majors. Yeah, I was in the Show. I was in the Show for 21 days once. Twenty-one greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the Show. Somebody else carries your bags. It's great. You hit white balls for batting practice. Ballparks are like cathedrals. The hotels all have room service. The women all have long legs and brains. And so are the pitchers. They throw ungodly breaking stuff in the Show. Exploding sliders. (to Nuke) You could be one of those guys. Nuke could be one of those guys. But you don't give a fuck, Meat.
- 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. Although, there have been plenty of pitchers with appalling pitching mechanics who have posted good to excellent pitching stats, including some Hall of Famers!
- 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.Crash: (pained) I can't keep giving you these free lessons!
- I Take Offense to That Last One: A Delayed Reaction version - when Crash gives his speech to Annie about what he believes in, one of those things is "that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap." The next scene Annie and Crash have together, when they're in the batting cage, she says to him, "I think Susan Sontag is brilliant!"
- The Ken Burns Effect: The camera zooms out on all of the old-time baseball photos in the opening montage.
- 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. Annie offhandedly mentions that Crash broke the minor league HR record.
- 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.
- Love Triangle: Reconstructed. Annie's practice is to pick one member of the Durham Bulls to be her lover every baseball season, and she decides that this year it's between Nuke and Crash. Crash, however, balks: since after being in the minor leagues for twelve years he doesn't "try out" for things anymore, leaving Nuke with Annie by default. But he's is still attracted to Annie, and Annie eventually realizes that her attitude drove away the man actually worth keeping. The film ends with Nuke leaving for the major leagues, and Crash starting a relationship with Annie and planning to embark on a second career as a coach.
- Lysistrata Gambit: Played with during the middle part of the film. Nuke (with some help from Crash) credits his winning streak to abstinence from sex, to Annie's frustration. Ron Shelton says in a making-of documentary that his original outline for the film was merely "baseball and Lysistrata."
- 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.
- Meaningful Name:
- Annie gets her name from the nickname given to baseball groupies.
- Everyone gets a nickname - like "Nuke" and "Crash" - they deserve. Both their nicknames end up having dual, bittersweet meanings. Nuke is named for his explosive fastball, but if he doesn't straighten out, he'll be a bomb; one bright flash and he's gone. Crash is named for how hard he hits (he sets the minor league record for home runs during the film), but he's getting too old to play any more, and his career is about to...well, you know.
- The Mentor:
- 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 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 he 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.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Baseball-style. As the season nears an end and Nuke is promoted to the Majors, Crash gets cut from the team.
- Mondegreen Gag: Nuke botches the lyrics to "Try a Little Tenderness". "She may get woolly..." It's actually "She may be weary..." Crash gets so annoyed that he takes Nuke's guitar from him.Crash: Goddamn, I hate people that get the words wrong.
- Mystical 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).
- Narrative Profanity Filter: An In-Universe example when Teddy the radio announcer describes what Crash just called the umpire to get thrown out of the game—which we were watching in person moments earlier.Teddy: (over the radio) I've never seen Crash so angry and frankly, Bull fans, he used a certain word that's a "no-no" with umpires.
Milly: Crash musta called the guy a cocksucker.
Annie: God, he's so romantic...
- 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.
- Non-Answer: Crash teaches Nuke to give meaningless stock answers to sportswriter questions. Nuke thinks it's boring, but at the conclusion, he's using those stock answers.
- "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 briefly teases him by slapping him on the ass and saying, "That's really hot." Then he tells him "Rose goes in front, big guy."Nuke: (talking to himself on the pitcher's mound) This underwear feels kinda sexy. That don't make me queer, right? Right.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Crash's real first name is never given, though he's named after real-life player Lawrence "Crash" Davis.
- Original Position Fallacy: The "I was a celebrity in a past life" variant is discussed when Crash and Annie are eating after they finally sleep together.Annie: I think probably with my love of four-legged creatures and hooves and everything, that in another lifetime I was probably Catherine the Great, or Francis of Assisi. I'm not sure which one. What do you think?
Crash: How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? (Beat, then they both bust out laughing) I mean, how come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmoe?
Annie: Because it doesn't work that way, you fool!
- Precision F-Strike:
- "Never 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 with voudun. 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. It's interesting to note that the only other player Jose will bless is Crash, because he knows Crash respects the rules.
- 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.
- Also, figuring out what to get people for their wedding. note
- Stock Quotes: Discussed: one of the things that Crash teaches Nuke later in the movie (when the team hits a winning streak) is a bunch of stock lines to rattle off to reporters looking for interviews so that he doesn't embarrass either himself or the ball club in public.
- Suddenly Shouting: When Annie storms over to Crash's apartment, he points out she's dressed a little excessively:Annie: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom" - William Blake.
Crash: Wha - William Blake?
Annie: William Blake.
Crash: Wha - William Blake?
Annie: William Blake!
Crash: What do you mean, William Blake?
Annie: I MEAN WILLIAM BLAKE!
- Token Religious Teammate: Jimmy, literally. He's the only conventionally religious cast member, on the Bulls team or off; the only other character that comes close is Annie and her New Age spirituality "Church of Baseball" thing. Early in the film he announces to his teammates that he'll be hosting a Bible study if they're interested, and is told to "get laid". To everyone's surprise, near the end of the movie he goes home with Milly intending to proselytize to her, and then they turn up the next morning engaged: according to Milly he asked her to marry him five hours in.
- Unskilled, but Strong: Nuke has a "million-dollar arm and a five-cent head" i.e. he has a blazing fastball but not the discipline to use it properly.
- What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Lampshaded by Crash when his and Annie's Belligerent Sexual Tension hits a mutual Rage Breaking Point and he wonders what she does all day besides be a cougar to young ball players. Apparently she's a part-time English teacher at Alamance Junior College (seemingly a Bland-Name Product for Alamance Community College, then known as Technical College of Alamance).
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Nuke is shown in the major leagues getting interviewed by a reporter, and rattling off the audience-pleasing Stock Quotes that Crash taught him. Crash hits his record-breaking home run and promptly quits his new team, and returns to Durham to await Annie on her porch, intending to start a relationship with her and embark on a second career as a team manager.
- 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.