The Long Island University Brooklyn Campus Library Media Center Newsletter 


We love movies, among other things.

April 2009, issue 44

"The rose goes in the front, big guy."  - Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), offering sartorial advice to Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in Bull Durham (1988). 

Bull Durham --
The Best Baseball Movie Ever

Written and directed by Ron Shelton and based on his own experience in the minor leagues, Bull Durham -- like Slapshot and the original versions of The Longest Yard and The Bad News Bears (my personal picks for the Four Best Sports Movies Ever Made, by the way) -- is a sports movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, isn't afraid of the childish and negative traits in an athlete's personality, and celebrates the playing in sports instead of the so-called nobility or character-building.  I don't always agree with Pauline Kael, but I do when she said that American movies are best when we don't take ourselves too seriously.  Which is why The Natural, and Field of Dreams, with their strenuous grasps at mythology and poetry and Meaning, are further down my list (I like them both, but I love Bull Durham).  

So, with Opening Day upon us (smell of the grass, crack of the bat, flash of the glove), let's look at this lively little film, a slice of the grinding routine of minor league life, set to the rhythms of a baseball season, and full of long bus trips, dive bars, cheap hotels, grimy locker rooms, wacky mascots and promotions, athletic superstitions, baseball groupies, and dreams just out of reach.

A young Tim Robbins is Ebby Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh, hot young pitching prospect with a "million dollar arm and a five cent head."  Robbins gives the character a  charm, sensitivity, sweetness, and wit that you usually don't see in a movie's lunkhead athlete role.  And even if as an actor he can't quite make you believe he could be such a good pitcher, it doesn't matter, because he brings the character from callowness to self control to polished confidence in such a natural, funny, and relaxed arc that you believe every thing he does.

Kevin Costner plays the kind of grizzled minor league lifer who once was in The Show (the majors) for twenty one days, but is now desperately pushing through the last days of his playing career.  His Crash Davis is the perpetual "player to be named later," a catcher closing in on the dubious record of most minor league home runs in a career, and Crash is brought to the Durham Bulls to help "season" LaLoosh, to give him the mentoring that will help him understand the game and make the most of his talent - and speed his route to The Show.  He's the kind of character you'd see Humphrey Bogart playing in his prime - the seen-it-all reluctant hero, a little dark and imperfect with a closet streak of idealism and romance.  And, unlike Robbins, Costner looks like a ballplayer, can run and throw and swing the bat with the smooth ease of a natural athlete.  Costner's never been better than this movie. 

Which brings us to Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy, the narrator and self-anointed priestess of the Church of Baseball; she is an eccentric, passionate baseball fan and freethinking feminist, an English teacher at the local community college who chooses a player from the Bulls for her bed every year, and teaches that young prospect her own knowledge of baseball, philosophy, and literature.  She has, of course, decided on picking either Nuke or Crash for her affections this season, and our screwball love triangle is complete.  So get out of the way, people.

And this comedy, while not quite a fullblown, firing on all cylinders, wacko anarchic screwball comedy, owes a tremendous debt to the great screwball comedies and romantic comedies of golden age Hollywood.  It is smart, funny and sexy; its characters are rich and complex; its ensemble supporting cast is as strong as a cup of coffee and full of quirky, memorable details.  It deserves to be noted as indebted to the work of Sturges, Hawks, Wilder, and Lubitsch--especially to Howard Hawks (think of the masculine codes and strong women of His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings, or even of Rio Bravo, El Dorado, or To Have and Have Not). 

I have a lot of favorite lines and moments from this film; way too many to name them all here.  I love the man made rainout, and the first showdown in the bar, and the lollygaggers scene, and the conference on the mound ("candlesticks make a nice gift...."), and the inner monologues at the plate or on the rubber, and the mangled Otis Redding song, and toenail polish and breakfast cereal and "Sixty Minute Man."  And so much more.  I could watch this one a hundred times.  It just gets baseball right, as far as I'm concerned.  No George Will poetry, no Ken Burns elegiacs, no Barry Levinson fireworks, just a great kids' game that some adults are lucky enough to play for a living, chasing some dreams and riding a bus.  And it doesn't forget to be a good movie, either, with some fights and some laughs and some love. 

Lots of good baseball movies out there.  But this one's the best ever.  "So relax!  Let's have some fun out here!  This game's fun, OK?"

"But bad trades are a part of baseball.  It's a long season, and you gotta trust." - Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), Bull Durham (1988). 

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From the Collection of Gerald Silveira

Bull Durham entered the collection recently as part of a gift of almost 200 films on VHS from the collection of the former Dean of Conolly College, the late Gerald Silveira. We are very grateful for the gift, which has allowed us to expand the collection in a major way and without great expense.  And we want to thank Dr. Lester Wilson for making this donation possible.  Films range from classic Hollywood musicals like Pal Joey to recent blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. 

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This issue of  BCLMC is brought to you all the way from the back row by Met Fan and Media Assistant Patrick Jewell, who believes in high fiber, good scotch, the sweet spot, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve, the small of a woman's back, and a Constitutional amendment banning the designated hitter, among other things. Tell your friends. 


Questions?  Comments?  Contact us. 
Media Center Staff:
Patrick Jewell,  Media Assistant  (718) 488-3392
Lisa Rivera,  Media Assistant  (718) 780-4378

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