Bull Durham is one of my favorite sports movies. The dialog is almost as punchy as some of the characters, and it really does grasp the spirit of minor league baseball.
There exist three types of players in the minors: talent working towards the majors, veterans just hanging on, and solid baseball guys that just enjoy playing the game but don’t have much hope of getting called up any higher. This game, though it focuses on the first two, really shows the game for what it is. More than that, it’s one of the greatest explanations of what baseball means to those fans that enjoy the game, at any level.
Time to hit the batting cages and the bullpen. Starting with our two main characters, Crash Davis and Annie Savoy.
“I’m the player to be named later.” – Crash
“Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it’s also a job.” – Annie
There are, in truth, three main characters – Annie, Crash, and Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. But, to me, Nuke is more a part of the plot than he is a character.
And with warm-ups over, it’s time for a pep talk from Skip and Larry. Now these two seem much more like caricatures than characters, but they fit very well into the film as a whole. Otherwise, it wouldn’t quite be a comedy of errors. [Ok, I promise, no more puns…]
Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
Skip: Lollygaggers… What’s our record, Larry?
Larry: Eight and sixteen.
Skip: Eight… and sixteen. How’d we ever win eight?
Larry: It’s a miracle.
Skip: It’s a miracle. This… is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. You got it?
1st Inning: The Church of Baseball
And here’s the first pitch…
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring, which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250, not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” – Annie
This is a great way to start the film, as it not only encompasses the film, but who Annie is. I always knew there was more to baseball than just the game, but until I watched this film as a young adult, with the mind to comprehend her words, I didn’t have any way to articulate it. And even now, I don’t have to, because Annie is pretty spot on.
2nd Inning: I Believe
As with Annie’s quote, Crash’s first real diatribe also encompasses who he is as a character, leaving little doubt about what he stands for.
“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
This could very well be one of the better quotes in not just sports movies, but movies in general. And the delivery is pure poetry.
3rd Inning: Double Standards
“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.” – Crash
The double standard is something that is commonplace in all sports. If you’re batting .376 you can get away with a lot more than you can batting below the Medoza Line (.200). But there’s more truth here than double standards. Colorful is usually in context, and with Crash’s example, you’re either “colorful” or a “slob,” the difference always being your performance on the field.
4th Inning: Pale Imitation
“Is the modern athlete a pale imitation of the great old warriors? Only Crash Davis stands out this year, begging the question, ‘What are these boys thinking about, ’cause it sure ain’t baseball.‘” – Teddy
Though Teddy the announcer’s quote could be applicable to any athlete during a losing streak or slump, it seems to have more resonance in today’s sports than in 1988 when the film was released. With all of the contracts surrounding the bigger stars, it’s not hard to imagine they aren’t thinking about the game all of the time.
5th Inning: Strikeouts Are Fascist
“Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.” – Crash
He’s not wrong. Ground balls do involve more of the team than strikeouts, and they’re more economical as well. One pitch can induce a ground ball, even a pop fly perhaps, but it takes at least three to get that strikeout.
6th Inning: Fear and Arrogance
Crash: You be cocky and arrogant, even when you’re getting beat. That’s the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.
Nuke: Right. Fear and ignorance.
Crash: No. You hayseed. It’s arrogance not ‘ignorance.’
The game isn’t meant for everyone. Either you’re meant to be there or you’re scared out of your wits. Playing with “fear and arrogance,” as Crash suggests, shows everyone that you not only belong but that you are ready for whatever happens next, even if your next pitch travels so far that it “oughta have a damn stewardess on it.”
7th Inning: Former Lifetimes
Annie Savoy: 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 Davis: How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous?
When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll. Writer and director Ron Shelton put together an amazing screenplay. I have used Crash’s line many times in my life when people start to talk about former lives. If you’re not one of those people like Annie who believes in that sort of thing, this should be your stock response.
7th Inning Stretch
Larry: Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?
Crash: Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit.
Larry: Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.
8th Inning: Self Awareness
“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” – Annie
I believe that this quote speaks for itself.
9th Inning: Repair Our Losses
“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
It amazes me how there was a time when baseball wasn’t just the “American Pastime” but also an American muse. After all, Whitman wouldn’t have been writing about baseball if there wasn’t something more to it than just being a game.
Crash: This son of a bitch is throwing a two-hit shutout. He’s shaking me off. You believe that shit? Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is listen to your catcher. Don’t think you have a catcher? When something happens and you need to go somewhere for advice, your first phone call – yeah, that person is your catcher.
Annie: Good. Total exhaustion can be spiritually fabulous.
I’ve only found total exhaustion spiritually fabulous maybe twice in my life… Though I have been totally exhausted more than twice, so perhaps, I’m doing it wrong?
Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
This movie is probably just as relevant today as it was when it was released. Sure, I could have written about how the Durham Bulls are a part of Triple-A baseball and not Single-A Carolina League ball, but that’s really not what this film is. It’s a story, told with interesting characters, of which the main two love the game more than anything else.
If Bull Durham isn’t about a love of baseball, I don’t know what is.