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February 16, 2021

FAVE SPORTS FILM – Bull Durham (1988)

I love baseball, and I love baseball movies. In picking my favorite, there were six great ones that came to mind: The Natural¸ Field of Dreams, Major League, A League of Their Own, Moneyball and my eventual pick, Bull Durham. Coming from the business world, I became intrigued with writing about Moneyball since it’s a rare look behind the scenes in the money and thinking behind how a team gets assembled. After going so far as re-watching it, before I started to write about it, I checked and saw that someone else in this movie draft beat me to it. I guess that the inside joke is that I’m a lousy GM (“general manager”).   

I have no regrets in writing about Bull Durham, a brilliantly funny fictional tale of minor league baseball. It was written and directed by Ron Shelton, a former minor league player himself, who received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay. Bull Durham is just one of those films so good that you are sure to get stuck for a while if you catch it while channel surfing. It also boasts several iconic scenes that contained some everlasting catch phrases. (Watch for the words “candlesticks,” “lollygaggers” and “wooly.”)

The title of the movie is a twist on the Durham Bulls, a real North Carolina team that is used as the films’ focus. Like many baseball fans, I love going to minor league games and Bull Durham captures the fun of that experience so right. While not the majors, the playing is professional, and it’s fun to be up close watching possible future stars for a lot cheaper ticket price while drinking beer and eating hot dogs.

One thing about Bull Durham, and perhaps the reason I picked it, is that it lacks the dramatic, and often cliched, come from behind victory that seems to drive many great sports films. Instead, this film just does a fabulous job of showing the lighter side of the day-to-day drudgery these players face, knowing that if just one of them on the team made the big leagues that would be a lot. They get paid peanuts, but all share a deep love for the greatest game ever invented by mankind while dreaming of someday maybe playing in the big leagues.

Bull Durham also has a great back story to its main characters that is brilliantly developed and magnificently acted by three great Hollywood stars.

The main focus in Bull Durham is Kevin Costner, the experienced and wise (in both the game and in life) but nearly washed up, career minor leaguer who earns the dubious record of most lifetime homers in the minors. He did get to play in the “show” once when the majors expanded their rosters as they do at the end of every season. There’s a great moment on the bus when he modestly tells his young teammates about “the best 21 days of his life.” By their reaction, you would have thought that he walked on the moon.

Costner as “Crash,” is contrasted with a young pitching phenom “Nuke” played by Tim Robbins. (Don’t you just love baseball nicknames?) Nuke is an immature kid with a “million-dollar arm and a five-cent head.” Having aged by baseball standards, Crash gets the job of mentoring Nuke whose foolish youth is reluctant to accept his help. They also find themselves entangled with a local legendary and eccentric baseball groupie named “Annie” played by Susan Sarandon.

The rest of the cast is top notch and comedian Robert Wuhl deserves a nod for the great role he plays as one of the coaches in contributing much to the film’s funny side.

While Bull Durham is full of enough baseball to satisfy any fan of the game, it’s also hilarious and the character development of its three stars is worthy in itself alone. And, while I hate giving stuff away, it’s nice that the movie has a happy ending for all three!

PS – Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow! Have a happy baseball season.


  1. Sorry…ish to have taken your draft choice! Yes, this one came to mind to me as well as ‘The Rookie’ for the category had ‘Moneyball’ not been available to me. ‘Bull Durham’ is a good baseball movie and a good, offbeat romance. It does indeed show the less glamorous side of baseball that most have to go through to finally hit “the show”. Every time I see it I think of Chad Mottolla, an outfielder around the beginning of this century. Every year for years, it seemed like he was hitting .300 with 20 homers in the minors for Toronto but got maybe 15 big league games in . I never understood that, but I guess he was a real life ‘Crash’.

  2. I’m a minority here in that I hate baseball (sorry!) BUT! That said, I LOVE THIS MOVIE. One of my favorite films and definitely my favorite baseball movie. Mike, I agree with you about the three stars. Their chemistry together is off the charts. You probably know that Sarandan and Robbins met while making this movie and later ended up getting married? They all shine so very brightly and the dialogue is precious in it. I used to have it on VHS but haven’t seen it since at least 2011. Excellent choice and write-up!

  3. I’m from the area that this team came from…Piedmont. I grew up 45 minutes west of Durham and my hometown also had it’s own minor league franchise (Cleveland Indians 1986-2006 & KC Royals 2007-2020). It has a long, rich history. I have been to many, many Bulls games. My partner/SO happened to be living across the street from where the filming was taking place (before we ever met). Heh. He wasn’t impressed. The filming crew aggravated the daylights out of the locals and he had a few run-ins with some folks (he worked in law enforcement).

    It appears that the Minor Leagues have been gutted a bit:

    Great movie.

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